Power vs. Poverty
(Note: Your Midfielder is posting this first person account of the honorable former Vice President Tito Guingona Jr. Sir Tito,who lives just a stone’s throw away, on 9th Street. has been the constant source of hope for the 180 families living between 6th and 7th Street in New Manila’s Barangay Marianas.
The poor folk have repeatedly been the target of demolition operations in the area whose ownership is claimed by rich, influential entities. This is their story.)
On August 11 a horrible specter of merciless destruction began anew against more than l80 helpless families – mostly women and children, living in humble shanties between sixth and seventh street in Broadway, Quezon City. The demolition teams were led by sheriffs, scores of armed police officers and men, and private gangs bearing hammers and steel bar, and security guards carrying shotguns, armalites and sidearms.
The affected families pleaded – because the weather was bad, and the law mandates that demolitions should only proceed in clear weather. Furthermore, the order of demolition was expressly directed only against six named individuals and persons claiming rights under them – not against other persons with separate homes living there.
They intended to raise this vital issue, among others, in a hearing already scheduled for Friday, only two days hence.
But the sheriffs who led the demolition were adamant. The rains then were intermittent. They would come and go, and when a lull came during noon – they ordered the destruction to proceed. The settlers stood their ground but were no match for the rush of armed forces seeking to destroy. Lourdes Pantanosas strove to shield her family but was pistol-whipped on the head. More than a dozen others who tended to preserve simple belongings were mangled or trampled upon. They used Improvised explosive devices or Pillbox bombs, shotguns and armalites to cow the helpless victims further.
By nightfall, in the wake of ruins, many of the settlers were driven to the streets, stripped of roofs over their heads, shorn of tattered belongings left in the rubble – and then the evening rains came to drench their sufferings even more. Yet no matter how strong the rains and the roar of thunder, they could not stifle the wail of children crying in the night…nor the painful sobs of impoverished mothers weeping and praying in the dark.
The ugly demolition kept on for several days until all l80 families were driven to the streets. But the armed police and private security forces kept on and maintained vigil. Towards the second weekend. In the early morning of Friday August 27, a security guard using an armalite brazenly aimed and shot Dorina Dagohoy Bahin, who fell bleeding. Her friends and relatives quickly came to the rescue, rushing her to the St. Lukes Hospital. The security guard, Reymarc Arsenal from Antipolo was taken by the police under custody to Baras Police Station, for the power to demolish a home does not include authority to shoot or kill.
This tragedy did not begin on August 11 20l0 but way back in l950 almost 60 years ago. The property, comprising 3, l43 square meters, covered by TCT No 9460, was originally owned by a Japanese national, Arata Tsuitsui. Thru the intercession of then Mayor Manuel de la Fuente of Manila, with the consent of the Alien Property Authority which had jurisdiction over Alien Custodies, the Mayor of Quezon City then Mayor Ignacio Santos Diaz, relocated the parents and elders of the present defendants, headed by Pablo L. Mirando to the site in question.
The agreement was for them to purchase the property from the Board of Liquidators, and initial payments were made, followed by monthly rentals to be considered as part payments of the sale, evidenced by receipts of said payments. Therefore the present defendants who succeeded their parents and elders are not squatters but settlers: designated by government to stay in the site, to possess the premises in good faith, to eventually own the property upon full payment.
As a matter of fact, before construction of their homes the settlers secured building permits signed by then City Engineer Anastacio V. Agan. It seems ironic therefore that in 2008 an order for demolition was issued, not by a Court, but by the City Engineers’ Office to destroy houses which had permits to build, permits given by the same office valid no mater how long ago.
From the early fifties to the present, a time span covering two generations, the original settlers and their successors endured varied challenges. They coped with the rigors of poverty. Jesse Seranilla as a young boy struggled as a pupil in nearby schools, studied assiduously and later got gainfully employment in a global firm, Philippine Airlines. Others like Jesse also spent their young years there and rose to manhood to reap success. Feliciano Angue was such a man, today he gallantly serves the nation as a Rear Admiral in the Navy. So did Alex Espinosa, now a Lt. Col in the nation’s AirForce. And Henry Espinosa, a Captain in the Philippine Marines.
But back to the property from whence they grew. In the early fifties, Carmen Planas owned the adjoining property comprising 4,304 square meters. She had other lands in the provinces and in 1953 she entered into a swap arrangement with the Board of Liquidators for ownership of the land occupied by the settlers. But she agreed to sell the adjoining property to the settlers, recognizing their rights of possession and eventual ownership of the area.
After the passing of Carmen Planas, the special administrator, Ilumindo B. Planas, sold the property to Wellington Ty Bros in November l964. Subsequently the Ty Bros. filed cases in court to eject the settlers but the son of Carmen Planas, intervened. Maximo I. Planas representing the other heirs, sided with the settlers, and asserted their right to stay in the land as eventual owners of the same. From then on court battles continued. Their rights were recognized by the court but the legal battles went on.
In l982, Wellington Ty Bros sold the property to Urban Planters Development Inc. Somehow the property was transferred anew, this time to Manila Banking Corporation, and lastly to China Bank.
Perhaps it is time we all help to resolve the plight of the settlers now. For the challenge they face is not only legal or political – it is also a social problem involving power versus poverty whose challenges similarly replicated across the land – can virtually affect the strife for social justice in the Philippines.
It took the American negro centuries and countless battles to fight for justice and equality; it was only in the seventies of last year when the last stumbling block against real social integration was finally swept away – when the distorted banner of “Equal but Separate facilities for Black and White” in schools, in restuarants, in buses, in all public places was ultimately discarded. Today the United States has a black President.
Here in our own country, we have good laws and a workable constitution – but the wielders of power are often blinded to go against the poor, not because they are per se against the poor but because they perceive them as barriers to their desired goals. A man in high power who files mining claims is disturbed when he is confronted by tillers in the land inside his claims; he is disturbed when met by labor leaders making demands in his firm; he is disturbed when the acquatic rights to his fishing company are disputed by ordinary fishermen. Disturbance distorts his vision. Who are they to dare defy me! He begins to wield power – to win at any price, regardless of any cost.
The nation’s real need however is change, wholesome and meaningful change. For history tells us that power abused can crumble into dust. Power to build, yes. Not power to destroy.
Power to respect, not power to distort the laws and policies of the land. Otherwise we may no longer hear the cry of babies in the night nor the sobs of mothers weeping and praying in the dark…but we must listen to them because the majority of our brothers and sisters are poor – and we must help them to truly build the nation.
By: Tito Guingona