MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) - A Quezon City regional trial court judge issued Thursday a temporary restraining order stopping the National Housing Authority from demolishing hundreds of shanties at Sitio San Roque, Barangay Bagong Pag-Asa in Quezon City.
The TRO was issued by Judge Maria Luisa Padilla of QCRTC branch 226.
NHA General Manager Chito Cruz said the judge issued the TRO to dissipate tension in the area after the demolition brought traffic to a standstill on the northbound lane of Epifanio delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) near Trinoma Mall Thursday morning. He said a hearing will be conducted tomorrow to determine if Judge Padilla will extend the TRO.
"As long as there is a TRO, which we hope will be lifted tomorrow, the voluntary relocation will continue...If it is lifted tomorrow, we will continue with our project on Monday," he said.
The NHA chief said more police officers and Metro Manila Development Authority workers will be deployed to the area once the demolition resumes.
At least 11 people, including 5 policemen, were hurt as informal settlers clashed with a joint demolition team from the NHA and the city government to stop the impending demolition.
A radio dzMM report said that one of the 5 injured policemen is a close aide of Chief Superintendent Benjardi Mantele, Quezon City Police District director. The 4 other policemen remain unidentified.
The demolition was conducted after the NHA’s deadline for some 9,000 informal settler families to vacate the area ended Thursday.
The riots started as early as 8:45 a.m. after residents started attacking the demolition team using rocks and debris. Members of the MMDA and the QCPD anti-riot team were also attacked by the residents.
A radio dzMM report said one man who had his face covered with a shirt tried to attack the demolition team with a knife before running back to the squatters' area.
Cruz said the demolition team was prepared to encounter some resistance but did not expect the violence to spill over onto EDSA, which is a major highway. Footage showed that some of the settlers piled sofas and steel structures on EDSA to stop traffic.
"Our contingent of policemen was only 200. We added another 200 policemen plus 50 MMDA personnel. What we didn't anticipate was [the settlers] going to EDSA and causing traffic. We are apologizing to the people for the traffic that was caused," he said.
He said he is not aware of reports that a land-grabbing syndicate is behind the incident.
He also said that he received calls from some politicians who asked him if the demolition followed the law.
Despite the violence, the demolition team was still able to enter Sitio San Roque and destroy several shanties before the TRO was issued.
Live footage showed the demolition team using bats to drive off the residents who were throwing rocks at them.
A firetruck also used water cannon to repel some of the rioting residents.
The clashes caused heavy traffic on the northbound lane of EDSA from Cubao to SM North. MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino said traffic on EDSA northbound lane was also heavy from Balintawak to Ortigas area.
Earlier reports said part of EDSA near the demolition area was closed to all vehicles.
The MMDA opened the northbound lane of EDSA around 1 p.m. after the tension died down. This, after the QCPD deployed 300 more policemen to maintain peace and order while the demolition was ongoing.
'Informal settlers can't own EDSA land'
Cruz said the demolition was conducted to re-take government land that had been used illegally by squatters.
He said the NHA, Quezon City local government and Ayala Corp. plan to develop the Quezon City's North Triangle area to a central business district modeled after the Makati business district. The North Triangle property includes the East Triangle, Veterans Memorial Medical Center and the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife.
Cruz said the NHA already delayed the planned demolition since April this year after several dialogues with leaders of the informal settlers. He said the NHA also convened an inter-agency council composed of the NHA, Commission on Human Rights, Presidential Commission on Urban Poor and the local government to implement the project.
He said NHA offered each family in Sitio San Roque P6,000 and a house and lot at a relocation site in Montalban, Rizal in exchange for vacating their shanties.
He added that the relocation site is only 23 kilometers, or about a 40-minute ride, to EDSA.
"The demand of the people in North Triangle was on-site relocation, They wanted us to build a high-rise building where they would all live in. Based on the plan, we have to relocate them because the cost of building the high-rise at the site is too expensive and NHA cannot afford it," he said.
He added that the NHA stands to earn P12 billion from the sale of the reclaimed area. The money, he said, will be used for the relocation of informal settlers living in esteros and waterways.
"Our position there is hindi pwede ang on-site relocation. It has to be used for the central business district. Those saying that they want a piece of the land should not cling to false hopes. I'd like to think they just want to stay because they don't want to relocate," he said.
Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista, meanwhile, said the informal settlers were given ample warning about the impending demolition and were already given houses and lots at the relocation site.
"People insisted they stay there and gawan sila ng medium rise building. E yung bidders siyempre they won the bid and I feel hindi naman nagkulang NHA diyan dahil nagbigay naman sila ng relocation site. it's just a kilometer away from the hospital, may ginagawang daycare, may eskuwelahan, kumpleto naman yung facilities," he said.
Youth group Anakbayan earlier said the demolition is expected to displace at least 16,000 families. Anakbayan said its members joined the residents in putting up barricades around the Sitio San Roque community to resist the demolition. – reports from Jeck Batallones, ABS-CBN News, ANC and radio dzMM