Case Save San Roque and Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap

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Located in North Triangle, Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City, the Sitio San Roque urban poor community is currently home to more than 6,000 families. Majority of them work in the informal economy as precarious contractual low-wage workers, construction vendors, transport workers, among others. Exemplifying the resilience and ingenuity of the urban poor, San Roque residents built their community, with its own roads, water and electricity networks, institutional, recreational, and commercial spaces—in spite of government neglect and the absence of state housing provision and development programs.

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, San Roque, Samar, Philippines PH

Authors Save San Roque, UP CIDS AltDev
Topics Climate change, Environmental justice, Social justiceClimate change, Environmental justice, Social justice
Case Report Volume 1: "Stories of Regeneration and Resilience"
Number of participants
Photo Credits: Akanksha Bhushan

Located in North Triangle, Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City, the Sitio San Roque urban poor community is currently home to more than 6,000 families. Majority of them work in the informal economy as precarious contractual low-wage workers, construction vendors, transport workers, among others. Exemplifying the resilience and ingenuity of the urban poor, San Roque residents built their community, with its own roads, water and electricity networks, institutional, recreational, and commercial spaces—in spite of government neglect and the absence of state housing provision and development programs.

An estimated 17,000 families reside in the community before the development of the high-end township Vertis North, a project of the 2009 joint venture agreement (JVA) between the developer Ayala Land Inc. (ALI), and the landowner National Housing Authority (NHA), which owned the land. Since then, the residents of Sitio San Roque faced violent wide-scale demolitions, and various attacks from this alliance of ALI and NHA in the form of road widening projects, clearing operations, arsons, “voluntary” and pocket-sized demolitions, eviction notices, which meant to clear the land and dispossess the residents of their community.

While the NHA has a Relocation Program for those to-be displaced by the project, only 30% of the remaining families in Sitio San Roque are qualified by the housing agency, citing budget restrictions with the PHP 1.8 Billion (USD 30 Million) Relocation Fund provided by ALI under the JVA. Moreover, six out of the 7 housing projects under the NHA Relocation program are in peri-urban areas, outside the metropolis (KD-SR and SSR, 2022). Such relocation sites further marginalizes relocated families as they are moved farther from their source of livelihood: the primary reason for them staying in Sitio San Roque (Save San Roque, 2019). An increase in living expenses especially in transportation costs were observed in the experience of relocatees. As a result, their measly budget for food, health, education, and other basic needs are further reduced (Arcilla, 2019). The off-city relocation sites themselves are mired with various issues that deteriorate the living conditions of relocatees: low-quality and poorly constructed housing units; absence of basic utilities such as electricity and water connections; proximity to danger zones; lack of basic social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals; and unavailability of employment opportunities. Social cohesion and community resilience that is reified in the everyday practices of solidarity embedded in the residents' lifeways are destroyed by the displacement.

Process that led to the community being resilient

Facing homelessness, residents of Sitio San Roque devised a multitude of ways available to them in order to defend the community: mobilizations, protest marches, noise barrages, prayer vigils, and most notably, community barricades. Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap - San Roque (KD-SR), an urban poor mass organization that engages in interrelated issues concerning the urban poor sector: land, housing, human rights, livelihood, wages, and other, are at the helm of these resistance strategies.

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In 2010, the residents of Sitio San Roque barricaded the streets, clashing with a team of 600 police officers, firefighters, and demolition personnel. The stand-off lasted six hours, causing a massive traffic jam on one of Metro Manila’s major thoroughfares. The ardent defense of Sitio San Roque pushed the then-Philippine President Noynoy Aquino to order a suspension of demolitions of urban poor communities. The altercation resulted in a congressional investigation wherein the NHA admitted that on-site relocation is “unfeasible” as it would greatly reduce the housing agency’s potential earnings from the project.

Although not as triumphant as the 2010 community barricade, Sitio San Roque still valiantly defended their community from the large-scale demolition in 2014. 1,000 police officers and SWAT members were employed by the authorities for the road widening project that affected more than 300 families. As a response, they occupied the street (where the demolition took place) for a week and constructed make-shift shelters using materials they found from the debris around them. This occupation pushed NHA to include the families in their Relocation Program.

After the violent encounters between residents and state forces which drew media coverage, the clearing strategy of NHA and the local government shifted from large-scale demolition to “voluntary” and pocket-sized forced demolitions, often by sections (Save San Roque, 2019), and through arson (San Andres and Viray, 2012).

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Cognizant of the limitations of defensive and reactive nature of community barricades, in 2019, KDSR ventured into crafting and lobbying for a counter proposal which they called the Community Development Plan (CDP) with the goal of pushing for inclusive, decent, affordable, and community centered housing. To aid the community, Save San Roque (SSR), a network of professionals, students, and urban poor advocates, was formed in conjunction with starting the CDP. The objective of SSR was to aid residents with their alternative housing proposal as well as to amplify the campaign to assert it. Months of planning, consultations, and participatory design workshops went into crafting the counter proposal. The CDP has two sides—the technical and the political. It is a technical document which contains the socio-economic profile of the community, their capacity to pay, a proposal for a medium-rise housing complex with public spaces, and a rough cost estimate for the development. Moreso, it is a platform for political engagement, serving as a reification of the residents' aspirations to be included in urban development and a platform for their collective assertion for this right (KD-SR and SSR, 2019). In December 2019, the CDP was submitted and was positively received by Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte. She has since vowed to find a win-win solution to the problem presented by the community and has promised to include the residents in Quezon city’s in-city housing program.

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How this established resilience has helped during the pandemic

COVID-19’s emergence in the Philippines has aggravated the poverty experienced by the residents. However, despite the lack of government aid, Sitio San Roque residents were able to mitigate these pandemic-induced challenges through the support of sympathetic individuals, and organizations who helped financially support the community’s COVID-19 mitigation projects. At the onset of the pandemic, community leaders, led by KD-SR, immediately drew up three phases of relief operations. The first one involved providing immediate assistance to the residents through food packs which the community leaders themselves procured, repacked, and delivered. A couple of weeks into the implementation of the first phase, it had become apparent to the community leaders that their relief operations must transition to the second phase. This led to the establishment of the Kusinang Bayan (community kitchen) in April 2021. The initiative started with only 3 but steadily grew to 27 as donations came pouring in following a successful social media campaign on the community kitchen. These community kitchens were set-up in different areas of Sitio San Roque as well as in adjacent urban poor communities. In the Kusinang Bayan, it is the residents themselves who plan the meals, purchase the ingredients, and distribute the work in preparing and serving meals to their neighbors. At its peak, as much as 5,000 urban poor residents were being provided for by the initiative (KD-SR and SSR, 2020)

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As donations dwindled due to ‘donor fatigue’ among many other reasons, residents moved to the third phase of the relief operations: starting agro ecological community food gardens. The Tanimang Bayan (community food garden), as they call it, is seen by the residents as a more sustainable form of relief, and as an alternative food source. For this endeavor, KD-SR and SSR sought the assistance of farmer groups and advocates to enrich the farming skills of residents and capacitate them further on agroecology. Educational discussions and training on topics ranging from food security, land justice, farm planning, and creation of organic soil additives and inputs were conducted in the community. Aside from reducing food insecurity, KD-SR considers the Tanimang Bayan as part of their effort to reclaim land and resist further dispossession by the alliance of NHAALI. This is reflected in their practice of utilizing and cultivating the community food gardens directly on areas that had already been demolished (KD-SR and SSR, 2022; Recio and Shafique, 2022).

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Key Lessons

The experience of Sitio San Roque of dispossession and displacement as well as their story of resilience and resistance is hardly isolated in urban centers in the Philippines. Because of the current development model prevalent which puts profits first before the welfare of people, marginalized peoples are continuously denied their right to the city.

However, it is evident in initiatives of Sitio San Roque (the Barikadang Bayan, Kusinang Bayan, Tanimang Bayan, and the CDP) that there are triumphs and empowerment when the residents themselves are allowed to be a part of and involved in the planning and implementation of development projects. The voice and participation of marginalized peoples allow development to be grounded and better suited to the realities faced by the grassroots. These communityled initiatives, undoubtedly, are a testament to the limitless possibilities when solidarity and collective action put into practice by the marginalized peoples, most especially when these are met with recognition and support from the government.

References

Igal Jada San Andres and Patricia Lourdes Viray. April 27, 2012. Demolition by fire: burning urban poor communities a government tactic?. Bulatlat. https://www.bulatlat.com/2012/04/27/demolition-by-fire-burning-urban-poorcommunities-a-government-tactic/

Arcilla, Chester. (2019). “ Ensuring the affordability of socialized housing: Towards liveable and sustainable homes for the poor.” Quezon City: University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS). Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap - San Roque [KD-SR] and Save San Roque [SSR]. (2019). “Sitio San Roque Community Development Plan”. Research Report and Proposal.

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap [KD-SR] and Save San Roque [SSR]. (2020). Community-led response to the COVID-19 crisis: Initiatives of Sitio San Roque, North Triangle, Quezon City.

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap [KD-SR] and Save San Roque [SSR]. (2022). Grassroots-led Agroecological Urban farming as a strategy for ensuring food security and defending land rights in COVID-19 times: The experience of the Tanimang Bayan (community food gardens) in Sitio San Roque, North Triangle, Quezon City.

Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap - San Roque [KD-SR] and Save San Roque [SSR]. (2022). “Moving towards ‘Housing for All’: A 2022 Report on Housing Eligibility (Census Status, Occupancy Type, and Evidence of Residence) in Sitio San Roque, North Triangle, Quezon City.” Research Report.