Friday, November 16, 2007

Imminent demolition of mosque tears down dreams of Muslims in Baclaran

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.
Telefax: 4264118 Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615


Imminent demolition of mosque tears down dreams of Muslims in Baclaran

16 November 2007. With flies swarming around her shanty beside the Grand Mosque, Rahima Amal was cooking banana and cassava with coconut milk for a traditional Maranao Kanduri or thanksgiving, in which gifts are shared with extended family, neighbors and friends.

She believes that by sharing food, her wishes may be granted. She wants her life to be featured on the TV show “Wish Ko Lang.” Rahima would wish for a simple “sari-sari” store in Baclaran.

She hopes to save some money before she gives birth to her sixth child this December. She once worked as a vendor but personnel from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) would always catch her and confiscated her merchandise.

The 35-year old mother may have all the reason to lose hope but she simply never stops dreaming. “Here in Manila it is free to dream something big, it doesn’t cost a thing,” she said. That thought keeps her going despite the series of unfortunate events that happened to their community.

Five months earlier, an army of over 1000 persons, security personnel of the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), police officers from Pasay City and Salam Police, and a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit entered the reclaimed area near Baclaran where 800 Muslim families lived and bulldozed houses.

Residents tried to prevent heavily armed policemen from entering the community, demanding a court order that would authorize the demolition. But the demolition team shoved their way into the human barricade, hitting residents with clubs, night sticks and truncheons.

Some 376 families retreated to the mosque for sanctuary. While praying inside the mosque, residents were intimidated, threatened and coerced to come out.

The police cut off the water and electricity supply and destroyed the area the residents used for performing ablutions before prayer.

After negotiations, the PRA agreed to spare the mosque from destruction until a relocation site had been found and agreed to pay some families P30,000 in ‘disturbance pay’.

Since the demolition, 30 children have stopped going to elementary and high school. Barbed wire fence has been placed across the main access path leading to the local school. Seven children have been hospitalized for malaria and fatigue.

PRA guards have surrounded the small community with barbed wire and spy on the families living under tarpaulins.

To date, after months residing in sub-standard conditions, without access to basic services of water, sanitation and electricity, the community has still not been consulted regarding relocation plans and no site has apparently been identified.

Rahima could only cry and pray. Her husband became sick and lost his job as terminal dispatcher. Her 9-year old daughter is now working along the streets selling plastic bags. Rising cost of commodities won’t allow her to buy medicines for her 2-year old baby.

Despite the problems, Rahima’s family find it hard to go back to Malabang, Lanao del Sur where farming is the only way to survive. “Aside from the problems of armed conflicts, rodents and wild pigs usually ruin our harvests. Our only problem here is eviction. The mosque is our shelter, we have nowhere else to go,” Rahima said.

Like most of her neighbor, Rahima left her province hoping to find better luck in the city. Her dream is to someday go back to her province, buy a passenger jeepney and have a small business.

The Muslim community asked the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), a non-government organization that monitors forced evictions, to help them. Last October 10, UPA arranged a consultative meeting with Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senator Rodolfo Biazon regarding unlawful demolitions in various parts of Metro Manila including the Muslim area. Government agencies acceded to the appeal of urban poor leaders to have a 1-month moratorium on demolitions.

Abdelmanan Tanandato, president of Samahan Ng Nagkaka-Isang Na-Demolis Sa Roxas Blvd. Baclaran, Pasay City, also sought the help of Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo which led to a dialogue with PRA General Manager Andrea Domingo. Still the problem remains unresolved and negotiations continued.

The PRA denied the request of Bishop Pabillo to allow the entry of water rationing trucks into the area, which had been requested during the fasting month of Ramadan. The justification provided in the letter for the denial of water provision was that reclamation work was going on in the vicinity. With a water rationing truck at the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard, residents are hoping to get some water even if they have to walk about 100 meters.

The makeshift pedestrian bridge connecting the community to Roxas Boulevard was destroyed during the demolition, isolating the community from the main thoroughfare. Using a pushcart, some people have to buy water from the Baclaran area and transport it via a longer route going to the Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard. Hence, residents have to pay 20 pesos for 5 gallons of water.

The Muslim community started reclaiming the land in 1992. In 1993, the Grand Mosque was built. In 1994, the Muslim leaders decided to make it concrete. It was completed in 2002 and the total amount of expenses reached 11.3 million pesos. Various Muslim groups donated the money while some residents contributed their coins, hard-earned money for the construction.

The Muslims built the mosque at the reclamation area in Baclaran with the endorsement of the then ParaƱaque City Mayor Joey Marquez. In a letter addressed to Jose Yulo Jr., General Manager of Philippine Estates Authority (the forerunner of the PRA), Mayor Marquez said the city does not interpose any objection to the establishment of the mosque in its present site for the Muslims to exercise their faith. The area is now considered a part of Pasay City.

During a mission to the Philippines in October 2007, a three-member team from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) visited the Muslim community. COHRE is a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization working to promote and protect the right to adequate housing.

In an open letter to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last October 23, Deputy Director Jean du Plessis of COHRE said his organization is deeply concerned about the lack of genuine consultation surrounding the evictions and plans for relocation, the lack of access to basic services for the community, and the use of violence during the evictions and demolition. He also asked the President to take action to protect the affected families. -30-

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