Some 50 years ago when I first engaged in social activism and worked to empower the poor to stand up for their rights, the latter’s initial ambivalence towards the idea could be summed up in the words “Wala tay mahimo.”
I had no problem then understanding their awe of power as those were Martial Law years. Yet a lot of water has passed under the bridge since and the poor are still as helpless as ever in the face of insensitive and even downright abusive government officials. A few have acquired the mindset and courage to speak up, but the big majority still feel powerless in the face of high and mighty political leaders.
Like in Cebu City, thousands of ambulant vendors have been ejected from their traditional selling spots in Carbon market to give way to high-end investors. They have been duped by City officials who assured them verbally that they will have a place in the modernized Carbon. But it is getting clearer by the day that this is not going to happen in what clearly is going to be a privatized Carbon.
A small group is actively pushing back Carbon’s privatization. But a much bigger group is simply lamenting that “wala silay mahimo, kay gamhanan ang gobyerno.” Their cries of appeal have remained unheard, their tears shed in vain. Cebu City is hell bent on making privatized Carbon into a gleaming monument to the demise of the once thriving economy of Cebu’s heritage Central Market.
Still in Cebu City, the houses of some informal settlers in river easement zones have been demolished, while those of others are threatened with the same. Admittedly it is for the noble purpose of keeping them out of harm’s (flash flood’s) way. But that is not the issue. The issue is that contrary to the Constitution and existing laws, their houses are being demolished unfeelingly, to say the least, and without proper compensation, temporary or permanent relocation.
The worst part is that they have been tricked into accepting token cash assistance. Now that some of them (the majority still feel that wala silay mahimo) are asking for proper compensation for their destroyed homes and for relocation sites as required by law, they are shunted from one government agency to another that dismiss them as having in effect signed a quit-claim by accepting the cash assistance.
Government officials know that un-notarized quit claims are not legally valid. They also know the Constitution, even swore by it on assuming office. What then makes them behave like they’ve never heard of it? With what dubious threads are some Cebu City officials stitched to the fabric of big business that without batting an eye and with unabashed facility they throw the poor under their development bus?
Why do some City officials awe and make small people feel powerless? Why can’t they empower these instead as is their mandate? If they can’t then, to borrow from Shakespeare, something must be rotten at their core.
May 24, 2023
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