DAVAO CITY, Philippines – “Around 9 am on November 4, I saw two bulldozers ready to flatter the land where we live.”
This was how Luzviminda Montez, 44, remembered that day when a demolition team destroyed her home of 13 years and other houses in the former Quiñones Compound in Upper Mahayahay, Diversion Road Matina Crossing.
“There were 600 SWAT members and demolition teams in different colored uniforms demolishing our houses.”
For the 170 families who settled in this village, this was the end of their 15-year legal battle against a businessman who claimed the five-hectare land they lived for decades. The demolition came as a surprise as there was a no-demolition order from the city in the time of the pandemic.
“It was chaos when they demolished us. We were only given 30 minutes to gather our things. One police officer even punched a minor because he did not want the demolition team to destroy his house,” recalled one of its residents, 19-year-old Ruben Luho.
What was painful for some 78 residents was that they were not part of the association, the Upper Mahayahay Civic Organization in which Montez sits as vice-chair, which filed a case of forcible entry on the businessman named Eli Lui of Lui Enterprise who claimed he bought this land in 2005.
Lui was seen by the residents a few days after the demolition, taking pictures and pointing at them as they pitched makeshift tents on the other side of the road. He earlier offered P2,500 to each of the residents to buy house materials if they volunteered to demolish their own structures.
Barangay officials were helpless to stop the demolition because of a court order.
“(It was) hopeless due to the court order issued and complete documents were presented. Too much force was applied due to the heavy presence of security personnel,” said Joel Santes, long-time barangay chair of 74-A.
Santes said the demolition was untimely due to the pandemic as the urban poor are hit hardest due to the slow-down of the economy, and that talks for reconsideration of the date could have extended the stay of the residents.
Shelters in the highway
Some residents now have pitched makeshift tents on the other side of the road under the shade of banana trees. The owner of that lot has granted them only a week to stay, but they are now living there for the past three weeks.
“We do not have a home, no food to eat, no water and no money. Some of our belongings were left behind and most likely destroyed by a backhoe. Where is justice now? After a week, where will we go, cried Erditha Mamosog, 63 years old, whose husband had lost his job during the pandemic.
Another resident thought of going back to his province, as the memory of the demolition and their hopeless situation makes him feel he is losing his mind.
“My husband is a taxi driver. He can only bring two kilos of rice in a day’s plying during the pandemic. We can no longer go back to our homes. We are now homeless with no income,” another resident, Karen Manguilimotan said.
Karen said she is worried of the threat of coronavirus as they live in an open but cramped space and are unable to practice social distancing.
“If we get infected with COVID-19, it will be an additional burden to the government. That is why we hope that the government hear the sentiments of the poor. We request for the government to relocate us,” she said.
Some organizations like Tulong Kabataan made a fund drive to help the residents.
Some residents posted their plight on their Facebook accounts to make known their appeal to the local government to provide them with a place to relocate.
Montez recalled the words of Mayor Sara Duterte who said no demolition will be conducted until the pandemic is cleared and that relocation should be provided to the informal settlers.
But the demolition happened because of a Supreme Court ruling on this case of the association against Lui, according to Norman Balloro, commissioner of the Philippine Commission of the Urban Poor (PCUP).
“The only thing that we can do is to prepare our office and even the local government unit in terms with the intervention that we can conduct. We also made an appeal amidst the pandemic. But we have to respect always the Supreme Court order of the case,” said Balloro.
Last September, the commission recommended to the President for a suspension of demolition amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic waiting for response.
On April 2, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued a memorandum ordering all local governments to postpone any and all eviction-related activities. The memo cited the standing state of calamity in the country.
But the rules did not stop what happened in Upper Mahayay.
City Councilor Pamela Librado-Morata had filed a council resolution during their session on November 17 urging the implementation of the local government policy of “No demolition, No relocation” at the height of the state of public emergency.
“As we face a pandemic where we strictly impose health protocols and encourage people to stay home, demolition of houses is inhumane. Housing is supposed to be a basic right that must be enjoyed by every family. No one should be deprived of this right, especially during a pandemic. Demolitions during this time run contrary to our advocacy that people should stay home and postpone non-essential movement,” Librado-Morata said. (Lucelle Bonzo/davaotoday.com)covid-19, Covid-19 impact in Davao, davao city, Davao City latest news, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, demolition, Homeless, pandemic, Philippine Commission of the Urban Poor, Quiñones Compound in Upper Mahayahay, urban poor