If there is something the Aquino administration should be proud about, it is the treatment of the marginalized sectors of our society, which Bianca Gonzalez characterized as ‘soft-glove’ treatment of non-performing citizenry, the squatters. And also in the light of a recent attempt to demolish the squatters along West Kamias, Q.C. which Mayor Herbert Bautista did not approve of, the City of Man bares it soul and compassion to those whom President Ramon Magsaysay would confer the full measure of protection under the law.
We can summon Marcos from his crypt and help us rid of today’s squatters, but even the most vile in us would not approve of this creepy idea.
A massive documentation of Marcos’ and his cronies’ plunder compiled by Ricardo Manapat in his book, “Some Are Smarter Than Others”, 1991, ISBN 971-91287-0-4 has this depressing entry about Marcos’ inhuman treatment of squatters during his time.
THE CITY OF MAN
Several months after martial law was declared in 1972, the Marcos government embarked on a massive program to attract foreign tourists. Part of the nationwide tourism effort was a cleanliness campaign headed by Imelda Marcos to get rid of the various forms of litter that cluttered the city of Manila and its suburbs. Her ultimate aim was to reorganize the whole metropolitan Manila area into one great super-city which she would head as governor. And perhaps as an oblique reference to Saint Augustine, she proposed to call her new dominion the City of Man.
There was not much success in cleansing the city streets of garbage nor in dredging the stenching small rivers and canals which slither throughout greater Manila. There was, however, partial success in one aspect of the cleanliness campaign. The achievement lay in clearing selected areas of Manila and its suburbs of several squatter communities which were not only eyesores for foreign visitors but were also an uneasy reminder to those who passed by the slum areas in their air-conditioned cars that not all was well in the world which they lived.
We are familiar with the story of one of these poor communities, and it is through the story of this community that we start our exposition of the history of Marcos’ crony capitalism.
In preparation for the visit of Prince Juan Carlos de Buorbon, squatter families living near the area of Intramuros, the Walled City built during Spanish colonial times, were forcibly evicted from their hovels and dumped in an isolated suburb of Quezon City. The place was called Constitution Hill.
At that time the place was used as the garbage dump of Quezon City. Close to a thousand families were relocated to the area and left to fend for themselves. They were totally cut off from their traditional means of livelihood. Access to public transportation was a walk of several miles on a dusty trail, and commuting to work would have eaten up a good part of their daily earning. There was no water, no electricity, and no sanitation system. There was only famine, desperation, and death. One cannot imagine a more hostile environment to live in than to be beside tons of garbage. Drinking water had to be fetched from hand pumps several miles away and carried by hand. The community had to endure the stench and eat inside mosquito nets to fend off the hordes of flies which feasted daily on them, their food, and the Quezon City garbage. During the first few weeks of this painful diaspora, children died by the dozens because of exposure to the elements and the lack of potable water.
A member of this community writes:
“Almost all of us were left in shock with the events. The first thing that we asked ourselves: Why did fate bring us here? Is this a dwelling for men? A fetid dump. You first had to get into a mosquito net before you ate, because the gigantic flies came in droves.”
There is some irony to the name of the place. It was called Constitution Hill because it was there where the post-war Republic had planned to relocate the legislature. The name was testimony to the hope that the place would be a wellspring whence the rule of reason and law would flow to guide and nurture the young Republic. But instead, what the relocated families encountered was a huge mountain of garbage and the rusting, decades-old steel frame of the planned edifice towering over them. The community saw something ominous in this dilapidated, inanimate structure. Parents strictly prohibited their children to go near it. They all instinctively felt the hostile and character of this silent structure, as if it were a sleeping monster which one day wake up and devour them.
There is an old Filipino adage which, roughly translated, says a drowning man will grasp anything even if it be the blade of a knife. Somehow the community survived their initial trial. The garbage dump was covered with soil, and they were able to rebuild their homes in small neat rectangle plots, using banana trees as fences to separate each plot. With the help of the sisters of the Religous of the Virgin Mary (RVM), the community was able to clear a hectare of land and plant rice. A school and a basketball followed.
But all was short-lived. After more than five years of wielding absolute power, Marcos felt he needed to organize a legislature which would pass laws and legitimize his regime. Preparations were thus made to quickly resume construction to complete the legislative building within a few months, a move which again affected the community of Constitution Hill. It started with the demolition of the shanties of 120 families on March 1977 to make room for the construction of the Batasang Pambansa Legislative Building. Six people died then: an aged person, and five children. They were without shelter for three days and two nights. The succeeding months of 1977 saw the working perimeter of the construction site slowly expand and eat up the adjacent houses, sometimes by twenties, and sometimes by tens, as had happened during Christmas day of that year.
The residents tried to fight the demolitions in court. They put together their meager savings to get the courts to issue an injunction against the further destruction of their homes. They argued that they were there only because Marcos people had dumped them there, that this would be the second time they would be uprooted from their homes by the national government, and that they were willing to pay for the land they occupied from whatever small savings they had managed to eke out. They lost all the cases. There were powerful economic and political interests at work at both the national and local levels. At the local level, the Mayor of Quezon City, Adelina Rodriguez, was eager to get rid of the community of Constitution Hill because the value of the nearby real estate subdivisions she and her family owned through ADEZ would go up as soon as the area was rid of “squatters” . At the national level, it would have been quite a politically embarrassing situation for the Marcos government to have a community of tuberculars and malnourished children merely a few hundred yards away from the plush parking spaces of Prime Minister Virata and other the hignly-paid legislators. The contrast would have been too stark and would have caused some uneasiness. The whole idea behind the Marcos-controlled legislature was to provide legitimacy for the regime, but these efforts at legitimation would be powerfully undermined by the picture of poverty and the suffering of the hundreds of families who lived nearby.
The methods employed by the government were merciless. Officials from the Quezon City Mayor’s Office and the National Housing Authority called a meeting to inform the people that the rest of their homes would soon be demolished. When the meeting was finished, a woman from the community, Veronica Campo, stayed on in the meeting place. A certain Lourdes Vergara from the Social Welfare Services of tne Mayor’s Office and a Lieutenant Atienza from the Integrated National Police, along with other government officials, took turns in berating the woman. At around 4:00 o’clock that afternoon, the woman died of a heart attack, leaving two orphans. One was two years old, the other seven months.
There was a further mass demolition of the remaining 400 homes on 6 June 1978. The team from the Quezon City Mayor’s Office and the National Housing Authority did not bring any court order or any legal paper authorizing the demolition. What they brought was a complement of 300 Quezon City policemen and Metrocom troopers, four fire trucks, and machine guns mounted on top of army jeeps. General Karingal of the Integrated National Police announced over the ball bullhorn: “You will now be demolished. You were warned that you would be allowed to stay only until June 5. You were warned that after this date, the place will be clean.”
No one was spared. Officials from the City Engineer’s Office and the National Housing Authority, two government bodies which were supposed to provide housing for low-income families were leading the demolition. Some of the men from these offices even took advantage of the situation by stealing from the homes they demolished. One Willy Albia, a resident of Constitution Hill, pleaded with the demolition teams to wait until the next day before they razed his house, explaining that he had a child who was running a high fever. His pleas were ignored.
What were formerly the homes of 400 families became a gigantic pile of wood by the evening. People slept under boards which used to be the walls of their modest dwellings. The crying of children was everywhere. Pain and despair were written in the faces of the men and women.
For four days and three nights, no one could say that he had a home. Within these four days children started to get sick, and by the time the community was able to put up make-shift dwellings, four children had died.
The community of Constitution Hill was totally dispersed. Sister Alfonsa, the nun from the Religious of of the Virgin Mary who had been living and working with the community for years as a volunteer and community organizer, was hauled off to court by Vergara. Because she built a school for the children, the nun was slapped with the charges of erecting an illegal structure by the authorities. The sewing machines which the nun used to instill skills in the women of the community were ‘confiscated’ by the employees of the city government and were later sold for personal gain. In place of the community of Constitution Hill now stands the Batasang Pambansa legislative Building where laws legitimizing the regime of Marcos were passed. The place where a school for poor children once stood was blanketed by a cement parking lot for the Marcos legislators.
Through this short account, we can see themes which will help us understand how Marcos’ crony capitalism worked. We encounter two main sets of actors. On one hand, we have the power wielders who brazenly exercised their prerogatives at the national and local levels. And on the other, we have their victims, the majority of whom live in poverty, are malnourished and sickly, are poorly housed, and are constantly under abuse. A major theme of this book, especially this chapter, is to contrast the disparity between the lives of the members of these two groups. A subsidiary theme, one which we shall point out whenever the occasion permits, is how the two opposites of wealth and poverty were held together during the Marcos regime. Here is where a supporting cast of actors make their appearance: the legitimators who justified the regime in different ways. This special group provided the theoretical schema through which Marcos’ crony capitalism was justified, passing laws favoring the economic interests of those close to Marcos, controlling the courts, monopolizing the media, corrupting the accounting and law professions. The predatory behavior of those who wielded power during Marcos’ regime was made possible by the professionals who prostituted their trade to help legitimize the actions of Marcos. And when the irrationality and injustice of these legitimations became transparent and challenged, military force was used to keep the system functioning. Our account of Constitution Hill is therefore not merely a historical curiosum but serves as a theoretical paradigm, a political looking glass, holding the clue to an understanding much of recent Philippine history.
WEIGHED IN THE BALANCES AND FOUND WANTING
The poverty and hardship experienced by the residents of Constitution Hill represented in microcosm the great suffering endured by the majority of Filipinos.