Thursday, December 4, 2008

Paranaque mayor pledges not to evict homeless occupying vacant lot

Press Release
December 3, 2008
Alyansa ng Maralitang Pilipino

Some 500 homeless who had occupied a vacant prime lot in Paranaque declared victory yesterday after the mayor made a commitment not to evict them. In a dialogue with the urban poor leaders at city hall yesterday, Paranaque Mayor Florencio “Jun” Bernabe moreover pledged to talk to the landowner next week to seek an agreement on acquiring the land and legalizing the occupation by the homeless of the disputed land.

Robert Labrador, president of the Alyansa ng Maralitang Pilipino (AMP) in the Metro South area said that “We praise Mayor Bernabe for respecting the people’s right to housing and for making the city’s commemoration of Human Rights Day concrete not just symbolic. But most all of all we salute the poor for standing up for their rights. The poor have nothing except for their movement.”

The leaders of the homeless announced that Mayor Bernabe will negotiate with Mr. Tinitigan of the real estate company Molave Corp. which owns the Merville tract of land for an acceptable valuation of the land and terms of acquisition. The successful dialogue followed a tense period for the homeless who revealed that on the first day of their occupation, the urban poor affairs office of city hall accompanied by the police including a SWAT team went to the Merville lot in an attempt to prevent the movement of the people going in and out of the disputed land. “No untoward incident happened though since we rationally explained our cause even as we firmly showed by our unity that we will not leave our homes,” explained Labrador.

Nena Olbina, secretary of AMP-Metro South, argued that “We are willing to pay for the land we had occupied but it cannot be at the market price. We applaud Mayor Bernabe for understanding that the price has to be at a level that the poor can afford. The so-called market price is bloated and not fair at all since it reflects the speculative nature of the real estate business. And with the explosion of the financial crisis, we all know now how harmful speculation by the rich is.”

“Even as the homeless of Paranaque celebrate a merry Christmas this season, the lesson we have learned is clear—only by fighting for our rights will the poor gain the dignity we deserve. This victory was not given to us, we fought for it. The urban poor struggling for their right to housing is no different from the rural poor fighting for their land to till,” stated Eduardo Casuy, president of the Paranaque chapter of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM).

On the eve of Bonifacio Day the homeless started building makeshift houses in the 1.2 hectare lot. The land sits right beside a recently built condominium and supermarket by the Gokongweis, and is just a stone’s throw away from the SM mall in Bicutan. Most of the urban poor who direct occupied the vacant lot came from the Tucuma Federation who successfully petitioned for the expropriation of the land in 2000. Others were victims of a violent demolition that happened November 30, 2005 in the nearby Cul-de-sac area.

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