Davao City squatters to pursue fight for their land, homes
DAVAO CITY, Philippines – A year after Mayor Sara Duterte punched a court sheriff for refusing a two-hour stay on a demolition in Barangay Soliman here, residents continue to live onsite, fighting for their rights in court and refusing the relocation sites offered to them by the city government.
While 17 of the households had taken advantage of the relocation site offered to them by the company claiming ownership of the land, and several others agreed to transfer to government relocation, some residents believe they have the right to stay on the land under the urban land reform program of former President Marcos, and will pursue their case in court.
“If the higher courts will decide against us, then, we may have to go but right now, we are appealing to our city authorities not to allow the demolition of our houses while the case is still in court,” said a resident in Soliman, who refused to be named for fear of repercussions.
Presidential Decree 2016 issued by former President Marcos has prohibited the eviction of occupants of lands identified and proclaimed as areas for priority development and as urban land reform zones, even exempting these lands from payment of real property taxes.
Minda Sayson, vice president of the United Settlers Association of Barangay Soliman Inc., told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in an earlier interview that some of the settlers had been living in the place as early as the 1960s when it was still a swampland, before it was proclaimed as an area for priority development under the government’s resettlement program.
But while Soliman residents have been contesting their case in court, they have been subjected to harassment and pressures to leave their property, a resident told the Inquirer.
Duterte denied this, saying she normally would not intervene in court cases, except to provide legal assistance, when needed.
“Maybe, they’re referring to (vice mayor) Rody,” she said, referring to her father, Vice Mayor Rudy Duterte. She said the property owner had talked to the vice mayor about the problem in Soliman.
Although the city government has been offering P5,000 cash for each of those who would agree to relocate in Barangay Los Amigos, the amount would be barely enough to build another house in a place far away from where they have been getting their main source of living, said Leon Bolcan, chairperson of the urban poor group Kadamay.
Some of those who agreed to take the relocation site in Los Amigos are even coming back to Soliman, where they mainly get their living plying trisikads (pedal-pushed pedicabs) or working in a slaughterhouse owned by one of the few who had a land title.
Bolcan said that contrary to what was projected after the mayor’s punching incident with the sheriff, some residents think the city government was no defender of the poor.
“They had so many faces,” he said, “They have one face to show to the world and another face they show to urban poor settlers whose houses are being demolished,” Bolcan said.
The mayor said she did not have anything to say to Kadamay.
Duterte last week publicly apologized, the first time since it happened, to Sheriff Abe Andres and his family who have been affected by the incident.
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