Shanties by the Roadside

“Ayaw! Ayaw gub-a among balay! Ayaw!” (No! Do not destroy our home. No!) pleaded Brian Pitugo, who was now in tears as he attempted to block the demolition squad from destroying his house. He refused to leave their home, but despite his pleas, the police started thrashing the walls. Brian was only four years old; he can barely speak. Diminutive as he was however, he grounded the onslaught to a brief halt. For a precious few minutes, the demolition of around 240 houses in the rustic villages of Kalangahan and Biga in Lugait town, Misamis Oriental seemed to have been cancelled.
 
But, it was too late.
 
It was raining on the 28th of May when the demolition started. Following the court’s Joint Decision on the case filed by Achondoa Agro-Industrial Corporation, which was represented by Emma Anora, against Laureto Tungao, families were forced to live in makeshift shanties along the national highway. The local government did not allot any relocation site for them. They received no substantial financial assistance, except for a meagre 5kgs of rice to get them through the rainy days.
 
“We were very angry, we were left in despair,” exclaimed Wilden Daganio, a young father of one whose dream of providing a decent home for his family was shattered to pieces. He added that he, along with the others, also feared for his life because rumours have been spread by Anora’s goons, threatening them that if they do not leave, their houses will surely be burned down. Like all the other parents in the community, he was not able to sleep for three straight nights before the demolition to safeguard his only daughter and their home.
 
Wilden had hopes that the demolition order would not be implemented, but it shocked him when the situation turned for the worst. At around 10 a.m. on the day of the demolition, sixteen police officers on board two separate rubber boats were noticed surveying the area 15 meters off the shoreline. An ambulance and a fire truck were parked on the roadside. Four buses carried around a hundred police officers carrying armed with truncheons and shields. He then knew that he hoped wrong. The demolition was about to commence.
 
Treated like criminals
 
Merlinda Tongao, a thirty-one year old mother of three, described how the demolition was carried out as overkill. “We were treated like criminals,” she said. “We were scared; we did not know what to do. We felt helpless in defending our own homes. The police surrounded the place tight, as if to make sure we would not be able to run away. We could not fight back; we did not know which way to go!”
 
She also added that the police officers from the rubber boats displayed foul and vulgar behaviour. “They teased, screamed out insults, spewed invectives and threw obscenities at us, it was as though they were having a party at the expense of the misery of the families who were about to lose their homes.”
 
Adelina Rodemo, who, at fifty-seven years old, earns a living through her vegetable garden, repeatedly begged and cried in front of the police officers to stop wrecking her house. She had plans to seek assistance from her neighbours to relocate her hut to a safer place. They refused, however, to heed her cries. They then used sharp saws to cut down her house’s posts, and tied each one with thick rope so that they can pull her hut down easily.
 
Adelina was devastated as she helplessly watched her house fall to the ground. A huge part of her was gone all of a sudden.
 
For the displaced families, it was truly hard for them to accept the tragic loss of their homes, it was as though they were being slaughtered all together.
 
Betrayed
 
According to Merlinda, it was not only the police who made sure that their houses and livelihood were completely demolished. Some members of the local government, she revealed, were also present during the demolition to make certain that everything went as planned.
 
“We were crushed,” Merlinda said as she recalled watching in utter helplessness members of the demolition team tying ropes around each pillars of their house. The moment their home gave in, she heard someone burst out in laughter, someone familiar. It was their Barangay Captain, snickering while everyone was grieving. “Instead of coming to our defence, instead of consoling us, Barangay Captain Arque Abing laughed at us, which worsened our misery. We felt betrayed!”
 
Before the demolition, the members of the community went to speak to Mayor Lim regarding their case. But he turned them down, saying they were “against someone who is riding a 4x4 vehicle.” Before the Mayor, the people stood powerless; they were made swallow the truth that the poor families did not stand a chance against the rich Anora and her armed goons.
 
These were the same poor families who voted them to power during last elections.
 
Aftermath
 
Based on the initial data gathered by the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR), the total cost of the damage to property as a result of the demolition amounted to millions.
 
Around 36% of the households have a sick member in the family, brought about by subhuman living conditions and aggravated by the fact that he LGU did not provide any form of support.
 
Adelina felt hopeless after the demolition; she cried almost every night. Before her home was forcibly taken away from her, she earned up to P200 per day from selling vegetables and bananas. Now, she and her husband have no garden, no income and no home to keep them safe.
 
Wilden on the other hand is worried about his daughter’s education. He said that she was at top of her class. But after the demolition, her grades significantly dropped. She refused to speak after witnessing the tragedy.
 
Brian and Ryan Pitugo witnessed their homes vanish before them. When one of RMP-NMR’s volunteers tried to interview them, both refused to speak. But, in their eyes, one can sense the unspoken, deep-seated melancholy and despair that took hold of their spirit.
 
The laughter of children, often heard daily in the community, is gone. The demolition took a toll on the children. Nearly 40% of the population in both communities are children aged below fifteen years old.
 
Adelina said that the demolition traumatized her deeply. At the moment, she felt an emptiness she could not explain.
 
Members of the RMP-NMR support team and a number of psychology students volunteering for Students’ Alliance for the Adavncement of Democratic Rights and Welfare in Iligan Institute of Technology (STAND-IIT) all agreed that the members of the community needed a psychological intervention to help them overcome feelings of despair and depression.
 
Illegal demolition
 
The law prohibits an eviction or a demolition without just cause and a suitable alternative for those affected by it. However, even sans the needed bases, a “court order” can easily be procured to wipe out an entire community. Following the demolition in Lugait, the victims attested that the court order was largely based on dubious evidence.
 
For the people, the demolition that took place was unwarranted. While it is mandatory under law for a formal notice to be issued and disseminated prior to the demolition, the people lamented that all they got were snippets of rumours that was obviously spread to sow fear and disunity among them.
 
There was absolutely no suitable relocation provided for the victims. This is clearly the responsibility of local government and the National Housing Authority with the aid of other government agencies. But, government was totally remiss in carrying out its duty, because the promised relocation turned out to be a fake. The victims were also deprived of any financial assistance, which should have been based on the current minimum wage multiplied by 60 days in order to somehow help in their daily subsistence.
 
The people were then forced to live in makeshift shanties along the national highway, which completely jeopardizes their very lives. Worse, the destruction of homes that took place amid torrential weather placed all of the families under extreme duress.
 
The right to life
 
It was clear that the demolition blatantly violated the mandatory guidelines that govern demolitions, which resulted in the commission of grave human rights violations. It basically violated the right to life.
 
Under Article 25 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), it states that “everyone has the right to live adequately for the health and well-being of the person and his family.” The basic elements of that need to be adequately satisfied are food, clothing, housing, medical care, and necessary social services.
 
In the case of the Lugait victims however, their lives are placed under constant threat because they now reside along the national highway. They fear that at any time a truck would raze their shanties and kill their loved ones. They cannot go on with their normal work routine. Every now and then they need to watch over their children who are sometimes left to play by the roadside.
 
As regards their sources for food, well, for sure they cannot go back to and rely on their vegetable gardens. In the most laughable of ironies, a resident was even arrested for attempting to cut-off gemelina for his hut.
 
Forty-five year old Eulogio Q. Clapano, Jr. suffered from heart attack after learning that his coconut trees were destroyed by the demolition team. He died on June 5. On the very day of the demolition, Eulogio went to Sheriff Norberto Labis carrying a letter from the Department of Agrarian Reform. The letter calls the attention of the sheriff to visit DAR’s office to talk about Eulogio’s crops. But the sheriff was arrogant and refused to read the letter. This chain of events triggered his heart attack.
 
Also, based on the data collected by the RMP-NMR, five fishing boats were destroyed by the demolition team. There is serious doubt that those fishing boats were even included in the demolition order. Apart from that, fruit-bearing trees were cut-off and brought by the demolition team to one of Anora’s houses situated within the demolition site.
 
In conclusion
 
The pain the residents of Brgy. Kalangahan and Brgy. Biga went through during the demolition are just the beginning of their suffering. This will linger even longer. They need psychosocial intervention to help them cope with the dire situation. Without financial assistance and a suitable relocation, the families will not last much long along the dangerous national highway.
 
In the rustic town of Lugait, like in any other parts of Northern Mindanao and elsewhere, the stark contrast of makeshift shanties of displaced peasants swelling outside vast ranches, plantations and agro-industrial zones are becoming an ironic reality.
 
And time and again, the urgent need for genuine agrarian reform has been underscored after the government’s bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program—after twenty-five years on the run—failed miserably in addressing landlessness and the perpetration of land grabbing in the island.