BEFORE SM City at the North Reclamation Area was constructed, the area where it now stands and its environs teemed with informal settlers. I was in first year in college when our teacher in Sociology required us to go there to see first hand the condition of the community. I remember visiting the Cebu City dump site in the area and staying in nearby shanties while watching thin barefoot children with bulging tummies frolic near the mounds of garbage that attracted an army of flies.
In 1979 or thereabouts, the Cebu City Government ordered the demolition of the informal settler’s structures to give way to the development of the place. I think the relocation site was somewhere near the banks of the river that flows through Lahug. The informal settlers put up a resistance that turned protracted as they gathered the support of other sectors. I was among those who joined them.
The resistance, I would say, was well-organized. Cell phones were not yet invented at that time so runners, mostly children, were tasked to run to the leaders of the “resistance” to inform them of the coming of the demolition team, which was always escorted by a team of cops. One time, when we students were in thew house of one of the leaders, a runner came to tell us the bad news.
The house targeted for demolition was about 500 meters away. We raced to the place and saw a group of informal settlers already confronting the leader of the demolition team. We students joined them just when the order was made to start the operation. We locked arms (“kapit-bisig”) to block the entry of the demolition team, our shouts drowning the threats issued by the policemen. They withdrew.
I recall that event amidst the threats issued by President Duterte against the Office of the Ombudsman, which is currently investigating the allegation by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV that the president’s transactions in some banks reached more than P2 billion through the years. Among the threats was the supposed creation of a commission that would look into alleged irregularities in the anti-graft office and the arrest of those who would refuse to cooperate in the investigation.
Legal experts are actually questioning the President’s threats, including the creation of a commission that would investigate the Office of the Ombudsman and the plan to arrest its non-cooperative staff. One legal expert noted that under the Constitution, only the courts and not the president can order arrests. Even Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said that only Congress can penalize the Ombudsman via the process of impeachment. But what if the President insists on doing these?
During the National Day of Protest last September 21, thousands took over some streets to protest some policies of the Duterte administration. On that day, the protesters raised hodge-podge of issues. What if they can be specific this time? A few groups already showed the way when they massed in front of the office of the Commission on Human Rights, which is also under attack by the administration, to show solidarity. What if people would lock arms, kapit-bisig, to protect the threatened institutions like the Ombudsman?
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on October 04, 2017.
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