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Bato settlers resistance delaying clearing drive

The resistance of settlers to the clearing operation in sitio Bato, barangay Ermita, Cebu City is delaying the planned re-blocking of the fire affected area.

“Dili sila mo-pull-out kay naay nagpaluyo nga mga barangay officials (They won’t pull-out from the area because there are barangay officials who are behind their resistance),” said Raquel Arce, head of the city’s demolition team.

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Arce, market administrator and chief of the Prevention, Restoration, Order, Beautification and Enforcement (Probe), said phase one of the clearing operation would have been finished over the weekend.

The first phase covers the left portion of the entrance to sitio Bato while phase two covers the right side. The clearing operation started last April 26.

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“So far 70 percent was already completed in phase 1. After the clearing is completed, the re-blocking will follow,” Arce said in a phone interview yesterday.

Sitio Bato, barangay Ermita had been razed by fire thrice since the late 1990s, due to congested houses, Ermita barangay captain Antonieto Flores said. The second fire happened in May 2007.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama ordered the re-blocking to make it easier for fire trucks to enter and put out the fires.

The clearing operation was criticized by Rama’s rival, Rep. Tomas Osmeña of Cebu City’s south district.

Osmeña, who is running against Rama, said he wasn’t pleased with the ongoing demolition because he said there was no proper consultation in sitio Bato.

Arce said she respects Osmeña’s decision to sack her if he gets elected as mayor.

“If that’s his reaction, I would respect it. I hope he understands that I am just an employee who is doing my job to the best of my abilities, she said.

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Last Thursday, Rama directed Arce to charge anyone who would try to delay their clearing operations.

Arce was appointed to head the Probe which used to be the Squatters Prevention Encroachment and Elimination Division (Speed). Arce denied allegations that there were no consultations.

“They just listened to one side. Majority of those present agreed on the re-blocking,” she said of the settlers opposing the demolition.

Osmeña said one of the first people he would replace is Arce due to her handling of the sitio Bato clearing operation.

“She will be the first demolition (under my administration). She is so vindictive,” he said.

Osmeña said he asked a lawyer to look into the needs of Bato residents and extend them legal assistance in case they would file charges against some city officials.

Rama said the re-blocking plans for barangay Ermita is meant to ensure the safety of residents against fire outbreaks.

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