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CATBALOGAN, Philippines – Sari-sari store owner Gina Delos Santos wept as members of a city demolition team tore down her family’s lone source of livelihood on Monday afternoon, June 26.
Gina, a single mother, said she despair over the family’s future.
“Ang aming maliit na tindahan na nga lang inaasahan namin, nawala pa. Walang-wala na nga kami, tapos ganito pa ang nangyari sa amin, sana naman may tumulong sa amin,” she said. (We lost our small store which was our lone source of income. We already had almost nothing, and then this happened. We hope someone comes to our aid.)
It took a hours of standoff and two attempts by city police, members of the Catbalogan Law Enforcement Auxiliary Unit, the Bureau of Fire Protection, and the members of the city engineering office to subdue angry residents and tear down 140 houses in Pier 1, Barangay 6.
During those two tries, the busiest wharf of Catbalogan turned into a battle zone.
It was not clear how many residents were injured, but ambulances had taken people to the Samar Provincial Hospital. Among them, residents said, was a male minor allegedly beaten up.
The Catbalogan City Disaster Risk Management Office said seven members of the demolition team, including a backhoe driver, suffered minor injuries.
The backhoe burned when residents threw petroleum bombs.
Lawyer Uy, meanwhile, showed a video to backed up her clients’ claim that some members of the demolition crew threw tear gas and exploding devices at residents’ homes.
Hundreds of informal settlers flocked before dawn to the village entrance near the Pier 1 fish port.
They brought rocks, wood, pieces of steel in various sizes, and bottles filled with combustible liquid. They put up two layers of barricades and lit up tires around a small table separating the two barriers.
Atop the table was a wooden statue of a saint, a rosary, and a candle.
The demolition team arrived around 7:30 am to find residents with covered faces milling beside piles of rocks.
The residents’ success in halting a previous demolition attempt had prompted the city to send anti-riot policemen wearing chest protectors, shin guards, and elbow and knee pads to aid in the demolition. It also sent a few ambulances, two fire trucks, and a bulldozer dressed up with a protective net.
The demolition team advanced past 10 am. As the backhoe crashed the first barricade, residents threw rocks and lit-up bottles.
The bulldozer retreated with its front shield destroyed and its engine burned.
The driver jumped out and raced off to safety. Residents cheered.
Uy vs Uy
Uy, the lawyer arrived at 11:30, calling the demolition “illegal”.
“No order from the court, therefore it is illegal. I urge the police to arrest Mayor Uy because what he is doing now is illegal,” the lawyer shouted in a mix of Tagalog and Waray.
She said the court had declared the residents’ application for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and a Writ of Injunction as submitted for resolution.
Mayor Dexter Uy said the city had the necessary documents and even sought the legal opinion of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
“There is no need for a court order since any LGU is allowed to conduct eviction once the structures are built without a mayor’s permit, or when these are located in danger zones, or if there’s a fund from the national government for an improvement project,” the mayor said.
The local chief executive told residents their houses were blocking completion of a project approved in 2018 to rehabilitate the Catbalogan City wharf and beef up its resilience to typhoons and storm surges.
He belied claims about the absence of a relocation site.
“Andun na nga nakatira ngayon ang ibang nag voluntary vacate, tapos sasabihin wala. Meron po!,” said the mayor. (How can you say there is none when those who voluntarily vacated are already there.)
After the shouting match, the lawyer went between the demolition team and the barricades and continued to rail against the demolition. But as the wrecking crew advanced, her clients brought her to safety.
Despite physical resistance, the city team destroyed the barricades within 20 minutes.
The male residents scampered away. Silence descended on the community.
Somehow, the table with the saint remained untouched. A woman, who refused to give her name, collected the icon.
On social media, city residents were split on the demolition.
Evicted families and the local government dialogued on Tuesday, June 27.
City Administrator Dennis Cosmod told Rappler the LGU has allowed the affected families to stay in the evacuation centers. He said they would evaluate videos taken during the demolition.
“If they are found out to have joined the violent resistance, then maybe they have a problem with their relocation,” Cosmod said.
What went before
Mayor Uy called the razed community a fire hazard.
The city plans “to build a permanent and safer tenement building for the informal settlers who are willing to return, especially those victimized by the huge fire in May 2018,” he explained.
The city also plans to construct a commercial center, multimodal terminal, and other facilities that would benefit Catbaloganons and those from nearby municipalities.
The mayor said the city offered in 2018 sufficient financial and logistical support, valued at around P20 million, to informal settler families who agreed to voluntarily move.
National agencies pressed the city to complete the project in 2020.
“They were not ordered to immediately vacate the area considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we put our focus in developing other areas such as the construction of seawall, and jetty port,” the mayor explained.
Other informal settler families voluntarily demolished their homes in 2021/ The mayor said they received P10,000 and help in the hauling of furniture and appliances to the Barangay Payao relocation site. -Rappler.com