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From demolition to militarization: Urban poor communities under siege by state armed forces

Kadamay - Kalbaryo Urban Poor Media Forum

KADAMAY, along with various urban poor and people’s organizations, strongly condemns the ongoing militarization and the presence of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) personnel in various urban poor communities, where residents are facing various forms of development aggression, demolition, and eviction. In March 2023, three urban poor communities were subjected to severe harassment, deception, and intimidation by military and police forces.

In Tondo, soldiers visited the urban poor communities of Hapilan and Aroma, currently facing demolition threats due to the Skyway Extension project and the Manila Bay reclamation project, to identify, harass, and red-tag Gabriela and KADAMAY members. In Sto. Tomas, Batangas, soldiers visited a community in Brgy. San Isidro Sur to intimidate residents and members of the Maligaya Homeowners Association who are fighting against the demolition of their community affected by the Sto. Tomas-Malvar Diversion Road project.

Meanwhile, soldiers and personnel from the Montalban Municipal TF-ELCAC have been harassing, intimidating, threatening, and red-tagging residents of urban poor relocation site Kasiglahan Village. They forced around 1,000 residents to sign a document withdrawing their support for the CPP-NPA-NDF despite lack of concrete evidence linking them to the said groups. 

It is the same red-tagging scheme employed by state forces toward activists and community organizers that led to the death of Melvin Dasigao and Mark Lee Bacsano, two urban poor leaders from the same Montalban community, who were killed in March 2020 during the Bloody Sunday massacre where five more activists and organizers from different parts of Southern Tagalog were also murdered on the same day by state forces.

It should be noted that these events occur at a time when the Marcos Jr regime is about to carry out the return of US military troops to the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) for additional American soldiers, storage and placement of war equipment, and construction of their military bases on Philippine soil.

The Philippines is clearly at a disadvantage under the EDCA. First, the US military is free to stay rent-free in the agreed EDCA locations. Second, they are not required to pay taxes or similar fees for using water, electricity, and other public utilities. Meanwhile, the demolition and eviction of urban poor communities in the name of “development” continues while Filipino families struggle to make ends meet with their meager wages and income due to the rising prices of goods and essential public utilities. But American soldiers are free to use land and services in the country.

Furthermore, the US military has been directing the AFP to label anyone who opposes policies and projects of the government for their own interests, super-profits, and corruption as terrorists or rebels.

It is apparent that whenever the people are organizing and mobilizing for their rights, the state responds through intense militarization and repression. The cases above are just a few of the numerous human rights violations that state forces continue to commit aimed at quelling the people’s eagerness to unite, organize, and fight for their socio-economic rights.

In fact, in January of this year, the International Labour Organization High Level Tripartite Mission (ILO-HLTM) launched an investigation into human and labor rights violations in the Philippines under the Duterte and the present administrations. The investigation documented a staggering 421 total civil and political rights violations all over the country, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, political repression, threats, harassment, red-tagging, and other violations of the right to freedom of association.

The continuing deepening of the crisis in the economy and society is what’s pushing the people to fight for their right to livable wages, security in livelihood and housing, and right to organize. The state, which should be the leading defender and promoter of the people’s rights, especially the poor, has been the main violator. Instead of responding to the people’s demands, the government continuously pours its resources into enabling the NTF-ELCAC, the AFP, and the PNP, to violate the people’s civic and political rights.

This coming Holy Week, may those in power reflect on how the suffering and hardships inflicted upon Christ by those in power during His time can be likened to the oppression, exploitation, and abuse presently being done by state forces to the Filipino poor.

In “Passion of Christ,” Jesus preached the Good News, but was arrested, insulted, crucified and died on the cross. This is not far from the harassment, intimidation, repression, arrest, abduction, and killing of the masses who called for legitimate reforms for their welfare. The Marcos Jr. regime shows no shame in portraying that his government is both the whip that landed on Christ’s body and the weight that burdened Christ’s cross on Calvary. And just like Christ who eventually rose again and ascended into heaven, the Filipino people will continue to strive to fight and defend their rights against the oppressive and exploitative system enabled by the US-Marcos Jr. regime.