Over a decade ago, the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) was visited by dignitaries from all over the world when the island hosted the 2007 ASEAN Summit.
Today, it is dilapidated, badly damaged, and its grounds now host scores of homeless families from all over Mandaue City left destitute because of fires and disasters.
Irene Cutanda, mother of two, is among them. Her family lives in the CICC compound struggling to make ends meet.
In year 2020, the pandemic turned the lives of families like the Cutandas upside down. But the coming year could be even worse. They’ve been told to leave their makeshift houses come 2021.
In June 2019, around 1,200 families lost their homes to a big fire which raged across Sitio Basubas, Sitio Maharlika, and Sitio Espina in Barangay Tipolo. Irene’s family was among victims who were forced to take shelter in CICC while the 3 sitios were placed under a state of calamity.
Having lost their home and valuables in the fire, they used the money in their pockets and the cash assistance they received from the city government to build a makeshift house in one of the camps in the CICC grounds.
They still live there today with a just enough bed space and a small sari-sari store.
Before the pandemic, earnings from the tiny sari-sari store she managed helped them. On most days, her husband would look around for odd jobs to do to earn a living.
Then the COVID-19 outbreak and the ensuing quarantine hammered them hard.
“Nakadawat mi sa ayuda niadtong January pero karon kay wala na gyud. Gigasto gihapon namo sa pagtukod og balay sa camp og pampakaon sa among mga anak”, said Irene.
(We received aid in January but now, there’s nothing. We spent it to build our homes in the camp and to feed our children.)
“Lisud kaayo amo kahimtang diri. Halos dili mi makapalit ug bugas kay way mamalit tungod way kwarta”, she added.
(Our situation here is hard. Most of the time, we couldn’t buy rice because no one is buying [from the sari-sari] since no one has any money”)
Earlier, the Mandaue City government told the families in the CICC compound to move out. The local government said the end of their temporary stay was “long overdue”. Since then, up to this day, “clearing operations” had been ongoing in the CICC grounds.
The city government gave each family a P5,000 cash assistance in September 2019, hoping this would encourage the settlers to leave their camps in CICC. The city government even offered free use of government vehicles to transport their belongings.
However, Irene and her neighbors said they could not leave because their husbands could barely get any job in the pandemic. This means they could not afford to rent houses. According to them, moving out was just not a practical option.
Fight for housing security
Earlier in February, the families staged a rally in front of the Mandaue City Hall after they received a notice from the city government that their camps on the CICC grounds would be demolished.
According to Sunstar Cebu, Concena Toregosa, the head of the rally, said they urged the Mandaue City Mayor Jonas Cortes to temporarily stop the demolition and give them a relocation site.
Fortunately, demolitions were ordered stopped under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular No. 2020-068 on April 2, 2020.
However, in November, as quarantine restrictions were eased in Mandaue City, the LGU resumed demolitions. The resumption caused anxiety the among families in impoverished areas as they fear losing their homes.
Last Tuesday, December 1, Panaghugpong-Kadamay Cebu held a press conference inside CICC grounds to discuss the complaints of the affected families. Among their grievances was the ID system plan of the city’s Housing and Urban Development Office (HUDO). They also complained of the alleged inaction of Mayor Cortes, and the insufficiency of aid for the families left to settle in their camps during the pandemic.
In an article by Sunstar, Mandaue City Executive Secretary John Eddu Ybañez said that the city government planned to build 4 mid-rise socialized housing buildings worth P600 million in the CICC grounds.
These mid-rise buildings would then be used as socialized housing for the families who lost their homes in Sitio Maharlika during the June 2019 fire. The National Housing Authority will fund the project.
Unfortunately, Ybañez clarified that only former homeowners would benefit from the said housing project.
HUDO clarified that it had conducted a social preparation program to bring back the Sitio Maharlika residents to the site once it was developed. This included an ID system that was recently updated to separate the beneficiaries from the potential beneficiaries.
Irene and her family, like the other settlers in the CICC compound have yet decide what to do by January 2021.
“Wala gyud mi plano bitaw kung papahuwaon mi diri. Ang amo lang siguro kay tabangon mis among gobyerno para maklaro ang tanan“, she said.
(We don’t have any sort of plan if we were evicted from here. What we hope for is that our government would help us so everything would be cleared out) – Rappler.com