Gina Porte picks-up the pieces of her old life in a scrap-laden shanty while waiting for her husband’s release.
If one were to look past the wasteland of debris and rubble and the thick silence that lingered in the ruins, one may come across a woman who chose to wait among the rubble that littered across Sitio Cawad in Brgy. Sto. Domingo, Sta. Rosa City.
Gina Mahinay Porte is one of the former citizens of the locality, now homeless by the demolitions. Whereas others chose to depart once all was said and done, she chose to stay behind, both by choice and by necessity. Someway from where she was laid in a dilapidated shanty of appliances and scrap, with a gnarly barbed wire fence separating her from what once belonged to her and her family.
Ironically, a tarpaulin with ‘No Trespassing’ inscribed in red was strapped across the metal wires. In tandem with the fence and the law enforcement that patrolled the streets, the shopping centers in Nuvali and the lavish homes of the Crown Asia community behind Sitio Cawad were perhaps omens of things to come.
“… kasalukuyang nakakalat ang mga kagamitan ng mga residente sa tabing highway. Tinatayang halos 200 na pamilya ang apektado – 6 na ang inaresto habang 2 na ang namatay sa nasabing demolisyon,” youth group Anakbayan Laguna said in their Facebook statement,
When the publication spoke to her last June 13, Gina was with a few of her companions in the small shanty ,if one may even call it that. The roof was merely a thin metal sheet propped up by a ladder and a stone column that also helped hold up the fence, and mosquitoes were noisy guests in the small patch of steel and concrete.
There were no walls and only a bench facing towards the debris and a gas stove they used to cook food. She would later explain that the bench was where she rested at night for the past five days by the time the interview took place. Everything else, like the kitchen utensils and chairs were cramped together under the little space left under the roof.
A house divided
It was a cloudy afternoon when Gina talked about her situation.
“Kami po ay na-demolish [sic] simula pa noong June 9, ‘till now nandito pa ako kasi yung gamit namin ay nandito pa. Yung bahay ko kasi, kahit nasira na siya kasi bakal bakal lang siya, sina-save ko siya para mabenta kasi wala assistance na binibigay sa amin,” she said.
She added that the money would be used to help their family keep moving. For Gina, this consisted of her six children, who were taken to her sisters by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and her husband, who was at that time detained reportedly for oral defamation.
When asked about her husband, Gina said, “Yung asawa ko nakulong kasi pinusasan ng … ayaw kasi palabasin ng asawa ko [at] anak [ko] gawa ng paulan na. Siyempre yung mga bata nagsabay-sabay umiyak [sic]. Sobrang tense na. Yung asawa ko ‘di mapigilang magalit. Nandiyan yung sheriff [whose name neither Gina or his friends could recall], nandyan yung mga police nakapiligid. Sabi ni sheriff “damputin mo ‘yan,” kasi sabi ng asawa ko palabasin, parang ano, pinusasan agad siya.”
For everyone else, Gina’s husband would only be a part of a statistic, being among the six arrested during the demolition.
“‘Di ba sinabi ni President Duterte na bawal mag-demolish kapag pandemic? Nasa pandemic, at tsaka bawal mag-demolish kapag walang relocation na naka-prepare.”
Gina does have some basis in assuming this, but she admits to not having the full picture. In 2016, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte was quoted as saying that there would be no demolitions without any plans for relocations under his watch, adding that destroying the homes of people without offering them a way out would be akin to treating them like dogs. It would be inhumane, so to speak.
Additionally, this policy would be concretized in April 2020. When it became clear that the pandemic would be here to stay, the government needed to find a way to minimize the movement of people to help prevent the spreading of the virus. As such, MC No. 2020-068 was crafted. The memorandum served to direct all LGUs to postpone demolition and eviction activities, and to ensure that homeless citizens within their jurisdictions were accommodated properly.
But even that was another entry in Duterte’s long list of broken promises. Due to the less stringent quarantine restrictions throughout the country by March of this year, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) officer-in-charge Undersecretary Bernardo Florece, Jr. said that demolitions of illegal structures and the eviction of illegal settlers could now resume as per MC. No. 2021-031. However, Florece still directed LGUs to coordinate with agencies to shelter displaced settlers.
A promised land
According to Gina, however, she was never an informal settler. She had lived in the same home for over 16 years, where her children were born. Even if she was, Gina said that she had only received radio silence, no financial assistance and no other place to call her home.
Regardless, Gina remained in the community, frustrated at the sudden events in her life. She said that they were only notified five days ahead of the “scheduled” demolitions. A time frame that even she said would not be enough to assess the situation.
However, there still lied the legitimacy of the community as a public place.
“Hindi naman talaga siya yung private. Public talaga ‘to dito. Hindi siya private.”
She continued. “ … pero ano kasi ‘to sa Madrigal tapos dinonate sa mga tao kung sino ang nakapaposisyon yun ang ano, kaso napaligiran kami ng mga mayayaman,” Gina said before letting out a brief chuckle.
Many of the residents have lived in Sitio Cawad for decades, with some having their ancestries stretched to the days of the Japanese occupation, some time before the Yulos decided to take over the area. The 7,100 hectare land of the Hacienda Yulo, of which Sitio Cawad belongs to, stretches across Calamba, Cabuyao, Santa Rosa, and Biñan.
The Yulo clan themselves are no strangers to demolitions (and even arson cases), as farmers residing in the Hacienda have long clashed with security personnel and wrecking crews allegedly linked to the family and their business.
Such information should be grounds for support from the local government, if not for the stance of their Mayor and Barangay Captain who have allegedly left the people of Sitio Cawad in the dust. Santa Rosa Mayor Arlene Arcillas previously supported the demolitionists, claiming that the land of Sitio Cawad is private property, much to the chagrin of the now homeless residents.
“‘Di talaga kami inaano noon, binabackupan. Oo ‘di talaga. Di kami binabackupan ng mga nan [the Sta. Rosa local government],” Gina said.
A livestream from Dinalyn Malate-Guarin Lumagda paints a more accurate picture of what happened on June 9.
What first started as a verbal exchange between the police and the protestors gradually devolved into madness as it became apparent that words would do nothing to prevent what would happen next. With car horns blaring and megaphones booming over the crowd, the protestors would line themselves up across the road, forming human barriers in an attempt to block further entry into their residences. However, the effort would prove futile as the police pushed forward, riot shields in hand.
“May mga maso, security may mga baril, mga police may shield. Pero kami wala talagang kaming dala, kahit ano. Bibig lang yung amin eh,” said Gina.
She elaborated further that the attempt to buy the land took place in 2011. Five years later in 2016, the same characters returned, pressuring them with force and harassing their family. They stayed put, and after another failed attempt in 2018, they had thought that would be the end of it
For those previous instances, Gina insisted that the security agency responsible for the harassment went by the name of Hunter.
While pleading for the national government to come to their aid, Gina remained worried about what the future lied for her and her family.
“‘Di ko alam, bangag na bangag talaga yung ano ko. Tapos, as in sobrang nerbyos. Tapos sana matulungan kami dito, kahit unti para may malipatan kami para may magamit kaming ano, kasi wala talaga eh. ‘Di naman talaga namin napaghandaan ng kahit ano eh, di naman naakalaan na this year, sa pandemic, bigla-bigla kaming igaganoon.”
An unfortunate incident
Looking back on the aftermath of the demolitions, Gina recalled an incident involving three individuals who were accidentally crushed by a chicken truck. Like herself, Gina assumed that the victims may have lost something in the devastation.
“Kasi sa Puting Kahoy [another barangay close to Sito Cawad] yung mga nanupaan doon. Binalikan nila … yung gamit nilang … ewan ko kung baka mahalaga din sa kanila yun, mga bata, pero mga binata na sila. Tatlo. Nung binalikan yung gamit, pagbalik nila sa Puting Kahoy. Naano sila eh, nabanga sila, patay sila.”
She continued, “Nawalan ng preno yung sasakyan ng manok. Sa pagkakaalam ko iniwasan yung tricycle, nakatricycle lang sila. Noong pag-iwas nila may sumunod naman na flammable [truck]. Oo ayun ang di na nakaiwas at ang flammable, at sumiksik na sila, makikita doon sa video sumiksik sila sa ilalim. Nakakaawa talaga, grabe.”
It is, however, unconfirmed if the incident Gina recalled was the same one that Anakbayan Laguna referenced as having two deaths. Whether or not the victims were former residents of the community is also up for discussion.
Where do we go from here?
When all is said and done, however, there would be little much else to be done against a seemingly faceless and unstoppable perpetrator. As a matter of support, many organizations have chosen to attend to the calls of the victims, amplifying their voices with their own. For one, progressive organization Lakapati Laguna criticized the local government for choosing to add to the ailments of the residents of Sitio Cawad given the situation with the pandemic, as well as calling for more financial assistance for those who would be left homeless by the demolitions.
“Sa kasalukuyan, nananawagan ang mga kababayan natin sa Sto. Domingo ng kagyat na tulong pinansyal at pwersa ng mamamayan upang sama-samang depensahan ang kanilang lugar. Ang masahol na desisyong ito ng lokal na pamahalaan ng Santa Rosa upang pagsilbihan ang interes ng mga pribadong korporasyon na lumilingkis sa siyudad ay hindi makatao,” Lakapati Laguna says.
Similarly, Anakbayan Laguna mustered the support of the citizens of Laguna, calling for solidarity against their abusers and demanding for the proper legal process.
“Mamamayang Lagunense, makiisa sa laban ng mamamayan ng Sitio Cawad! Ngayon at higit kailanman, hindi makatao ang anti-mahirap at anti-mamamayang mga patakaran sa gitna ng sumisidhing krisis! Habang nakabinbin pa sa korte ang kanilang kaso, hindi makatarungan na pwersahan silang paalisin! Marapat lang din na idaan sa tama at ligal na proseso ang usapin hinggil sa lupa at pabahay!”
At the last leg of the talk, Gina discussed some bits from her past, noting that there have been multiple instances of people attempting to take their land from them.
“Wala naman talaga sila title [to the land]. Gusto nila kaming bayaran, pero yung iba nagpabayad. Kami yung natitira hindi kami nagpabayad, kasi kami wala kaming titolo pero matagal kaming nanirahan. May 20 years, may 16 years. ‘Tsaka yung kabuhayan namin, dito kami nagtinda-tinda ganoon. Kaya mas ginusto namin manatili dito kasi nalalaman nga na ano walang ano talaga title,” said Gina.
A day after the interview, Gina has moved away from the place she used to call home, together with her entire family, to be with her brother in Cabuyao. Her husband was also released from custody. These are according to Gina’s companion by the sidewalk and sister-in-law Genelyn Gacita, who told the Perspective in a follow-up statement. [P]
Photos and additional reports by Reuben Pio Martinez
Design by Justine Fuentes