The ‘demon’ of Silverio

Patricia Evangelista

One day after. 24 Apr 2012. Photo by Geric Cruz.

PARANAQUE CITY, Philippines – The people of Paranaque’s Silverio compound call their mayor a demon. They say he is corrupt, that he is a liar, a fraud, and that he swallowed his balls at the same time he sold his soul.

Florencio “Jun” Bernabe knows this, is used to this, and is well aware this is normal behavior from the illegal settlers who have spent much of the past week howling his name. He is not worried. There is time, he says, to win them back before his son runs for the next mayoral elections.

Whose land?

In 2003, city ordinance 806 authorized the Paranaque City government to expropriate a 9.7-hectare property in the town of San Isidro. Civil Case No. 02-0245, City of Paranaque represented by then Mayor Joey Marquez versus Magdiwang Realty Corporation and Fil Homes Realty Development Corporation, resulted in a mandate in favor of the city to build a socialized housing project for the area’s thousands of informal settlers. In 2006, the city paid the Magdiwang and Fil Homes, the original owners, P10.2 million pesos, or what amounted to a 15 percent deposit.

On October 17, 2011, the Paranaque Regional Trial Court released a Writ of Demolition. Enforcement of the writ, according to Bernabe, is necessary to prove the city’s ownership of the property.

“Since we won the case, from the Supreme Court and back to the RTC, it means there has to be a demolition order to prove to all concerned that the land is owned by the city government.”

Paranaque City Mayor Jun Bernabe and the Silverio papers. 30 Apr 2012. Photo by Patricia Evangelista.

Bernabe intends to move residents out of Silverio by batches, maybe a hundred, a hundred-twenty at a time, to temporary housing the city will provide in a one-hectare San Dionisio property. The abandoned homes will then be demolished to make room for what is now being referred to as ”Silver Homes,” a neigborhood of mid-rise residential buildings to be financed by the National Housing Authority and sold to residents through affordable payment structures.

The promise and the dream

Many of Silverio’s residents believe in the promise of home and land, but they do not believe in Silver Homes. Bernabe may talk himself hoarse about homes that are fire hazards and sewage systems that pumps waste into city water, but for the people of Silverio, that these conditions exist at all is a point of pride.

Silverio, so says its residents, has always taken care of itself, building church, school, and water system without the support of the city.

Bernabe says the Ordinance 806 is an acknowledgement of the state policy “to provide homes for the homeless at affordable cost and also basic services and employment opportunities.” He says that the ordinance does not require that the state to give the informal settlers the same land their homes now stand on. For as long as residents are provided homes inside the expropriated property, the ordinance would have been fulfilled. He intends to use only three hectares of the expropriated land for socialized housing, the rest will be for a commercial complex that can serve as an income source for the city government.

That income will come in useful for a city that has been unable to raise its real-property taxes since 1997.

Bernabe’s Silver Homes promises condominium units for around 1,800 families. He says the city government’s own census testifies to the numbers

Silverio’s representatives claim the number is already 28,000. 

City hall has a different number. In August of 2008, then Mayor Joey Marquez filed a demand for expropriation against Magdiwang Realty, one of Silverio’s original owners. The complaint, emanating from the Office of the Mayor, lists the Plaintiff’s constituents as “numbering to about twenty-five thousand (25,000) families, more or less, for the past twenty (20) years or more.”

A 2008 complaint filed by the Paranaque City government numbers Silverio's occupants at 25,000 families.

If this is true, it means Bernabe will have failed the ordinance by more than twenty thousand families.

Demolition by interpretation

Bernabe says the intent of the April 23 demolition was never to demolish homes—yet. He chose to demolish commercial, non-residential establishments to establish ownership. Trouble begins, he says, when the government begins demolishing homes. As the Silverio incident shows, even a rumor made trouble.  He says the residents should in fact be aware he campaigned against the demolition of their residences, and in fact calibrated the demolition to avoid homes that share space with commercial establishments.

On April 11, Silverio’s residents refused to receive the Writ of Demolition sent by the Regional Trial Court. The writ states that all persons occupying the areas along the Silverio Main Road, Purok 1 and 4, Silverio Compound, Sucat, Paranaque City, “are hereby ordered to voluntarily vacate and demolish all structures/ establishments/ buildings /shanties/ improvements erected therein” within ten days and “to surrender peacefully the possession of the land premises you are presently occupying.”

The official notice of demolition issued by Paranaque RTC Branch 195.

Failure to do so, said the writ, would compel the sheriff, one Alejandro Abrematea, to “use force and effect the said order to the full force and limit provided by law.”

Bernabe claims this means that residents had nothing to be concerned over, as the land along Silverio Highway in Purok 1 and 4 are all commercial properties. He says that the problem with the residents was that they chose not to understand the writ.

Sara Bernal, president of Purok 4’s Homeowner’s Association, says that the wording of the writ is vague. The structures also include residences, and the writ does not distinguish commercial property from residential.

They started it 

Accountability for the violence that erupted Monday morning is equally complex.

The single fatality was found with a bullet in the brain along the main road. Residents claim that police began lobbing teargas at unarmed youth. A report by Police Senior Superintendent Billy Beltran contests this claim, saying “the militants broke ranks” and attacked the waiting police force. Beltran narrated how protestors began firing off a number of projectiles at the police, including molotov cocktails. Footage of the incident is inconclusive.

Paranaque Police Senior Superintendent Billy Beltran's incident report.

What is definite is that police did fire weapons, some aimed at protestors. Several of those injured showed bullet wounds, and testified they saw the police firing guns directly at the crowds. 

Department of the Interior and Local Government secretary Jesse Robredo says it is protocol for police to fire warning shots when protestors turn violent, but that is all that is permitted.

Ballistics reports show that the bullet that killed 20-year-old Arnel Tolentino could not have been fired by members of the accompanying SWAT team, who are armed with M16s. The weapon responsible for the killing was either a 9 mm or a .38.

Robredo admits the 9mm is standard issue for police officers.

Investigations are also in progress as to whether members of the police are guilty of unnecessary force after arresting protestors. A number of media outfits have broadcasted footage of uniformed officers beating unresisting civilians in their custody.

The course of true love

Bernabe says he is unhappy with the results of the demolition, and had prayed against violence before the April 23 incident.

He says, however, that the residents’ resistance is natural, given how they are used repeatedly by politicians building their voting base. The strategy, he said, is for a politician to call for a demolition then publicly put a stop to it and promise no demolitions will occur during their term if elected. He has witnessed other mayors do this, and he will not.

He intends to win back his public for the son who will run for mayor. He believes he has time, all it takes is one, maybe two buildings, and he would have proven the nobility of his purpose, done his duty to his city, and earned the everlasting love of the people of who now curse in his name.

He knows it will happen because he’s seen it happen, in other villages, after other demolitions. He is confident it will happen here. Soon, the demon of Silverio will walk back a hero. –