By PB Yapjoco
Amidst the spiking number of COVID-19 cases in the province of Laguna, at least 25 homes alongside the tracks of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) in Cabuyao were demolished by the local government this week, as part of the South Long Haul project by the railway administration.
According to Alicia Murphy, Executive Director of the Urban Poor Associates (UPA) these demolitions and evictions are definite breaches to human rights. She also revealed that at least 91,389 informal settler families (ISFs) will be forcibly removed from their homes if a moratorium on these demolitions is not imposed.
“This [eviction] shows the insincerity of the government to protect poor people from further harm of Covid. We hope that the people’s plea to impose demolition moratorium will not fall on deaf ears. Stop displacing people at this time of pandemic where poor people continually suffer from loss of jobs and health insecurity,” she explained.
UPA declared that the ongoing eviction is a direct violation of the Urban Development and Housing Act — also known as the Republic Act 7279 — under Section 28, which states that ISFs or any affected persons at risk of eviction are to be given direct notices, receive a consultation, and to be provided with relocation sites at least 30 days before the demolition.
Last May 4, Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Arthur P. Tugade emphasized that despite the current pandemic, President Duterte’s flagship ‘Build, Build, Build’ infrastructure projects such as the PNR railway will proceed along with expected minimal delays, since these construction works have already been permitted by the Inter-Agency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and are deemed necessary to our country’s economic growth.
However, these events contradicted the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular No. 2020-068, in light of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act which mandates all LGUs to postpone demolition and eviction activities and to ensure that all homeless citizens with their respective jurisdictions are properly accommodated.
Between staying inside and forced eviction
Over 105 families relayed their concerns to Mayor Rommel Gecolea through a handwritten letter, emphasizing that at least 200-300 families will be affected if these demolitions continue.
“Kami pong mga mamamayan ng Cabuyao na nakatira sa tabing riles ay nakikiusap sa panahon ng pandemya ay ‘wag kaming tanggalin sa lugar at kinatitirikan ng aming bahay sa riles. Dahil po kami ay may mga asawa’t anak, may mga magulang na puwedeng mahawa sa Covid-19 kung kami ay malalandtad dahil sa pagkawala ng aming bahay,” they explained.
They also pleaded to the government to give them proper housing once they are evicted from their homes.
“Yung iba pong natanggalan sa amin ay pakalat kalat nalang po sa riles. Naghahanap ng pwedeng silungan. Hindi po kami tutol kung ang lupang ito ay kakailanganin sa pagpapaunlad ng ating bansa, pero sana po ay may plano din para sa amin. Kung kami po ay tatanggalin, dapat po ay may disenteng pabahay na nakaabang sa amin… Maraming salamat po.”
Evicted Barangay Dos residents Micheal Abad and Jhonty Esmenda said that the loss of their homes poses numerous threats to their families’ safety and health.
“We fear evictions but are more frightened that we can get infected of the virus once our homes are demolished. We will not be able to practice social distancing because only our homes provide distancing from our neighbors. We urge Mayor Gecolea to stop the eviction of families living along the PNR station. We ask the government, while you advice everyone to stay at home, here in Cabuyao we are forcibly removed from our homes,” they said in the UPA statement.
Moreover, another resident Greg Monteverde also recalled that on the night of his family’s eviction he was forced to leave his family in Biñan due to the continuous rainfall, as cited from UPA.
“I am a construction worker and my job right now is that I am on call (pa-extra extra). Then eviction happened, which made our life more difficult. I could not tolerate the manner that the demolition team was dismantling our house, so I talked to them and asked them to allow me to do the demolition myself, so that at least I could keep my roof and some pieces of wood,” he stated.
‘Traumatic experience’ due to social injustice
Speaking on behalf of the affected residents, Micheal Abad confirmed that the recent events have brought about nothing but great trauma and anxiety to the community, due to the LGU’s late warnings. According to Abad, the Barangay Women’s Desk informed the families of their eviction just five days before the demolition of their homes.
PNR General Manager Jun Magno claimed in an earlier statement that they planned their actions thoroughly before the demolition happened.
“The period of entitlements when we were [listing] took almost a year. We did it one by one in the resettlement action plan. So it’s impossible what they’re saying, that they’ve been there for four years [because] we have a masterlist, and it shows the people living there and the specific parcels of land,” he explained.
Princess Asuncion-Esponilla, UPA’s Media Advocacy Officer was quick to point out that Magno’s justifications for evicting the families do not account for PNR’s inconsistencies with the law.
“Jun Magno says they did the resettlement action plan a year ago. If they had done that [a year ago], the relocation of the people living there must have been done a year ago [as well]. It is also insensitive to say ‘we’re compensating someone who wants to commit suicide.’ These people want to live with dignity despite of the condition of the area where they live,” Asuncion-Esponilla said.
Moreover, she also urged the LGUs to be more humane in the midst of an economic and health crisis.
“Maging makatao na lang. Imagine them out on the street because their supposed protection against Covid was taken away from them. There is nothing wrong with consulting the people and have a dialogue with them because they will never ever stop the PNR project. They just want to know what will happen to them,” she said. “The bottom line of all this is hindi naman mahirap na sundin ang proseso ng UDHA law para umusad ang proyekto ng DOTr. At lalong hindi din mahirap na unawain ang kasalukuyang kalagayan ng mga maralitang tagalungsod.” [P]