Kadamay said 16 urban poor leaders had been killed under the Aquino administration. The latest victim, Benilda Santos, was shot dead in Quezon City on May 22.
By KATHRINA MANUEL AND LHEALYN VICTORIA
MANILA- An urban poor group decried the killings and harassment of their leaders and members, amidst the widespread eviction of informal settler communities under the Aquino administration.
The latest victim of extrajudicial killing was Benilda Santos, 43, who was shot dead by a suspected village guard on May 22, near her home in Kaunlaran street, Commonwealth village, Quezon City.
Santos, who is married with four children, is leader of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) in her community. She sustained three gunshot wounds: in the head, in the left arm and left side of the body.
As of 2015, 16 urban poor leaders and members had been killed in demolition sites, from Tarlac in Luzon, to the National Capital Region, and the Southern Luzon region.
In its statement, Kadamay attributed most of the killings to “state agents” — the village guards and members of the Philippine National Police. The group said three victims were killed by hired killers, while hired security guards of a big landlord-businessmen killed two victims in Pangarap village, Caloocan City.
Of the 16, seven were killed”in the middle of violent demolitions as their communities staged barricades against demolition of homes,” Kadamay said.
Estrelita Bagasbas, Kadamay national vice-chairperson, said that government programs such as Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) violate the right of the urban poor who get evicted as public lands are passed to private corporations.
“All he (President Aquino) has done is use brute force against us, who prefer to defend our rights and our homes and not to be silenced. This contrary to the covenant which he signed with the urban poor way back in 2010 when he was campaigning for his presidency,” Bagasbas said at a press conference held in Kaunlaran Street, on June 6.
In a factsheet gathered by Anakpawis, in the morning of May 22, a heated confrontation broke out between residents and men hired by former village chairman Jose Gaviola who tried to put up a fence around the community. Gaviola reportedly claims ownership of the land.
An Anakpawis organizer, identified only as Edward, took video documentation of the argument, and was then beaten up by village guards led by village chair Manuel Co. Benilda then documented the incident on her cellphone.
Confronted by residents, Gaviola’s men left along with Co and the village guards. Benilda reportedly told the village chairman to be careful because his men were (drug) “addicts.”
At noon, Gaviola’s men came back to put up the fence, and was again stopped by residents, who had put up a hut where they stayed to keep watch in the area.
Benilda’s husband, Charlie said she was going to keep vigil at the hut that night to prevent anyone from putting up fences. However, at around 9:30 p.m., Benilda saw her son, Justine, by an alley and was about to take him home, when a man in black, hooded jacket appeared, pulled out a gun and shot her. The first shot missed and Benilda was able to run towards a store, calling for help, but was hit by the man’s succeeding shots.
“Benilda was shot dead by Rap-rap,” a resident was heard shouting, while most residents kept inside their homes, fearful after hearing the gunshots.
Even as Charlie asked for help to bring her to the hospital, the village guards reportedly only told him not to touch her body. At around 11:30, police men arrived to investigate. At around 2 a.m., May 23, the police men left, taking Benilda’s body with them.
On May 25, Charlie traced Benilda’s body at Pacheco morgue in Blumentritt, Manila, the factsheet said. It was only then that the body was cleaned, and Charlie was being charged P100,000 ($2,200) to have the body released. He was also informed that police claimed they found shabu worth P30,000 ($660) on Benilda.
The Anakpawis factsheet said that Charlie saw a police man put a plastic pack of shabu beside Benilda’s body.
Charlie said his wife was killed because she was an activist who fought for their right to the land and opposed the barangay council.
Robert Pallanan, the head of Anakpawis Kaunlaran Chapter, said he found out that their lot has not been registered with the Land Registration office.
“Provision 1826 grants this land to its residents. It was done after the lifting of martial law. It means that no private individual owns this land,” Pallanan said.
On April 28, 14 barangay officials forcibly brought him to the barangay hall without any written order. On May 10, he received a letter with black ribbon and bullets, threatening his life and his family.
But despite all of it, Pallanan stood firm. “No one owns this land, it was awarded to us. Whatever happens we would not submit to their whims,” he said.
Alice Avenido, 54, a Kaunlaran resident for 25 years, said she was offered P27,000 ($600) to self-demolish her home. But she didn’t agree.
“They’re giving us P27,000 , but they’re not giving us a relocation site. If I’ll accept it, what will happen to my family?” Avenido said.
Just like Avenido, Roselyn Poncia was also offered the same amount but she refused it.
“I’ve been living her for almost 30 years, and then, all of a sudden, they’ll claim this land. That’s not right,” Poncia said.
Avenido and Poncia said that armed men patrol the area every night, leaving them scared. Pallanan said that it was Gaviola’s men who were trying to scare the residents.
“Out of fear we can’t go outside every night. We’re afraid for our safety,” Poncia said.
“Sometimes, I can’t sleep at night because I’m afraid that those men might fire their guns for no reason,” Avenida said.
In Laguna, KADAMAY-ST secretary general Lilia Velasquez, 46, reported an attempt to abduct her in May.
Velasquez, married with one child, is also the secretary general of the Bisig at Ugnayan ng Maralitang Kalambenyo (Bumalik). Since 2011, she had opposed the demolition of her community in Parian village, Calamba City, where a commercial residence was to be constructed.
Velasquez said that since February 10, police men had been going to her community, in the guise of a feeding program.
“Their real objective is to identify the leaders and stop them from fighting for the right to housing,” Velasquez said. Residents had reported police men in plainclothes asking about Bumalik leaders, and taking surveillance photos of Lilia around her home.
On May 10, at 5 p.m., Velasquez boarded a jeepney from Parian village, Calamba City, to go to Katapatan, Southville 1 in Cabuyao City. She noticed that a man in black shirt and hat kept looking at her while holding a cellphone. When she gave her fare to the driver, the man told the driver her destination, Katapatan, even though she has not said a word.
She noticed that the man texted someone, and soon, two more men in black shirt boarded the jeep.
She also noticed that the men had guns at the back of the waist, and seemed to be sending signals to each other. Velasquez then heard one of the men call on the cellphone, asking in Bicolano, “We’re approaching Katapatan. Who is the driver?”
This made Velasquez nervous, and when the jeepney made a stop, she immediately got off, crossed the street and took another jeep going to the opposite direction.
“This is the ‘change’ that this administration gave to us: there are no jobs, no free services, and instead they threaten and harm us, and those who fight for our rights.” Said Pastor Gil, Deputy Secretary of Karapatan-Timog Katagalugan.
Gil said that Karapatan in Southern Tagalog had documented more than 60 political prisoners, 29 extrajudicial killings, four enforced disappearance, and four women raped by military men.
Kadamay also cited the case of Kadamay-ST regional leader Evelyn Legaspi, 52, and regional staff, Pastora Latagan, 33, who were nabbed in 2012 and remain in detention on trumped-up charges of multiple murder and frustrated murder.
“Like in Hacienda Luisita, when there is a struggle for the right to land, there are killings. The people who fight for the rights are charged with trumped-up cases,” Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap said.