Thursday, January 22, 2009

Calamba land fight draws even kids

By Karen Lapitan
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 00:13:00 01/22/2009

Filed Under: Regional authorities, Children, Human Rights, Real Estate

CALAMBA CITY – After experiencing two demolitions-turned-ugly in their slum community, children in Sitio Kabute in Calamba City’s Barangay Real are wishing that no such violence will happen again this year.

“It was raining hard and the police were holding guns,” said 10-year-old Anjanette as she recalled in Filipino how the shanties were dismantled for the first time last year. “I was shivering out of fear.”

“This [land] is the only thing we have,” 12-year-old Jeffrey said in Filipino. He wished that the battle would come to an end.

Jo Vincent, 9, agreed. “We will fight for our homes. We want to live here until we get old.”

The children’s parents and 154 other families of Kabute – mostly vendors, carpenters and unskilled workers – are claiming as their own 2.8 hectares of land that they have occupied since the 1960s.

The sudden appearance of private entities in the area caught them by surprise, according to Mila Elupre, 54.

In January last year, some of the residents received notices stating that the place already belonged to Metrobank. Photocopies of a land title dated 2006 were attached to the notices.

Bank foreclosure

Metrobank foreclosed the whole Kabute after Gotesco Properties failed to settle its loan on its due date in 2000. “Everything here is legal,” said the company’s legal counsel, who refused to give his name to the Inquirer because he was not authorized to speak on the issue.

The bank filed a formal demand for the occupants to vacate the land, he said.

Soon after, a demolition team arrived. They did not show any legal documents that ordered the removal of the dwellings, said Melicia Almario, spokesperson of Samahan ng Maralita sa Sitio Kabute.

“Due to intimidation and given our meager understanding of the law, we voluntarily demolished our homes. But with [the] understanding of our fundamental right [to decent homes], we decided to regain possession of our land and settled back,” Almario said in an open letter.

Court ruling

On Sept. 11, Judge Alberto Serrano of the Regional Trial Court in Calamba ruled against the occupants and ordered them to vacate the land and demolish their shanties.

Another demolition involving armed policemen and a water cannon took place on Oct. 13. The informal settlers resisted and foiled the attempt.

Anjanette, Jo Vincent and Jomari, together with 12-year-old Jeffrey and 10-year-old Joseph, have been actively joining their elders in protest actions.

Looking younger and smaller than their actual age, they enthusiastically shared their stories of resistance. Three of them no longer go to school as their parents can no longer afford the expenses.

“When our parents could not attend rallies, we would go there for them,” said Jeffrey, stressing that they were not forced to do so. “We are doing this because we also have our rights.”

Katherine Scerri, executive director of the Bahay Tuluyan Kibo Chlidren’s Center, a nongovernment organization helping street children, said “the government is accountable for what is happening with the children (in Kabute).”

Their case is not an isolated one, she said, adding that the local government should help them and their families in defending their rights to education and decent homes.

Freedom of expression

“We cannot blame the children if they resort to attending protest rallies. It’s their right to express their opinions on issues that gravely affect them,” Scerri said.

Anjanette, Jo Vincent and Joseph constantly look for jobs to help their parents. They wash dishes in some eateries.

They also want to learn, even outside the formal school system.

Jeffrey said concerned individuals, usually from the academe, would come and help them. For instance, teachers from the Philippine Normal University have taught some of them how to read and write.

Students from the University of the Philippines in Los BaƱos have been visiting the community to offer assistance.

Art therapy

The Southern Tagalog Exposure (STEX), a multimedia collective, has been extending support through artistic means. In October, it initiated a gig for the benefit of 300 children of Kabute.

Earlier, the group held art therapy sessions for some of the children. Through sessions on shadow play and drawing to help them express themselves, the children made post cards that were sold to individuals interested in financially helping them.

The STEX has been encouraging students from different universities to go on “exposure trips” to Kabute so they can understand the real situation of the children.

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