'Iiskwaton kami': Displacement, resistance in Leyte 2 years after Yolanda
Nanay Lolita is a Yolanda survivor. A mother of 4, she resides in one of Tacloban’s most impoverished seaside communities. Like her neighbors, her house was washed out – “totally damaged” in DSWD parlance – by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). At 72 years old, she is faced with the challenge of starting over.
I met Nanay Lolita as part of a research project, which examines democratic innovations in communities affected by mega-disasters. In our interview, she showed me an 8-inch scar on her leg. “Remembrance ni Yolanda,” she describes in jest. Her colorful personality captivates me. She can seamlessly shift from laughing about her strategies to survive the super typhoon to sorrowfully conveying her lingering sense of loss.
But Nanay Lolita is more than just an endearing grandmother with fascinating stories to tell. She is also a seasoned activist. Her biography is defined by decades of resistance against threats of displacement in her community.
No dwell zone
Nanay Lolita lives in a reclamation area in Tacloban City. It is one of the bigger barangays, with around 3,200 residents. She relocated from Samar to Tacloban in early 1980s, making her one of the first residents in this barangay. Samar, she recalled, had meager opportunities for livelihood. She also felt uneasy with the militarization of their rural communities because of martial law during Marcos time.
Today, residents of the reclamation area are threatened with eviction, as the land where their homes stood is declared a “no dwelling zone.” The No Dwelling Zone Policy was announced 3 months after Yolanda, which prohibits living in houses that are less than 40 meter away from the coastlines.
What’s fascinating in this community is that Nanay Lolita is just one of many “senior activists” who continue to resist threats of eviction.
There is Nanay Ising, the secretary of an urban poor movement who fought for tenure to their land in the 1980s. Nanay Ising proudly recalls the human shields they formed to stop the police from demolishing their homes, after the city government approved the construction of the marketplace. Through relentless street pressures and legal battles, Nanay Ising claimed victory over such attempted eviction. The reclamation area was officially awarded to them in 1986.
Twenty years after Nanay Ising’s victory, a fire suspiciously burned down houses into ashes. Based on stories from our respondents, their homes need to be dismantled to make way for a coastal boulevard. Kuya Noli, another seasoned activist, tearfully describes the fire that threatened their future. “Pagkatapos ng sunog, gusto kaming paalisin dahil may ilalagay daw na commercial (establishment),” he describes. They were prohibited from going back to their homes.
(After the fire, they wanted us to go because they will put up a commercial establishment.)
As veterans of resisting demolitions, residents organized to negotiate with city government and keep up the pressure through a series of protests. Once again, the residents were successful in holding their own.
Threats of displacement, it seems, has become a fact of life among residents of the reclamation area.
Then came Yolanda
The aftermath of Yolanda, however, was a different fight. Our research team visited the community last July and found that many residents continue to live in precarious conditions. Nanay Maria’s house, for example, was still made of driftwood and roofing is made of plastic sheets and old tarpaulins. They also complain of the increasing prices of rice, fish and other commodities. When asked about the state of their recovery, some would not hesitate to say that their lives now are much worse than before.
We asked them about the government’s Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) – whether they have availed of such support considering they are senior citizens with very few resources to rebuild their homes. Nanay Lolita was furious. She, it turns out, was not eligible for ESA because she, together with many other families in the reclamation area, lives in a no dwelling zone.
From the government’s perspective, providing ESA to residents only condones them to rebuild their homes in precarious areas. The idea, therefore, is to encourage residents to move to a relocation site, such as one that is almost half an hour away from where they currently reside.
When asked about their thoughts on relocation, Nanay Maria, another seasoned activist, insisted on staying in the seaside in spite of its risks. “Hindi talaga kami aalis dito dahil nandito ang kabuhayan namin,” she says. For Nanay Lolita, Nanay Ising, Nanay Maria and Kuya Noli, and their neighbors, they will live where their livelihood is.
We will be evicted
“We will be evicted.” This phrase has been uttered many times by the likes of Nanay Lolita. From the 1980s to today, the history of this barangay – the seaside of shanties – is defined by consistent threats of demolition to make way for new “developments.” Yolanda, our research finds, is part of a broader history of threatened eviction, displacement and marginalization of communities doing their best to stay afloat.
Despite years threatened demolition, the residents of this barangay remained vigilant, if not militant. Residents continue to organize, either by joining urban poor movements or taking part in community activities, to resist what they consider unfair treatment of residents. This seaside community may look fragile if one were only to look at the quality of materials that build their homes or the frail bodies of its residents. But this community is a strong one – “kusog” to use the term in Waray. It is inhabited by battle-scarred residents who continue to secure tenure for the most vulnerable. Nanay Lolita may be in her seventies, but she, shows no signs of wavering her commitment to build back better, in fair and just way. – Rappler.com
April Porteria is a Research Affiliate at the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University for the Australian Research Council-funded project “Building Back Better: Participatory Governance in a Post-Haiyan World.” She is also an MA Philippine Studies student at the UP Asian Center.
Note: The names of respondents are changed to honor our commitment to keep their anonymity.