I NEARLY fell off my bed while watching TV last week when I heard a Lahug fire victim declare that she’s not moving to the relocation site offered by the University of the Philippines because “it was too far.”
“This was where I was born,” a middle-aged man intoned in the next scene. “My umbilical cord was buried here.” Behind him, providing a perfect backdrop to the interview, was a row of houses being rebuilt on the land that they had been occupying for many lifetimes without paying any single centavo to the registered owner by way of rental.
The UP had planned to build more classrooms in the area to accommodate their growing student population and was able to secure funding for the project. But the “informal settlers” refused to budge even an inch from where their houses, stores and shops stood.
Then Nature intervened. Fire ate up all the structures. The university prepared to move in but not before making it clear that the fire victims would all be offered relocation.
City Hall had other plans, however. They sent heavy equipment to clear the property in preparation for its re-blocking and eventual distribution to the informal settlers. UP protested and, in an attempt to assert their right to possession as owner, erected a couple of tents in the burnt area but City Hall promptly dismantled the tents. The message: You cannot take advantage of the misery of the fire victims. Not during an election year.
In a way, it’s Mary Ann de los Santos’s fault. Had the maverick councilor not moved over to BOPK, there would have been lesser need for City Hall to flex its muscles. Delos Santos’s political hold in Lahug is undisputed. The fire opened an opportunity to diminish her influence by making City Hall appear as the fire victims’ champion. Talk about taking advantage of the misery of others.
The UP, City Hall and the Province, which is donating the relocation site, met recently but failed to agree on anything substantial. They’re scheduled to meet again. The settlers, in the meantime, have been allowed to stay in UP’s property. The University cannot do anything, not with a powerful coddler like City Hall.
It was the longest sermon I’ve heard in about 20 years of attending Sto. Niño novena masses. Not surprisingly, I later learned, if it is Fr. Mike Hisoler at the pulpit. My secretary, who used to be Fr. Mike’s parishioner in Pardo, said he was always like that.
In fairness, he’s a good speaker. I enjoyed his sharing, including the part about my colleague, Bobby Nalzaro.
Bobby wrote in his column in this paper yesterday about the complaint of a parishioner in Sibonga, where Fr. Mike is now assigned, about his refusal to say mass for a dead relative unless the family apologized for allowing gambling during his wake. Super Bob apparently also discussed the complaint in his radio program and Hisoler heard it on his way to the Basilica.
Hisoler explained that he is taking a firm stand against gambling because of its deleterious effects on the lives of people, especially the poor ones. But if they don’t like his position, he’s willing to resign from the parish, he said.
By the way, yesterday’s 10 a.m. mass didn’t only feature the longest sermon but also the longest line of offerers. They were probably inspired by Fr. Mike’s line that “if there’s a well, there’s a way” (kon naay tabay naa gyuy agianan). Even the choir got so carried away, they could not seem to stop singing the “gosos,” which was just okay since it gave me time to text Bobby about what I heard.
It was, as a result, also the longest time I spent standing under the heat of the sun., sheltered only by my Julie’s umbrella. But I am not complaining, just saying.