An elderly woman leads fellow residents to stop a high-end subdivision project, the Le Jardin, owned by a prominent landlord family in Davao City.

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — “Backhoe, backhoe!” a young boy pointed at the gates of the fence enclosing the 11-hectare portion of land which the Villa Abrille clan claims in Purok 13, Bugac, Barangay Maa for its high-end subdivision project, Le Jardin. More than 10 security guards armed with shotguns stood by the gates. They were the same guards of the Addis Security and Risk Control Agency who came with the backhoe and fired shots at the barricading residents in three successive incidents between August to September.

Luckily, no one was hit among those who prevented the backhoe from penetrating the premises. But the bullets fired by the guards bore holes on the trees around. The guards, who attempted to evict Marcela Camumot and 27 other families living in the lot, were the same guards who were jailed days later after residents put up a barricade and demanded a stop in what they called an “inhuman” act.

“Garden in the City,” as Le Jardin’s marketing tagline suggests is a veritable garden for Camumot, or “Nanay Silay” to many, whose family came from Cebu in 1947 and settled in what used to be the mouth of Davao River, now called Bugac in Barangay Maa,this city. Her family opened five hectares of the land for rice and corn farming way back then, and with some coconuts and other fruit trees on the side.

For Nanay Silay, fighting the Villa Abrilles is “worth it” because they are, “Davao City’s greatest landgrabber” as the latter started leveling the ground and dumped layers of soil on her rice paddies.  “Tigulang na man ko. Kung patyon ko nila, pwede gud na nilang himoon pero lisud kung  mosurrender ko. Mura rag giluiban nako akong kaugalingon. (I am already old. They can shoot me if they want to but it’s hard for me to give up this fight. It’s like I am betraying myself),” Nanay Silay said.

A hearing for the temporary restraining order filed by Nanay Silay’s camp was scheduled in December but was reset after the Villa Abrilles failed to appear in court.

It all began in 1973 when the Villa Abrilles sued Camumot for allegedly forcing entry into the lot. But she was able to prove in court that they were already tilling the land and had been offering part of the harvest as tributes to the Villa Abrilles way back in 1962. The civil case was dismissed later by then Davao Court judge Milagros Nartates in 1976 and Camumot won a court decision establishing her tenancy of the land.  Camumot was about to have the land patented to her name under Presidential Decree 27 — the law that affords tiller of the land to own the land — when her lawyer, Rey Bragado was assassinated in time for the reopening of her case in January 1977. The Villa Abrilles used Original Certificate of Title No. 5609 to claim the lot. But Camumot was able to secure a certification from the Land Registration Authority indicating that no such title, document or record under the name Francisco Villa Abrillle-Juna existed.

There used to be more than 60 families occupying the land but only 27 families have stayed on and continued to resist the claims of the Villa Abrilles. “Gipangbayaran na man ang uban. Ako ug pipila na lang ang wala gyud mosugot, (They paid off the rest. I was one of the few who remained),” Camumot said.

The residents questioned how the Villa Abrille obtained a permit to fence the land from the City Housing, including a permit to develop the lot from the City Engineering Office when the latter does not even have the right papers to go with it. “Influential people man gud sila. Ug dili pud na sekreto nga kumpare na sila ni Vice-Mayor Duterte (They are influential people and it is no secret that they are “kumpares” with the Vice-Mayor),” Camumot quipped.

Camumot first went to prison for fighting it out with the Villa Abrille in 2006, the year work on the housing subdivision project began. The only crime she did, if it was a crime at all, was bore a hole through the fence that kept her from accessing the rice field she was tilling. The Villa Abrille succeeded later in dumping landfill on the rice paddies.

Apparently raring to get started with the construction of Le Jardin, the Villa Abrilles have never been as aggressive lately in their attempts to evict Camumot and the rest of the locals. In May, construction workers hired by the Villa Abrille forcibly entered the lot and destroyed the crops and fruit trees that Camumot planted.

Camumot tried to stop them by throwing stones at the backhoe but instead, ended up in prison for it. The Villa Abrilles filed a case of “malicious mischief” against the old woman and put her behind bars for four days.  The next to go were light and water. These were cut off from Camumot’s household and the rest of the neighborhood in July.

“The case of Nanay Silay is a classic one,” said Sheena Duazo, of the urban poor group, Kadamay. The incident in Bugac, Maa provides a peek into the worsening violence with which city’s elites take over the poor’s abodes.

“Nanay Silay exemplified many of the urban poor who have worked hard to deserve the land they occupy but end up losing them to the elite who use power and influence to get what they want. The same elite wave a dubious piece of land title they acquired using such scope of influence and power, and stuck it at the end of their goons’ guns like what they did in this case,” Duazo cited.

Nanay Silay, 71, knows the Villa Abrilles are no ordinary enemies. “Injustice man nang gihimo sa mga Villa Abrille nga landgrabbing, di ba? (Isn’t what they are doing to me an act of injustice?),” Nanay Silay reasoned out. The world, she said, may not understand her indignation but to Nanay Silay nothing hurts more than the thought that she has worked doggedly on the land but may end up losing it to someone who has never even tried turning up the soil with a plow. (Cheryll D. Fiel/

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