Residents of Barangay 76-A in Bucana, Davao City cry for help over possible demolition by a well-known land properties company, alleging that they have been living on the land where they built their houses for a very long time now.
Ecoland Properties and Development Corporation (EPDC) has been claiming the land at Times Beach where several houses are built. They declared to have been sending demand letters to the residents to vacate the area ever since 2018.
However, the residents insist that they should not be relocated since they are the actual occupants of the land.
The residents are scheduled to be transferred once the designated relocation sites, prepared by EPDC, are approved by the 20th Davao City Council.
The EPDC is one of the leading real estate businesses and has been developing properties in Davao City.
Proposed for reclassification of property
During the 20th City Council’s first regular session for this year on Tuesday, January 9, 2024, at the Sangguniang Panlungsod, Councilor Augusto Javier G. Campos III proposed the request of Atty. Susan Cariaga, counsel for EPDC, for the application for the reclassification of the properties that are located in Barangay Manuel Guianga, Tugbok District, this city so that these would become appropriate relocation sites for the would-be affected residents in the demolition.
However, Third District Councilor Alberto Ungab strongly expressed his concern over the reclassification of the 20-hectare property, stating that it is in the middle of an agricultural area. He also noted that the land does not have any roads and is situated near a ridge.
“Why is it that this particular area was recommended for reclassification for residential when in fact it is in the middle of nowhere?” Ungab said.
Meanwhile, Eng. Ivan Cortez, Head of Davao City Planning and Development Office (CPDO), said that it is up to the city council whether they will approve the reclassification of the area. He added that the City Administrator and the CPDO have conducted meetings with the executives of Ecoland Properties and suggested that if they have a better location for the affected individuals it should be the one that should be prioritized.
“Given that this area will provide difficulties for those that will be relocated because public transportation is not yet available in the area,” Cortez said.
Cortez pointed out that their re-endorsement contained the specific areas that are considered for reclassification because some parts of the property are highly susceptible to landslides and are being traversed by a creek.
Atty. Cariaga, however, answered that the area is not in the middle of nowhere and that it is within the vicinity of a school, a health center, a church, and a barangay hall. She said that the area is beside a barangay road, and those areas that do not have roads will be constructed with one by the applicant developer.
But Ungab replied to Cariaga’s claim, saying that the road shown in Carriaga’s map is not on the CPDO’s map, thus it is a private road that needs to be purchased.
Cortez echoed Ungab’s sentiment and said that it could be a private road since the area is used to be a banana plantation.
Thus, Councilor Jesus Joseph Zozobrado suggested that the council should amend the ordinance if it wants to require the reclassification of the land for the developer to put up access roads in the area.
Not willing to relocate
Meanwhile, Councilor Bernie Al-ag said that since the discussion involves the dwelling of the people, he suggested that they should not suffer in their relocation sites.
“We cannot detach the fact that we are talking about people's lives, people who would be displaced from places where they were born or they grew up and as government, if we are to give them justice as citizens we must at least make sure that they would not be suffering from the consequences of them being dislocated,” Al-ag said.
Robert Olanolan, barangay captain of 76-A, said that it has been a long problem of the barangay and the claims that the actual occupants are willing to relocate are false.
“Muingon sila karun your honor nga willing mu-relocate ang mga tao, dili gyud na tinood your honor, against gyud sila kay sila ang mga actual occupants. For how many years sila naga-stay (It is not true that the people are willing to relocate your honor, the actual occupants are against it, because they’ve been staying in the area for how many years already),” he said.
Olanolan emphasized that about 10,000 households from Kabacan to Times Beach will be affected by the possible relocation. He raised concerns that most of the actual occupants are fisherfolks and relocating them to Guianga significantly affects their livelihood as the place is far from the sea.
In a media interview with Vice Mayor J. Melchor Quitain Jr., he assured that they will not approve the ordinance until the people of Ecoland are properly situated.
“As far as the council is concerned kung naay mga reklamo ipaabot dayon sa amoa para makabali mi unsaon pagdesisyon ani (As far as the council is concerned if there are any complaints let us know immediately so that we will find a way on how to decide on the matter),” Quitain said.
The item was then deferred to the next regular session.
Sentiments of the residents
Jocelyn Redel, a resident of Asuzena St. in Kabacan, Bucana, said in a media interview that she’s been living in the area since 1996. Ever since, she never received a complaint from someone that somebody owns the land, not until 2018 when she received a complaint from EPDC.
EPDC filed a case for recovery of possession against her in 2018 and that she chose to fight for her lot. She revealed that if she surrenders, EPDC will give her P20,000. But she said the amount cannot even cover the cost of the materials she used for the house.
“Sana unta kung pananglitan ila man kaya kaha nang titulo, dapat unta klaruhon nila – tagaan na lang unta mi nila ug tarong nga payment, bahala’g kanang balay lang ang bayaran (If it’s really their property they should clear things up – they should have given us proper payment even if it's just for the house only),” Redel said.
Similar to Redel, Ruby Domingo, a resident of Asuzena St., Kabacan, Bucana, said that she’s been living in the area since 1989. She said that the relocation area is far away and that her children are studying here in the city. Hence, relocating would be a huge challenge for them especially since the fare has already increased.
“Kung ibalhin mi nila sa layo nga lugar unsaon na lang, una ang pamasahe, layo unya ang akoang mga anak diri nag eskwela (How would we survive if they will relocate us in a faraway place? First, the fare since it would be so far and my children are studying here in the city),” Redel said.
Olanolan in a media interview pointed out that the affected areas in his jurisdiction are from the Davao River to the Times Beach boundary between Queensland.
Before EPDC claimed ownership of the area, it previously belonged to Villa-Abrilles who sold it to Consunji. He revealed that some residents who surrendered their properties were harassed.
“Kabalo ko sa uban against sila sa relocation but na-pressure sila sa harassment kay kung dili ka mudawat ug offer i-demolish ka with nothing (I know that the others were against the relocation but they were just pressured because they were harassed that if they don’t accept the relocation, they will demolish your house without compensation),” Olanolan revealed.
Measures taken by the residents
Marietta R. Tabaranza, secretary of Times Beach Labor Association, said in a media interview on Wednesday, January 10, 2024, that she and Dylinda Ravanes, business owner and treasurer of the labor association, have already approached several national agencies concerning their problem with the land.
She said that they got several documents such as the Presidential Proclamation Number 20 by former President Ramon Magsaysay dated May 3, 1954, which states that Times Beach is included in the 24 hectares of marine reservation for recreational purposes.
The proclamation states that “Reserving for recreation center purposed a certain parcel of the public domain known as “Times Beach” situated at Kabacan-Punta Dumalag, City of Davao.”
“Natingala na lang mi ngano natitulohan naman sa DMCI or Ecoland – mao na ang dako namo nga question nga kami man ang actual occupant, kadaghan nag Saligang Batas nga 30 years of occupation (We were shocked as to why the DMCI or the Ecoland [Properties] already have a title – that is our biggest question, when we are the actual occupants and several laws passed after 30 years),” she said.
Tabaranza added that they previously asked for help from then City Mayor Sara Duterte through a letter. They also sent a letter to former President Rodrigo Duterte and Congressman Paolo Duterte asking for help on the matter.
Ravanes said that they, too, sent a letter to current Davao City Mayor Sebastian Duterte but they were referred to the legal division. The legal division told them that they could not interfere due to the conflict of interest since the case was already in court.
“Dili man gyud ka basta-basta makakuha og yuta nga dili imuha, unya wala pa man gani nila gi-sure, wala pa gyud silay sure nga makuha gyud to nila. Tan-awa ang ilang proposal, daghan pa ug kulang unya ilabay dayon nila ang mga tao? Walay tubig, wala pa tanan (It is not easy to acquire a land that is not yours, and there is even no guarantee that they will acquire the land. Look at their proposal, there are still a lot of flaws, and they want people to immediately relocate there? No water, no nothing?),” Ravanes said.
Restricted access to the inhabitants?
Apart from the Times Beach, residents of Apitong Street, Purok 24, the same barangay, expressed worry when a gated wall was erected around their lots on Friday afternoon, July 27, 2023.
Liezl Ballega, one of the residents of Purok 24, said in a media interview that they needed to knock first on the gate so they could enter the area. She shared that they are afraid of the risks that might be inside the wall since they are not visible from the outside. Even their extended relatives, friends, and outsiders cannot enter the area.
“Walay notice nga mukoral, nakita na lang nimo naa na ang team, naa nay dalang mga bara, mga martilyo with all the sin and all the kahoy, immediate – hantud nga totally ma-sealed wala nila giundangan ug koral (There was no notice that they would put up a gate, we only saw the team with their tools, hammer, and wood, very sudden – they did not stop until the whole neighborhood was enclosed),” she said.
The barangay road was also among those that were enclosed.
Ballega said that when they asked the men who were working on the fence, they told her that they were instructed by Ecoland Enterprises to put it up. The community then asked for help from the barangay because they were not visible to the public eye and they were even given a curfew hour of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Guard posts were also built at the entrance of the gate and people going inside and outside the area were limited to only the inhabitants of the area; this is also the same with other entry points of the community.
“Ang amin lang sana para magkaroon kami ng freedom, maibalik naman yung dati namin, ang kailangan namin i-open kami – yung concern lang talaga namin is yung safety at makita kami sa labas kasi may mga anak kami sa loob (The only thing that we want is for us to have freedom, to return to the way we were before. What we need is for them to open the gates – our real concern is our safety and for us to be visible outside because we have children here inside),” Ballega said.
Marife L. Baltolore, president of the Kabakalis New Era Neighborhood Association, told SunStar Davao in a Messenger interview, that as president of the association in Purok 24, she is certain that they are the actual occupants and that the area is part of the public land.
“Ang among hangyo gyud kay Mayor Baste Duterte na maabrihan ang amoang barangay road kay lisod kaayo in case of emergency. Lisod kaayo di gyud mi katulog ug tarong kay ila man ming gikoral ug naay mga guard nga naay armas. Dili me visible sa katawhan (Our request to Mayor Baste Duterte is to open our barangay road because it is very difficult for us especially when in case of an emergency. It is very difficult for us to sleep properly. They put up fence all around us and there are guards with arms. We are not visible to the people outside),” Baltolore said.
Initially, the community was comprised of 133 houses but since being fenced, only about seven houses remained standing. RGP