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In 2012, urban poor jailed, killed for fighting for homes

Bulatlat.com [1]

MANILA – Eight months have passed since Arnel Leonor, 19, of Silverio Compound in Parañaque City, was killed during the demolition of their homes. As of this writing, no justice has been served and his mother Glenda feels it is taking too long.

Eight months, too, have passed since Vicente Tiongson, 32, was arrested and jailed. His wife Mylene Marsenes, 24, said he was about to buy food after the demolition when the police arrested him. Since then, she and her two children survive by begging from their relatives for money to buy food. Mylene asserts her husband is innocent and should thus be freed.

Mylene and Glenda met each other only after the violent attempt to demolish their homes last April 23. Yet, they have become close. Both share a different level of pain of losing a loved one. Their pain is shared by thousands of families facing threats of demolition in Metro Manila.

According to Kadamay, ten urban poor dwellers were murdered under President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III. This year alone, four were killed. These killings, the urban poor group said, are linked to their active participation in organizing their community to resist demolitions.

In a protest action at the Department of Justice five days before Christmas, urban poor and activists decried the attacks on their rights under Aquino. They urged the government to put a stop to these rights violations, saying “justice is all we want for Christmas.”


According to the yearend report of human rights group Karapatan, 129 activists were victims of extrajudicial killings under the Aquino administration. Mostly they were peasants and indigenous peoples; four came from the ranks of urban poor dwellers who were actively campaigning against threats of demolition of their homes.

The photo of bloodied Arnel Leonor lying near Sucat Road’s island went viral on the internet through social networking sites. Yet, despite his murder, justice grinds slowly for him and for his family. His mother Glenda said it is her third time to visit the DOJ since Arnel was killed. “Today I was given a telephone number where I could follow up on the case,” she said.

Urban poor residents from other communities visit Leonor’s family. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

Until now, no formal charges have been filed against the police, which Glenda and her family believe to be the perpetrators of the crime. The National Bureau of Investigation has yet to release the result of their investigation. There have been initial reports coming from the police that the bullet that pierced Arnel’s head came from the ranks of the protesting residents. But Glenda and most Silverio residents do not believe it.

“I am very sad (on how slow things are going),” Glenda told Bulatlat.com in tears.

Whenever she would hear other cases of killings among the ranks of urban poor, Glenda said she feels very sad about it.

Ernesto Gulfo, an urban poor leader, was gunned down while having breakfast in front of his house in Catmon village, Malabon City, May 30. In a previous Bulatlat.com report, an unidentified man entered their junkshop at 7:10 a.m., asking for the price of copper scraps. But Gulfo was shot three times [2] before he could answer, where two pierced his chest. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Manila Central University Hospital.

“I could not scream. I was so shocked I could not move. I did not even have the strength to be hysterical. I kept asking myself if what I just saw was true,” his wife Divina said.

Gulfo actively campaigned against the impending demolition of homes, which would affect some 1,500 families. The demolition would supposedly give way to a government housing program through the Community Mortgage Program. Residents, who are mostly contractual workers and garbage collectors, resisted the project, saying they could not afford its monthly amortization.

There were also 37 more families who would lose their homes due to a road widening program, which included Gulfo’s junkshop.

Divina Gulfo, wife of slain urban poor leader Ernesto. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

“Who else would have him killed but those who claim this land? I do not like to point fingers but I am sure that it is related to our struggle for land,” Divina said.

Marilou Valle, an urban poor leader, was also gunned down in front of her house in Sitio Damayan in Tondo, Manila on July 22, a day before Aquino delivered his state of the nation address. Her husband Jeorge De Jesus said her death is politically motivated because she and the rest of their family have been “consistent in their very strong opposition to anti-poor activities which suspects Ben and Raffy Tejas are doing.”

Their community, too, is facing demolition. In a letter of National Housing Authority (NHA) General Manager Chito Cruz to Bishop Elmer Bolocon, executive secretary of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF), he said that the area occupied by the informal settlers is a portion of the Vitas Reclamation and Industrial Areas in Vitas, Tondo.

“It is covered by a project and loan agreement with the World Bank. NHA was mandated to reclaim and develop the area pursuant to Executive Order 1086 into a port-oriented commercial and industrial area,” the letter read, adding that the housing agency are reviewing how to “coordinate and solicit all efforts of stakeholders to ensure the peaceful and orderly relocation and resettlement of the families affected thereat.”

The EBF said in its statement that Valle has already been receiving death threats but has set it aside, saying that “she knew that threats, harassments and deaths are part of her fight [3] against evil.”

“It hurts that we lost our mother. She spent her life fighting for the welfare of families living here. She died here. And this is the same place where we would gather our strength to rise back,” Rossana Bacani, Valle’s daughter, told Bulatlat.com during the fact finding and solidarity mission led by urban poor groups.

The Philippine Star reported that the Manila Police District has ordered for the manhunt of suspects, brothers Ben and Raffy Tejas, saying that they dispatched a team to Buntay village in Oras, Eastern Samar, where the two were allegedly hiding. In a separate report, however, MPD Station 1 commander Alexander Navarette said they “came back empty handed, adding that they tracked Raffy [4] to his hometown but the “fugitive fled to the mountains” while “his brother, Benjamin, remains at large.”

These killings are also happening outside Metro Manila. In San Roque, Tarlac City, 14-year-old John Cali Lagrimas was killed on Oct. 2. He is a resident of San Francisco village in Tarlac City and was reported to be helping residents of San Roque whose homes were about to be demolished.

“Cali was only a boy; I don’t understand why they had to shoot and kill him. He was only there to help the residents keep their houses,” ten-year-old Jojie Martinez said. He and Lagrimas are members of youth group Samahan ng Demokratiko sa Hacienda Luisita.

Residents defended their homes [5] by putting up a barricade. Minutes later, however, Lagrimas was directly shot by an unidentified gunman standing near the barricade. In a report by Akap Bata partylist, a children’s group, residents said the gunshot came from the demolition team, which included 20 members of SWAT and about a hundred police.

Criminalization of urban poor struggle

Residents are being arrested and jailed for putting up resistance to demolition teams. Every after demolition, the police would search the community and arrest anyone they suspect of having hurled stones at them.

During the violent demolition of Silverio Compound on April 23 alone, 33 residents were arrested, of which eight were minors and two were women. They were initially charged with resisting arrest and disobedience to lawful order.

Eight months since the demolition, ten residents of Silverio Compound continue to languish in jail. According to Shella Bernal, a community leader, the court has yet to hear their petition for bail. “It seems they are delaying their release,” she said, “Every month they would ask the hearing to be moved to another date. Their next hearing is on January 24. Clearly, they would not be able to spend their Christmas at home.”

“It is unfortunate they arrested the wrong people, who have small children and are breadwinners of their families,” Bernal said.

Mylene, whose husband is one of the ten Silverio residents jailed, said life has been very difficult for her and their two children. Every day, she needs to go to their relatives to ask money to buy food. Before he was arrested and jailed, her husband Vicente was a construction worker earning only P1,500 (US$36.41) per week.

“Sometimes they would give us P20 or P50 (US$0.49 to US$1.21) a day. And I have to stretch that to cover our meals for the whole day,” she said, adding that she could not find work because no one would look after her two children, aged four and two.

Mylene asks money from their relatives to buy food since husband Vicente Tiongson was imprisoned. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

With this, Mylene said she could hardly visit her husband in jail because they need money for it. “Whenever I go there, I have to bring food and toiletries like soap, shampoo and detergent.”

Mylene said she got news that her husband and the rest of the Silverio 10, as they are collectively called, would be freed if a different mayor wins in the next elections. Or that they could be released as “peace offering” during the campaign period. But everything, as of press time, remains as hearsay.

In Corazon de Jesus, an urban poor community in San Juan City, several residents were also jailed after the demolition on Jan. 11. There were 17 residents who were jailed that day, including Mark Louie Aquino, 26, spokesman and second nominee of Kabataan Parylist, who, according to the local government, are among the “non-residents” who instigated the chaos.

In a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, Aquino said, “I was there as a mass leader” and did not join the residents in throwing stones, bottles and even molotov bombs to protect their homes.

He was, however, not just arrested but also beaten up by the police. “I was kicked, beaten up and hit,” he said. This incident was also caught on camera, posted by alternative media group Tudla Productions.

Another Corazon de Jesus resident and community leader Marites Bacolod was arrested on Nov. 29 – even if there was no demolition. “I was in the barangay office to get clearance when two police officers went inside and invited me to the precinct,” Bacolod, a resident of Corazon de Jesus for 37 years, said.

Bacolod was told she has a warrant of arrest for a case of “simple disobedience to an agent of a person in authority” and needed to be “interviewed” at the police precinct. “I was very noisy while they were trying to arrest me. But I am also happy they could not answer me when I resisted on the grounds of the (lack of) legality of my arrest.”

The police interrogated her about the whereabouts of other community leaders. She told them, “That’s your job! You should do it!”

During the protest action in front of the DOJ, Bacolod said police interrogated her even in the middle of the night. “They really wanted to know where Arnold is,” she said referring to Arnold Repique, president of Samana – Corazon de Jesus.

“They also want to know when and where we are going to hold our rally,” Bacolod said. President Aquino visited the Pinaglabanan Shrine, a historical monument, the following day in time for the commemoration of Bonifacio Day.

Bacolod was released after one week.

Earlier, Bacolod and nine other leaders and residents of Corazon de Jesus were charged with illegal assembly after the violent eviction on January 11. The case was already dismissed.

Just before the year ended, Roy Velez, chairman of Bayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno-NCR and Amelita Gamara, deputy secretary general of KMU-NCR and founding member of Defend Job Philippines, were issued warrants of arrest for murder. They were tagged as members of the New People’s Army.

“Why do they want them arrested? There are lots of criminals out there. Not them,” Mylene, a resident of Silverio compound, said. Both Velez and Gamara are active in helping Silverio residents in their fight for their homes.

Prospect for 2013

Demolition Watch, a non-government organization, has monitored around 20 urban poor communities in Metro Manila facing threats of demolition under the Aquino administration. This translates to no less than 16,000 affected families. This includes communities of Corazon de Jesus, Silverio Compound and Guatemala in Makati City.

20 communities are facing demolition under President Aquino. (Photo by Janess Ann J. Ellao / Bulatlat.com)

Aside from demolitions that took place in 2012, urban poor groups also became wary of incidents of fire in various communities. Richard Chong, chairman of Anakbayan-North Triangle, said fire is used by the government as the “most effective” way to demolish homes. He said that after a fire razed their community in Quezon City, residents received a notice of demolition.

On May 12, fire razed homes of urban poor dwellers in Isla Puting Bato. Luzviminda Sulayao, president of local group Ahon Isla, said she is skeptical if the fire was truly an acciden [6]t. She told Bulatlat.com that three days after the incident, they found three men pouring gasoline on one of the houses.

“The three men ran toward the sea where a boat was waiting for them,” Sulayao said.

Many residents like of Eunila Borito, 52, were not able to save anything. “I just grabbed my two kids and my shoulder bag. My husband panicked and was worried about us so he only managed to grab our two pails and his bike,” she told Bulatlat.com a few days after the incident, “Besides, we do not own that much. We do not have a television set or other appliances to save.”

Other residents who lost their homes to the fire stayed at the Delpan Sports Complex for months. Families were offered relocation at Kasiglahan Village, which is located in Rodriguez, Rizal. Sulayao estimated that about 200 out of the 1,300 affected residents agreed to be relocated. Most of them, she said, decided to stay because their livelihoods are in Tondo.

Unfortunately, those who moved to Kasiglahan Village became victims of flood a few months after their relocation. Gemma Lasala, 30, was interviewed by Bulatlat.com a few days after the heavy monsoon rains that poured in Metro Manila in August. She and her three children had to brave through the deep [7] flood water to live.

“We walked a little bit and it was already knee-deep. We walked a little bit more and it was waist-deep. That was how fast the water rose,” Lasala said. Her husband Gerry said he wants to go back to Tondo.

Glenda, Arnel’s mother, is often told by her other children and their other relatives not to join rallies. “They said I am up against rich people. I may never know if I die and they would make it appear as if it is an accident. Nonoy’s (Arnel) death is already too much,” she said, “But I told them that I will not quit this fight — no matter how rich they are.”

The year 2012 highlighted the government’s lack of a comprehensive, humane plan for the urban poor. They are being displaced from their homes; those who resisted were either killed or arrested. Those who have seemingly followed the government’s advice to them are brought to a far more dangerous if not deadlier place to live. (http://bulatlat.com) [1]