Ozamiz City

In Ozamiz City, officials evict residents during a pandemic for a housing project

Rambo Talabong
In Ozamiz City, officials evict residents during a pandemic for a housing project
At least 5 homes have been demolished in Ozamiz City since the start of the coronavirus pandemic to give way to a housing project

For weeks already, surrounded by noise, the family of James Mendoza* in Barangay Lam-an in Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental has been gripped by fear.

Since the pandemic, the local government of Ozamiz City has been asking them to leave their homes in the barangay’s Purok 6 (District 6). 

Their homes, they were told, would be demolished to give way to a housing project. The local government has gathered support by promising informal settlers new homes, but longtime land and homeowners like the Mendozas complain about harassment and what they believe to be the lack of legal orders to shoo them away and take their land. Unfortunately, the law may not be on their side.

Takot na takot po kami. Hindi po kami makatulog gabi-gabi, kasi every Monday to Friday, mga konsehal namin sinasabihan kami na mag-pack na kami, kasi kami na raw po ang susunod,” James told Rappler in a phone interview.

(We are very afraid. We can’t sleep every night because from Monday to Friday, our councilors tell us that we need to pack up, because we will be next.)

James said the eviction threat came from their barangay councilor Joel Patigayon, barangay captain Sancho Oaminal, and their congressman, House Deputy Speaker Misamis Occidental 2nd District Representative Henry Oaminal.

The lots in Purok 6 are considered prime estate as they are located in the center of the city. No less than the Oaminals themselves live just 3 minutes away.

Because of the Oaminal family’s clout in the area, James said they have failed to gather help from the government itself to stop the evictions and demolitions, which were discouraged during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They should stop this abuse of power, because it’s obviously harassment especially in this time of pandemic,” James said.

Legal basis

In a phone interview with Rappler, Oaminal denied James’ claims, saying that the local government and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), which was the implementing agency for the project, have already secured writs of possession from their regional trial court to evict the residents and land owners like James’ family.

Oaminal argued that their city was only under general community quarantine and that the government must continue with its projects, including his thrust of providing housing to informal settlers in their barangay.

He added that he wanted the project to be in the city because that is what the informal settlers had told him they wanted.

“The Oaminals have no violent record. We are observant of the rule of law. We lead the district and the city with compassion. I appeal for their compassion towards their leaders because we have been working hard for the upliftment of the municipalities,” Oaminal said.

The plan
PET PROJECT. Construction begins for the housing project envisioned by House Deputy Speaker Henry Oaminal. Sourced photo

Building a resettlement complex in his barangay for informal settlers was a campaign promise of House Deputy Speaker Oaminal in the 2019 elections.

Over a hundred families in Barangay Lam-an, he said, were either informal settlers or were homeowners living in cramped houses with poor sanitation.

“The program is to give them housing to raise their standard of living,” he said, noting that aside from multi-level buildings, he wants to build a court, a daycare center, and a community market.

This was the same pitch he gave when he met up with the informal settlers and the home and land owners of Barangay Lam-an during a Purok meeting in late 2018. James’ family saw Oaminal’s presentation.

The informal settlers, naturally, celebrated the idea, while the home and landowners like James’ family protested.

Oaminal offered to pay P500 per square meter (sqm) for their land. After the families resisted, he offered to double the offer to P1,000 per sqm, with half of the purchasing money coming from his own pocket, he said, because the local government unit could not pay them with its limited funds that year. The families still refused.

The Deputy Speaker said the families would have already gained with his initial offer. He said the value of the land was assessed to be below P200 per sqm. 

Home for decades

For the families who have stayed in the area for decades, however, their patch of homeland was worth so much more. They did not want to give it up.

James’ family, for one, has held on to the title of their 275-sqm land since June 1962 and had built their house in the late 1990s.

OWNED. The land title of the Mendoza family. Sourced photo

At a deadlock, the Ozamiz City local government filed a case with the Regional Trial Court Branch 15 in Ozamiz City and obtained writs of possession with the condition that the local government would compensate the families for the land it acquired.

The DPWH, as the implementing agency of the project, has since demolished the homes of at least 5 of James’ neighbors in the 21-lot area. 

A total of 7 lot owners, including James’ family, have filed a case before the Supreme Court asking for a temporary restraining order against the local government and the DPWH to stop their demolition efforts.

The families went straight to the High Court, James said, because they did not trust their local courts.

Hawak din po sila (RTC) ng mga Oaminal,” James said. (They are also controlled by the Oaminals.)

Where to go during a pandemic?

The local government, however, has shown no signs of stopping, let alone slowing down. Of the 7 complainants, 3 have lost their homes.

Just on Saturday, August 8, a house was torn down with a backhoe in the early morning. Earlier on Wednesday, August 5, another was taken down, as was another the day before. They were their longtime neighbors in the area.

Deputy Speaker Oaminal said the local government has writs of possession for all the houses that the DPWH demolishes. For James and the other families, the local government and the DPWH should have waited for the Supreme Court’s decision before sending them away.

With the pandemic, too, James said they couldn’t find an area to transfer. Oaminal said he has been offering the families a chance of to relocate to temporary sites, like a clubhouse the local government had converted for provisional occupants. James said they deserve to stay in their homes.

Lalaban kami sa kaso. Hanggang ngayon may kaso pa. Ayaw nilang maniwala sa batas, gumagamit sila palagi ng dahas,” Cristina,* the mother of James, told Rappler in a phone interview.

(We will fight in this case. There is still a case up to now. They don’t want to believe in the law. They are always using violence.)

Timeline of demolitions
ALL RUBBLE. Homes are demolished to make way for the housing project. Sourced photo

From the start of the pandemic, the local government of Ozamiz City has allowed, if not directly ordered, the demolition of at least 5 structures in Purok 6. All but one incident in the early morning were documented by residents.

May 27 – A certain Torres family was visited in the area by the sheriff of the court and was told to leave because their home would be torn down. The Torres family, James said, was not shown any document.

In the sheriff’s report obtained by Rappler, the sheriff, Cesar Vale, said he presented to the family as early as May 7 both a notice to vacate and the local government’s writ of possession for their property. The family received the document but refused to sign it.

May 28 – The sheriff led the demolition of the Torres family home. As shown by videos posted later, the Sheriff entered the family’s house. He was followed by armed policemen in combat overalls. He allegedly destroyed the gate’s padlock before barging in to order the family to leave.

He was accompanied by the police who then allegedly carried the belongings of the family to force them out. They begged the police to stop as they had a pregnant woman in the family.

“They were intruded upon, then were ordered to leave. If they disobeyed, they were told, there was something bad happening to them,” James said.

Sensing danger, the family eventually left. Their home was destroyed the same day.

July 18 – The backhoe’s return signaled another round of destruction, this time, of the Neri family’s house. Unlike the Torres family, the Neris weathered the threats and stayed inside their home.

Still, this did not stop the construction workers from destroying at least a part of their property. The family’s wall fence, which separated their home from the envisioned construction site, was reduced to rubble. The construction workers ignored the family screaming for them to stop.

Since then, the Neri family has made sure that a person stood guard over their home. They could not let themselves be evicted because they have a senior citizen, their grandmother, and a pregnant woman under their roof.

“They are still afraid because they were told that whatever happens, their home will be taken down,” James said.

August 3 – An unoccupied house of the neighborhood’s Tadle family was dismantled by construction workers, despite the family demanding that they stop and that they show an order for the destruction of their property.

“They tried to stop them. Even if the house was not occupied, it was theirs. They have the documents,” James said.

August 5 – The demolition crew then came for the house that the Tadle family called home. One of the family members belonged to the same school batch as James, and kept him updated.

The Tadle family tried to stop the construction workers by forming a human shield. The grandmother of the family, a senior citizen, joined the protest, while James’ batch mate stayed inside. 

They were ignored and the backhoe continued with the destruction.

August 8 – In the early morning, the construction workers tore down the home of the neighborhood’s Calimpong family. They failed to take photos and videos of the demolition because they were caught by surprise, James said.

The Calimpong family, according to James, did not own the land but still owned the house that was destroyed.

The local government’s basis

Ozamiz City writs of possession by Rambo Talabong on Scribd

For the Oaminals, the government already has enough basis to evict the homeowners. Deputy Speaker Oaminal added that they could also be included in his housing project.

“The court has afforded them the maximum due proces. There were many hearings for them to respond,” Oaminal said.

The local government of Ozamiz City filed its complaints in January 2020 and received the writs of possession for the lots of the Torres, Neri, and Tadle families by April 2020.

The local government was ordered to pay the Neri family P346,480 and the Torres family P35,380. The Tadle family did not own their lot, so the LGU acquired their land by paying its owner, a certain Regina Garcines, P241,560.

The money was deposited with the clerk of court of the Ozamiz City regional trial court for the families to claim. “I would advise them to claim the money before the court,” Oaminal said.

As for the Calimpong property, Oaminal said they opted to voluntarily leave their home and are set to be beneficiaries of the housing project. 

Supreme Court petition vs Ozamiz City demolitions by Rambo Talabong on Scribd

James said, however, that the Calimpong family did not destroy their own home voluntarily, as Oaminal claimed. Rather, it was demolished by the DPWH, he said, as they saw the team’s backhoe on demolition day.

James also said the families were not informed about the payment made available for them by the local government. Oaminal said this could be the fault of the families’ lawyers who failed to inform their clients.

Oaminal also acknowledged that the families sought the intervention of the Supreme Court, but he argued that it might have been the wrong route to take to prevent their eviction. Instead, he said, they should have fought harder at the regional trial court level.

Humanitarian appeal

In a phone interview with Rappler on Wednesday, August 12, law professor Tony La Viña said that as far as legal remedies go, there is not much the home and landowners can do now, considering that the local government has obtained writs of possession and that it has already secured funds for their compensation.

“That’s the point there. They (the homeowners) only have the humanitarian aspect now,” La Viña noted. By humanitarian appeal, he meant asking the government to reconsider with the project given the pandemic, something that the families have been doing.

“The Supreme Court petition is the last-ditch effort,” La Viña said.

The case of the families in Ozamiz City is different from the eviction attempt by policemen against a family in Taguig City, where the family still owned the title to the land while the police have not yet filed a case to obtain their property for public use.

MARKED. The Mendoza family home is marked, presumably for demolition. Sourced photo

While the Mendoza family was waiting for the Supreme Court to act on their petition, they tried to seek help from national government agencies to intervene.

James’ mother, Cristina, recounted to Rappler that they paid a visit to the local office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in Ozamiz City on July 30.  They submitted their documents and footages from the demolitions and explained that they needed urgent help.

As of August 12, the DILG has not yet reached out to them.

Meanwhile the local government of Ozamiz declared the lawyers of the Mendozas, Rey Obnimaga Jr and Emerald Pancho, persona no grata in the city for lodging the complaint with the DILG.

“They are aggravating the situation. They filed a case with the DILG and made it appear that their clients were dismantled during the pandemic without revealing the identity of their clients,” Oaminal said.

In the earlier months of the pandemic, Cristina recalled speaking to staffers of the office of Senator Bong Go, Senator Manny Pacquiao, and a certain “Attorney Fernan” from the Office of the President. All staffers, Cristina said, promised an investigation but never got back to her.

On top of this, the land and homeowners of Purok 6 have been losing the battle in terms of public perception. 

The Oaminals own at least 3 local television channels broadcasting in Ozamiz City. No local journalists have spoken with them.

The other families, afraid of the repercussions of speaking out publicly, declined to speak with Rappler.

Dito sa Ozamiz wala nang malalapitan kapag sila ang kaaway kasi lahat ng tao dito hawak nila (Here in Ozamiz, you cannot ask for help from anyone if they are your enemy because everyone here is controlled by them),” said Cristina.

On August 11, the Mendoza family found that the front of their house had been marked with a red spray-painted “x”. It couldn’t be a good sign, they said.

James said: “Ang kinakapitan namin ng hope ay abogado na hindi daw dapat kami matitinag, pero papalapit na nang papalapit sila sa amin. Ang mga kapit-bahay namin na katabi lang ng bakod namin pinapaalis na, pinapagiba na ang sariling bahay. Kami na raw ang kasunod.

(We are pinning our hopes on our lawyer who is telling us we should not give up, but they are coming closer and closer to us. Our neighbors beside us are already being asked to leave as they demolish their own houses. They say we are next.) – Rappler.com

*Names changed for their security

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.