Family Threatened With Eviction to Protest at Duterte's Annual National Address

Family Threatened With Eviction to Protest at Duterte's Annual National Address
Photo Credit: Michael Beltran

What you need to know

Poverty does not stop protesters from expressing their anger against President Rodrigo Duterte.

MANILA, Philippines - Gilplecio Ladjao, 32, and Yolanda Andor, 30, have lived in the slums of Sitio San Roque, Quezon City for six years. They live in a hut, the inside of which could barely fit five people lying down while the ceiling might scrape one's scalp if stood upright.

Last month, a group of private armed guards barged into their house and threatened the then-three-month-pregnant Andor at gunpoint, pressuring the couple to leave their home. Although the situation was diffused, the guard promised to come back with escalated violence. On the same night, under shock, Andor started cramping and bleeding buckets of blood. She had a miscarriage with barely enough money to pay for the medical expenses.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, the San Roque neighborhood has been threatened with eviction by Ayala Land Inc, one of the biggest real estate conglomerates in the country, and the National Housing Authority (NHA). Ayala, one of the largest property developers in the Philippines, has been eyeing San Roque’s land for constructing commercial centers and a casino at the expense of thousands of residential homes.

Besides facing frequent harassments from the private armed guards, Ladjao and Andor have to deal with the police constantly banging on their door for a drug search.

“I felt so much anger. We always wanted to have two children. It’s the worst kind of anger when you feel powerless at the same time. I still see the guards who harassed us and they look at us as if we owe them something. They took my second child, and now my all fear is gone,” said Andor.

Photo Credit: Michael Beltran
Gilplecio Ladjao, 32, and Yolanda Andor, 30, with their one-year-old son.

On Monday, July 22, President Duterte will deliver his annual speech at the State of the Nation Address (SONA), reporting his administration's achievements and outlining his plans for the country. Mainstream media often feature the outfits of lawmakers attending SONA in the same vein as a Hollywood premiere. The speech itself also warrants a showbiz director to film the occasion and capture the best angles of the President and the crowd.

The highlight, however, will be the tens of thousands of anti-SONA protesters just outside the halls of Congress.

Andor, who is still recovering from her recent miscarriage, and Ladjao, who will have to work an extra shift to make up for his absense, are both determined to attend the Monday protest to express their dissent. Ladjao was only able to bring home around US$30 in wages last month, barely enough to buy baby formulas for his son and put food on the table. If he attends the protest, he might risk missing another day of work due to exhaustion from the long march.

“There’s always a chance of being heard, and the SONA represents that chance. We’re people with rights, but too often the law favors those in people,” Ladjao said.

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
President Rodrigo Duterte is shown inside a mock dartboard with slogans that read "Dictator, Lapdog, Fascist" during a rally in Manila.

In his spare time, Ladjao helps other members of the San Roque community to organize and defend themselves against the impending eviction threats. His neighbors were the ones who helped rush his wife to the hospital and even filed a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights about the loss of their child.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, there have been 87,437 victims of harassment by either statement elements or those acting in their interest from July 2016 to March 2019. Most of the victims were activists or ordinary people sympathetic to a cause opposing the Duterte administration. Karapatan further reported that 6,111 households were torn down illegally or without a permit during the same period, while 6,091 properties were intentionally damaged.

President Duterte has been touting his aggressive infrastructure campaign dubbed Build Build Build (BBB) since he came into office. The program comprises 75 flagship projects that will re-shape public transportation and other public utilities in the country. However, there is a dire cost to residential communities, especially the homes of slum dwellers.

According to research conducted by the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, there will be 509,595 families displaced as a part of the BBB by 2020. This estimate has only measured the potential impact of 15 key projects, not counting the entirety of the campaign.

Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
President Duterte delivers his speech during the 121st Philippine Navy Anniversary at Sangley Point on June 17, 2019.

The protest organizers have dubbed the Monday rally as “United People’s SONA 2019,” announcing their battle cry: “fight for sovereignty, livelihood, and democracy.”

When asked if he thinks the president will listen to what the people want, Ladjao said all they can do is hope that things will get better. In order for Duterte to be a good president, he should stop listening and catering to the ruling system of the oligarchs, Ladjao said.

“The police don’t listen to us. We’re all criminals in their eyes before anything else. The security around our neighborhood also acts like the police, which makes matters worse,” he said, visibly exasperated from the daily encounters with authorities. “I work as a security guard myself, and I know that barging into people’s homes is not part of the job.”

The SONA may simply highlight where Duterte plans to steer the Philippines, but its future is not set in stone. Ordinary Filipinos, victimized and gone through tremendous loss, still want to prove that they can signal the turning of the tide. Andor, while doubtful of any significant changes from Duterte’s agenda, said she will spend as much time as possible at the protest before heading home to recuperate on Monday.

She said, “We’re the ‘small people’ in this country, but when our numbers come together, our voices become the loudest.”

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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