RESIDENTS of a slum area in Agham Road in Quezon City on Monday hurled rocks, improvised explosives and human excrement against policemen whom they thought were out to demolish their shanties.
Reports from the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) said informal settlers fought running battles with riot police, resulting in the wounding of at least three officers and the arrest of a few though none were charged and were later released.
Police moved in as traffic backed up after squatters erected barricades across a street, said QCPD chief, Senior Superintendent Richard Albano.
“We arrested some people, but later decided to release them,” Albano said in an interview.
Residents hurled projectiles at officers armed with batons and shields.
The residents used rocks, spikes and nails packed in small containers, as well as human feces against the pursuing lawmen, who later fired tear gas canisters at the rioters.
The 29-hectare North Triangle area had previously housed 10,000 squatter families, according to Mayor Herbert Bautista. About 8,000 families were relocated with government help in the past two years, he said.
The government plans to redevelop it in partnership with a big real estate firm into a P65-billion ($1.5-billion) central business district, with the first phase set to be completed in three years.
Wooden barricades with tarpaulins protesting the demolition blocked the corner of Quezon Avenue and Agham Road as well as at North Avenue as early as 5 a.m. Residents and activists supporting their cause gathered near the Office of the Ombudsman at around 6 a.m.
Tension rose when police tried to remove the barricades and asked the residents to disperse.
Sonny Mallones, from the Kilusang Mayo Uno, said a demolition was imminent and would affect more than 3,000 informal settler families (ISF) in the area.
The barricades closed Agham Road to vehicles. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority advised motorists to take alternate routes.
The settlers were handed an eviction notice on June 15 by the Quezon City local government. They were given until yesterday to vacate their homes in Agham Road.
Supt. Pedro Sanchez of the QCPD Station 2 said the residents seemed unwilling to remove the barricades even if there is no demolition scheduled.
Malacañang officials said the government is ready to take “other measures” if informal settlers resist relocation.
Strategic Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang said the government does not intend to use violence on informal settlers.
He noted that the government dialogue with the informal settlers is “a step towards social acceptance.”
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. also said the government will not use violence to get rid of the settlers.
”Our constant policy is to prevent and avoid inflicting harm on citizens,” Coloma said.
“We take all steps needed to minimize the possibility of hostile encounters,” Coloma added.
But Taddy Palma, secretary to the mayor, said no demolition order has been issued since they are waiting for a request from the National Housing Authority.
Bautista said he received an intelligence report that a group is extorting P1,000 from each squatter family in exchange for protection from relocation. He said the group started the violence to protect their “racket.”
Bautista said the remaining squatters were renting out their shanties for P2,500 per person, and are illegally tapping into water and electricity services.
Bautista added that the area of the demolition is the site of a public-private partnership of the National Housing Authority and Ayala.
The mayor said the 2,000 families are “holding hostage” at least 12,000 potential job opportunities by preventing the development of the area.
He said property developer Ayala is planning to build several buildings in the area including hotels and office buildings.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said it will look into reports that leaders of a professional squatting syndicate are allegedly agitating and funding resistance efforts of squatter families who are not under the government’s relocation program.
DILG Undersecretary Francisco Fernandez issued the statement after Bautista disclosed the operation of the syndicate.
“We will have to look into this and file charges if necessary,” Fernandez said.
Around 6,000 families in the vicinity of Agham Road have been relocated to San Jose del Monte, Bulacan through the joint efforts of the DILG, National Housing Authority, National Anti-Poverty Commission, and the Quezon City government.
Of the 10,000 families covered by the relocation program, 4,000 have opted to stay at Agham Road.
In deep denial
KMU Secretary General Roger Soluta accused Bautista of being deaf and blind to the plight of ISFs in the area.
“Mayor Bautista is deep in denial. He refuses to accept that the residents of Agham Road are fighting and have very valid reasons for doing so,” Soluta said.
“We condemn the Aquino government and the Quezon City local government for this demolition attempt. They are again prioritizing big capitalists’ profits over the welfare of the poor,” he said.
Soluta stressed that the urban poor are fighting because the government has failed to give them decent jobs, decent housing and affordable social services.
“Now, the government even has the gall to demolish their makeshift homes,” he said.
In Manila, Mayor Joseph Estrada on Monday said he will give priority to relocating informal settlers living along the city’s waterways.
Estrada, who took his oath as mayor on Sunday, blamed the informal settlers’ indiscriminate disposal of waste for the heavily polluted waterways and the floods that plague the city during the rainy season.
“If we look at the Manila’s waterways, we will see how dirty they are, so whenever it rains, it floods,” he said.
But he assured that there will be no demolition of squatter dwellings without relocation. “We are not trying to oppress them. We will make sure before we evacuate them that a relocation area will be provided for them,” he said.
Estrada thanked President Benigno Aquino 3rd “who last week expressed his full support for the dredging and treatment of the waterways in the city together with the Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson. The budget that the President approved for the city will be a big help.”
He said he won’t be able to fulfill his promise to give the city back its former glory without the help of the residents.
“Like what I said earlier during the flag ceremony, the City of Manila represents the Philippines, that’s why we must address this issue together. Let us forget about politics and think about our country. Manila is the city with the most number of those living in poverty, so we must unite in the service of our fellow citizens,” Estrada said.
WITH REPORTS FROM AFP AND NEIL A. ALCOBER