“Constant development is the law of life.” - Mohandas Gandhi
Resettlement without pain By Emil B. Justimbaste
Sityo Upper San Vicente of Barangay San Vicente in Liloan, Cebu may not impress visitors as physically endowed. In fact the state of its housing ranges from the finished and nicely painted to the crude makeshift types one finds in the country’s interior villages. The settlement is located about 3 kilometers from the national highway on a hilly patch of agricultural land. About 80 percent of the access road is paved and concreted, but the rest of the way is rough terrain. Without your own vehicle, you pay the habal-habal P20 to get to the site or you can walk. Its houses stand on both sides of the road that follows the contour of the lot. It goes about 60 meters up and goes down the other side of the hill for what seems to be another 30 meters. The top of the hlll has been turned into an area where they can hold meetings and programs or entertain guests. Here they also built a small chapel where they can worship the Sto. Niño. Compared to other urban poor housing
projects bannered by government agencies, the sityo shows none of their élan and color. But Sityo Upper San Vincente’s residents have beautiful stories about their new settlement, stories that beg to be told because you don’t read about them elsewhere. They are stories of ordinary people suddenly confronted by extreme circumstances that push their lives to the edge of despair. What has made this urban resettlement project unique is that it happened with absolutely no
government intervention. They are proud to say that they did it on their own – with a little help from some generous friends. The initial settlement Jerry Madrid and his wife Beatriz,43, migrated to the city in the early ‘90s in search of jobs because farming in San Remigio was not productive anymore. The land on which they planted corn could not feed his family. After all, Jerry is also a skilled carpenter, and he could handle other jobs as well. He found odd jobs in the vicinity of Mandaue, jobs that paid every weekend. Money was enough to pay their rent for a while, but their income was getting too tight for comfort. One day, his niece Vilma told
them about a lot where they could build a temporary home. The place was called ‘Kampisot’. Here rental would be smaller than their previous lodgings. So one weekend, Jerry and some of his friends and relatives who were also working visited the site. It was about 100 meters from the highway, and its access road was rough terrain. It was surrounded by vegetation, but on rainy days the road would be slippery and muddy in some parts. That did not discourage them though. At once they met with the lot owner and asked to rent their lots. Rental was cheap at first. The rates went according to the size of the lot a family rented. The smallest lot, measuring 12 by 16 square feet, was let for 150 pesos a month. This is about 17.8 square meters. The biggest lot rented measured only 12 by 18 square feet, Beatriz said. This was in 1999. The owner Ruperto Ponce was still alive. Their makeshift homes were like
multipurpose sheds where the resident family did everything: cooking, eating, sleeping, washing their clothes and taking a bath. Water was bought. As for lighting, most of them started with kerosene lamps, until they were able to connect to the electric system. Since building a toilet meant additional space to rent, no one in the settlement built a comfort room. “Mangalibang mi sa kalibunan (We removed our bowels in the bushes),” said Flora Armenion, 57. Since most of them work in factories or did odd jobs, they could also empty themselves at their work places. Toilets did not appear to be an issue then. It was the increasing monthly rent that became the thorn in their lives, especially after the original lot owner died and management of the area went to one of his daughters, Dra. Basilisa Amodia. Unlike the old Ruperto, Amodia was not too keen about renting out the lots to its occupants. Apparently she had other plans for the site. So in 2003,
she refused to accept the rentals and started legal proceedings to evict the occupants who numbered less than a hundred families. The threat of an impending eviction hang heavily on the community residents. They did not know what to do.
Starting to organize But if there was anybody who refused to be cowed down by the problem, it was Jerry Madrid, erstwhile chairman of an association back home in a San Remigio village where he came from. Jerry had become a believer in the power of an organized community and that problems like this could be better faced by collective action. The problem triggered the need to organize, and it was not difficult to convince many of them to join the organization. But they started small, said Jimmy Aquino, 34, and this in somewhat conspiratorial circumstances for the group met nightly to discuss their problem, He said when he was first invited to the initial organizational meeting, he did not know what it was all about. But when he did, he was glad somebody was taking the initiative to organize them. “Nalipay ug nahadlok sab ko,” recalls Maridel Montillen, 28, when she was invited to join. She was glad because
she thought they had better chances of solving the problem if organized, but she was apprehensive about the possible costs and obligations of membership. But it was her strong desire to own a lot to build her house on that won the day for her. Now she smiles at the thought of the nightly meetings. There were only 19 of them who came on that first meeting. That night, they wasted no time in debates. At once they elected their officers and plotted out what to do. That was December 7, 2003, a date etched in their collective memory. If there were strong adherents to the cause of the organization, there were also skeptics who wanted no part of the organization or the organizing effort. They looked down on our leaders because they thought themselves better educated, said Aquino. “Nakaminos kay mas daghan sila’g kahibalo. Ang uban nagselos.” Some backed out after they learned that the money collected would not be loaned out to the members. Others joined the group later when they were losing options. But all who joined have no regrets. “Maayo na lang gyud nga ning-apil ko,” said Aurelia Piañar, 52. The eviction case While the group’s main objective was to find a relocation site, they also had to face the eviction case filed by Dra. Amodia against them. At first they consulted the Office of the Urban Poor, but they were told there was nothing they could do because an eviction case had already been formally filed in court. Jerry and his officers realized that they needed to have a lawyer to
represent them in court. And lawyers did not come cheap. Luckily, after asking around, they found Atty. Thelma Jordan, a young lawyer who would represent them pro-bono. At that time, she was not the vice-mayor yet. According to Jerry’s wife Beatriz, all they had to shell out was 500 pesos for gasoline for each of the three court appearances that they went to. The court action only made the need for a relocation site more urgent. This Jerry and his group pursued without letup. In the meantime, they registered their organization with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an association, the Nagkahiusang Kabalayan Homeowners Association, the first urban poor group to do so in Liloan. That made their organization legitimate. They could now legally transact business as an association. A site is found In desperate moments, one needs friends to go by and lots of hope to hold on to. Ferdie Flores was that friend of Jerry. Now Ferdie also has a friend who acts as an agent of lot sellers in the area. Ferdie’s friend knew of someone who had a property that was for sale just in the vicinity of San Vicente. So one weekend Jerry and Ferdie visited the said site and found the owner who wanted to dispose of his land the size of 3,135 square meters. After inspecting the site, Jerry discovered that he liked the place and thought that the members of his association might also like it. And so the weekend after that, other members of the association trekked to the planned relocation site and inspected it themselves. There and then, they decided that this was what
Milaniano Herbito proudly displays his assorted collections in his living room.
they wanted all along, never mind if it was a bit far from the national highway. The 3,135 square meter lot, priced at P650 a square meter, amounted to P2,049,450 – quite an expensive property for an unproductive agricultural land. But that was the going market rate and the owner Loreto Transporto expected to receive that much. He also needed money badly. A simple wood gatherer who used his savings to acquire the property years ago, he had heard of some families becoming rich because they disposed of their agricultural lands to be converted into
subdivisions. The aging Loreto wanted to enjoy the remaining years of his life from the income of his land. Moreover, he had a problem which he wanted solved right away. Despite his uncertain income, Loreto had shacked up with a 20-something common-law wife, which his legal wife had grudgingly accepted as a fact of life. His children with this woman were growing up and they needed more support, while those of his legal wife apparently had their own small vices to support. So Loreto was desperately in need of cash. That made the situation for the young association of Jerry a little difficult. If Loreto insisted on cash
payment, where would they turn to? From his friends and contacts, Jerry heard of the Community Mortgage Program (CMP) – which would take time to process. That was out of the question as far as Loreto was concerned. Negotiations Here again, friends came in handy. Romeo Tak-al, president of another urban poor association, the Lourdes Homeowners Association, suggested that they ask for help from Pagtambayayong Foundation, the Cebu-based non-government organization noted for helping in
urban poor issues. After some deliberations, PFI sent its veteran community organizer Hope Minor to the area to make an initial assessment of the needs of the community. That was sometime in 2004. “Wa jud ko maglisud sa ilang grupo,” said Hope who saw and witnessed a determined association. Its members were as consistent as its leaders, she said. She noted that the success of any organization is to some extent dependent on its leaders. In the case of Jerry, it was his sincerity and firmness that provided him his moral ascendancy in the group. Negotiations with Loreto Transporto took time and sapped a lot of their energy for the latter swung like a pendulum, saying ‘yes’ one day and changing his mind the next day. All because he needed cash, Hope said. “Mora jud sila’g nangulitawo!” added Hope. Jerry and other members of the group would sometimes pay Loreto a visit on weekends
Maridel Montillen: “Daghan na mi’g blessings nga nadawat.”
when they were free, armed with a gallon of tuba, to his hut in Upper San Vicente, in the hope of softening up the old man. Probably when he became tipsy, he would say yes to the terms of the association. But when he regained sobriety the next day, he would change his decision and demanded cash in full. However, the association could only afford to pay in installment. To Loreto, that was not quite enough. When PFI offered to lend the association P300,000 to serve as down payment on the lot, Loreto had second thoughts. Where else would he find that much amount? That would solve many of his urgent problems, probably stop the nagging of his other woman. .
In addition to this amount, the PFI was able to get a grant from the PCUP amounting to P648,800, that made Loreto almost a millionaire. On August 2, 2005, Loreto Transporto was finally convinced that it was better for him to receive some of the payments in weekly installments until the lot will be fully paid, with the P300,000 as down payment. These terms were the most sensible for him and enable him to stretch the enjoyment of his income for as many years as possible. The story of Loreto does not end there. The down payment brought him back to his legal wife but led to the tragic suicide of his other woman who could not accept the reunion. When the couple went to the bank to encash their check, his other woman was drinking muriatic acid to end her miserable life. Now all his children are with him in his new home in Upper San Vicente. Transfer to the new site After Loreto signed the agreement with the Nagkahiusang Kabalayan Homeowners Association, the members could not wait to start building their new homes at Upper San Vicente. The area was divided into 42 lots, each lot with the size of 40 square meters. Then, like a truly democratic organization, each head of the family picked out his lot in a raffle. Even Jerry and Beatriz Madrid did not have special privileges The remaining undivided portions now serve as public plaza and a single road that
makes each house accessible. Each family had to pay P60 a week, part of the P2,500 weekly payment to Loreto since 2005. This is expected to end in November this year. A P240 monthly payment on a lot that each family will own is infinitely more bearable than the P150 monthly rent at Kampisot. To most of them, Upper San Vicente is like a new lease on life and urban living “Wa gyud me tabangi sa gobyerno pagbalhin sa among mga butang,” said Flora Armenion. Everything that they had had to be carried or transported from their old site in Kampisot to the present site, some 3 kilometers away, on their own shoulders she said. Each house was built piece by piece, post by post, said Jimmy Aquino. “Magpanday inig abot gikan sa trabaho hangtud nahuman ang balay,” he said. Thus each house reflects the personality of its ownerbuiilder and its occupants. In some instances, families came together to help build a house. They did this in the case of Loreto Transporto, evidently in gratitude. That Loreto’s dwelling is the most beautiful in Upper San Vicente is a tribute to the residents’ creativity and collective endeavor. Here in their new abodes, there is more space. Gone is the singleroom affair of Kampisot memory. In its place is a home subdivided by a family according to its needs. There is a small living area, a bedroom, a kitchen and a comfort room. “Di na mi mangalibang sa kalibunan,” said Flora. Some even have parking spaces
The community chapel, which is dedicated to the Señor Sto. Niño, occupies the topmost part of the relocation site, overlooking the village and its families living here. According to one resident, the Sto. Niño has given them His blessings.
Beatriz Madrid switches on the electric pump that provides water to the community. Each household pays only P20 a month for the electricity bill. The association’s leaders are still working to have level 3 connection.
for their motorbike, something they have acquired as a necessary utility for easy movement. The kerosene lamp is a forgotten thing of the past as everyone is connected to electricity. Now even their water system is driven by electricity and available night or day. For this each household pays P20 a month. The only problem here is, the water connection has yet to reach to the household level. The development funds amounting to P250,000 lent to them by the Barangay council still lack P150,000 to reach level three water connection. But they have high hopes they can secure the amount sooner or later – probably again with the help of generous friends, said Beatriz Madrid. .After all, they have surmounted the bigger problems already. “Naa nay kalainan. Daghan na mig blessings nga nadawat,” said
Maridel Montillen with her knowing smile. The residents or Upper San Vicente are not resting with their victories. Their next target is to have income generating projects at home so that the women like Beatriz and Maridel can earn and improve their lives. That could be the next step in their journey towards a more prosperous community.
Development Features is a regular publication
of Pagtamabayayong Foundation, Inc., featuring its various community projects and interventions. This piece on Upper San Vicente was done with the special participation of Hope Minor and Gilbert Intervalo. Hope supplied most of the photos here.
A story of how a group of urban poor in San Vicente, Liloan, Cebu, organized themselves and managed their own relocation