Violence mars San Juan demolition

by Dharel Placido, ABS-CBNNews.com

Posted at Jan 11 2012 09:27 AM | Updated as of Jan 12 2012 04:03 AM

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – Violence erupted between residents and a demolition team in San Juan City Wednesday morning in an attempt by the city government to reclaim land intended for the new city hall.

Residents threw rocks, bottles and even pillboxes at a demolition team to prevent the destruction of some 300 houses along P. Narciso Street in Barangay Corazon de Jesus.

Authorities, meanwhile, used water cannon to stop the rioting residents.

Ten demolition team members, 4 policemen, 4 residents and 2 firemen were injured during the melee.

Among the injured were Fire Officer 1 Kenneth Batinga, Police Officer 1 Benedict Aguda, Robert Dumlao, Romeo Aldior and Joseph De Luna.

As of posting, police forces have penetrated the barricade of the informal settlers and started tearing down houses of the informal settlers.

ABS-CBN News’ Jacque Manabat said she heard at least 3 gunshots during the demolition. The fighting also shattered windows of San Juan National High School where classes have been suspended.

Several vehicles, including a San Juan City fire truck, were damaged as well.

“Napakatapang nila kanina. Face to face. They were even able to get those yung mga pangharang ng mga anti-riot police,” ABS-CBN reporter Zen Hernandez told ANC.

Neither the residents nor the demolition team claimed responsibility for deploying tear gas cans at the height of the fighting.

Demolition team ground commander Supt. Tomas Arcallana said they have arrested 13 residents suspected of leading the clash.

2,000 to lose homes

Some 2,000 residents living in about 300 houses are at risk of losing their homes in the demolition.

The demolition team is trying to implement a court decision released last August 12, 2009 which awarded the land, said to be part of the Pinaglabanan Shrine, to the city government.

The residents have been on alert since January 5 after the notice of demolition issued by the city government expired. Residents warned they will fight back if the demolition pushes through.

Tension also marred a demolition in the area last January 25, 2011. The local government failed to evict the residents then.

One of the residents, Jenna, said her family would not take the house being offered by the city government in a relocation site in Montalban, Rizal.

“Wala. Hindi namin [tatanggapin ang bahay]. Papatayin din kami sa relocation na ‘yun sa Montalaban, sinasabi nila….Alam mo landslide ng lupa. Dito lang kami,” Jenna said.

San Juan City Information Office Chief Grace Cortes, meanwhile, said evicted residents may still go back to San Juan in 3 to 4 years after the city's medium-rise housing project is done.

Cortes said residents will have to shell out a monthly rent of P2,000 to P3,000 per unit.

"They are also renting from the quote, unquote owners of the structure they are now living in so I don’t think they would find it difficult to pay for 2,000 to 3,000 because the same amount is already being paid by them," Cortes told ANC.

Professional activists

San Juan Rep. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, meanwhile, accused “professional” activists who are non-residents of triggering the tension.

“Ang karamihan, yung mga naggugulo dito yung mga dayo. They are student activists from different schools like PUP (Polytechnic University of the Philippines). I received news also that most people from [hacienda] Luisita and North Triangle are already here. Kumbaga ito ‘yung mga professional na mga aktibista, na kung may mga demolition eh nandoon sila,” Ejercito told ANC.

Ejercito said that his mother, San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez, ordered that the demolition push through despite resistance from the residents. He noted his mother asked police forces to observe maximum tolerance.

"I think, in spite of the resistance and trouble these people are creating, the police have everything under control, because the [National Capital Region Police Office] will make sure that peace and order will be restored," he said. "Hopefully there is no casualty. We are not here to create trouble."

The San Juan lawmaker said the objective of of the demolition was to pave the way for the rehabilitation and improvement of the Pinaglabanan Shrine and the creation of the new city hall.

He assured the residents that they will be given homes by the city government.

“I want to say that this is not a simple case of city hall against urban poor, but more importantly since Pinaglabanan is a national shrine. The city government is now embarking on making it a real tourist destination to enshrine the heroes of our people,” Ejercito said.

“Apart from the city hall project, we will be constructing medium-rise housing projects that will house informal settlers in 3 to 4 years time,” he added.

The residents were also offered houses in relocation sites such as Calauan, Laguna; and Taytay and Rodriguez in Rizal. - with reports from Jacque Manabat and Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News; and Johnson Manabat, dzMM