Economy, Human rights, Poverty

Silverio Compound: A fight for the right to live

(Video by Tudla Productions)

The Silverio Compound demolition in Parañaque City was the most brutal in recent memory, leaving at least one dead and some 36 hurt, mostly by gunshot wounds. Some 33 residents and protesters were also arrested, including seven minors and two women. Twenty-nine of them were eventually charged with resistance and disobedience to a person in authority and disturbance of public order. While some of the wounded were brought to various hospitals, many others refused to seek proper medical attention out of fear of being arrested or simply due to lack of money.

Negotiations

On April 23, residents blocked certain portions of Silverio Compound as early as 5 a.m. The main barricade was set up at Purok 4, which fronts the SM Hypermart. By 7 AM, five 6×6 trucks each carrying 30 to 40 policemen from the Parañaque City Civil Disturbance Management Unit (CDMU) along with two fire trucks began arriving in the area. They were backed by several members of the police’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit (SWAT) who were armed with high-powered assault rifles. By around 7:30 AM, many residents had already occupied Sucat Road, which was meant to cause traffic and delay the demolition. A demolition team of some 50 men arrived at about 8 a.m.

Initial findings of the emergency fact-finding mission (FFM) conducted by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) several hours after the bloody incident show that members of the CDMU provoked the violent confrontation. Prior to the hostility, leaders of the residents and local politicians Cong. Edwin Olivarez, former Cong. Ed Zialcita, and Councilor Eric Olivarez were negotiating with the police (talks began at around 9 a.m.) to suspend the demolition as the Silverio compound is the subject of a pending court case. The CDMU, on the other hand, was asking the protesters to free up a portion of the road to let vehicles pass.

Gun shots

Despite ongoing negotiations to suspend the demolition and willingness of residents to heed the police’s request to allow traffic flow, the CDMU prepared to turn toward the direction of the protesters at past 10 a.m. Witnesses also said they saw men secure the local politicians, which indicated that the police was getting ready to move. Thinking that the CDMU was about to disperse them, the residents started to hurl stones at the police. Eventually, the police responded by firing teargas toward the direction of the protesters. Accounts claimed that the police fired more than 10 teargas canisters.

The CDMU and SWAT members were forced to backtrack a bit but moments later, gun shots were heard, apparently fired by the police, sporadic at first and then in succession. The string of gun shots forced protesters to back down and run away while the CDMU and SWAT teams advanced and began arresting people. One person – later identified as 21-year old Arnel Leonor, a resident of Silverio Compound – was seen lying on the pavement, with what appeared to be a fatal gunshot wound in the head. He was brought to a hospital by the police many minutes later but was declared dead on arrival.

Violations galore

The atrocities committed by the police did not end in the indiscriminate shooting of the residents that killed Leonor and wounded others. Many of those who were already apprehended or subdued were still assaulted by the angry police. They were truncheoned, punched, kicked and slapped at whim by the arresting officers. These were captured by the media who were covering the incident. Worse, the arrests were arbitrary; the police picked up anyone they wanted. Some of those arrested and assaulted by the police were mere onlookers. They said they did not run away because they did not participate in the protest and thus thought will not be arrested, much less assaulted by members of the CDMU.

Arbitrary house-to-house searches were also carried out by the police to look for more people to pick up. Witnesses claimed that some police officers again fired their guns during these house searches. The demolition team, meanwhile, pushed through with the demolition of several stalls and houses.

Private profits over public housing

This bloody incident could have been prevented had Mayor Florencio Bernabe respected the original agreement between Silverio Compound residents and former Mayor Joey Marquez that the entire 9.7-hectare property will be used for socialized housing. This means that the 28,000 families occupying the property will just amortize the land to the Parañaque City government. It was Marquez who, in 2003, initiated the expropriation proceedings by virtue of an ordinance against Silverio Compound’s private owner Magdiwang Realty Corp. But Bernabe changed the plan, reduced the size for socialized housing to 3 hectares, and pushed for the construction of 32 medium-rise condos that can only accommodate some 1,900 families.

Bernabe is pushing for a public-private partnership (PPP) project for Silverio Compound, eyeing big developers including SM Development Corp. (SMDC) to build the medium-rise buildings and other infrastructures in the area. The remaining 6.7 hectares of the property will also be devoted for commercial development in a bid to entice private investors in the city. Clearly, this is a case of the local government prioritizing private profits over the people’s basic right to shelter.

Impunity

The blatant disregard for human rights displayed by the police involved in the incident speaks volume of how deep the culture of impunity has been ingrained among our law enforcers and security forces. To end this culture of impunity, those who are involved, directly and indirectly, and not only members of the SWAT and CDMU but even police and civilian officials, in the tragic Silverio Compound demolition must be held liable.

What is alarming is that recent developments point to the regrettable possibility of a whitewash. National officials, for instance, are now seemingly conditioning the public mind that Leonor could have died from a bullet fired by one of the protesters. Supposedly, one of those arrested tested positive for gunpowder. Only an independent probe of the incident, including a re-autopsy of Leonor’s body by an independent party, could provide a more credible finding.

There is no doubt that the police used excessive force in enforcing the demolition order. Their abuses have been well-documented by media outfits who covered the incident and their identities could be easily established. Bernabe, on the other hand, clearly abused his power in insisting to implement the demolition. There are more than enough grounds to immediately make these people accountable.

Call for support

While the residents of Silverio Compound remain undaunted by oppression and brutality, they need all the support that they can muster to ensure that justice will be served. At the same time, they also need assistance – medical, legal, etc. – to help them cope with the tragedy inflicted on them by institutions that are supposed to uphold their rights and promote their interests.

The people of Silverio Compound, like those in other urban poor communities who have been dislocated or threatened by PPP projects that only profit the few, are fighting not only for their homes but for their right to live as human beings. All those who value this very fundamental human right could not allow them to fail. (end)

Written for Paninindigan, Bayan’s official publication (click here)

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Poverty

North Triangle demolition: a glimpse of what the poor can expect from Noynoy’s PPP

As Pres. Aquino talks about poverty reduction and the MDGs in New York, the urban poor of North Triangle are forced to defend their shanties against demolition (Photos by Associated Press and Boy Santos)

While late because a temporary restraining order (TRO) has already been issued yesterday (Sep. 23) by a local trial court, Pres. Aquino’s order to suspend the forced relocation of residents of an urban poor community in North Triangle must be welcomed if only for the temporary respite it brings. But the issue is far from settled since the suspension simply intends to allow the “orderly” demolition of the remaining shanties.

In fact, the threat of eviction remains not only against residents of North Triangle but against all urban poor families who stand in the way of the administration’s centerpiece economic program – the public-private partnership (PPP). Indeed, the violent demolition of shanties in Sitio San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-asa yesterday gives a glimpse of what awaits the poor under the PPP.

(See the short video on Sitio San Roque’s demolition produced by multimedia production group Kodao Productions)

The demolition, which left several people injured, marks the start of the implementation of a P22-billion PPP project in the form of a joint venture between the National Housing Authority (NHA) and property giant Ayala Land Inc. to develop a 29.1-hectare property in North Triangle into the so-called Quezon City Central Business District (CBD). It is similar to another Ayala Land project and PPP initiative – the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig that also displaced thousands of urban poor families.

Based on official estimates, some 9,000 families will be evicted from Sitio San Roque to give way to the NHA-Ayala Land project but urban poor group Kadamay pegs the total number of affected families at 16,000.

This is just the beginning of what promises to be a tremendously and increasingly oppressive times for the urban poor not only in Metro Manila but in other parts of the country as well as the Aquino administration has vowed to aggressively pursue privatized infrastructure development through PPPs. An initial list of 10 priority PPP projects worth P127.78 billion for 2011 has been released by government, with the expansion of the mass rail transit system accounting for 55 percent of the amount.

While the poor of Sitio San Roque were desperately defending their shanties against the Metro Manila Development Authority’s (MMDA) demolition force backed by the Quezon City Police District (QCPD), Pres. Aquino was in New York with other world leaders to talk about progress in achieving the so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets aiming to halve poverty by 2015. According to reports, the country’s efforts to reduce poverty have been well-received at the United Nations’ (UN) assembly on the MDGs.

The World Bank even promised to fund government’s MDG efforts because in its view the Aquino administration is “moving in the right direction” with its promotion of PPP and conditional cash transfer (CCT). By the way, it was the World Bank that funded the framework plan of the CBD, which is now being implemented by the NHA and Ayala Land, whose board vice chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II, incidentally, joined Noynoy in his US trip to help scout for potential American partners in PPP initiatives.

The contrasting image of Noynoy in his neat Americana suit in New York talking about poverty reduction and of men in tattered shirts in North Triangle hurling stones at the MMDA and police in a desperate defense of whatever is left of their demolished shanties captures the hypocrisy of the MDGs and deception of the Aquino administration’s poverty alleviation program.

By promoting pro-business, anti-poor PPP projects such as the NHA-Ayala Land joint venture, government and the World Bank deprive the poor of shelter and consequently of a chance to be productive and get out of poverty. Instead of a decent, accessible, and sustainable housing project and other social services, what the poor get are CCT dole-outs from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to supposedly encourage them to send their kids to school and for pregnant or lactating mothers to have their regular check-up (note: universal primary education and improved maternal health are among the MDG targets).

But how can poor children attend school even with financial incentives from the DSWD when their families have been forcibly uprooted from their community and forever economically dislocated by wrong policies?

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