Saturday, September 6, 2008

Valiente is his name

He could rule the world. He could rule with justice and compassion just like any other human being equipped with the predisposing factors of power, the kind that comes from the finest side of a human being. But this morning, Valiente is in a white coffin at the receiving area of city hall just beside the flagpole where the city’s human power put their right palm on their chest to pledge allegiance to God and country every Monday morning.

“Ang mamatay ng dahil saiyo” sounds perfunctory.

“To die for you, my country” - what does this really mean, murmured the lean and spent warm bodies of about 500 urban poor residents of Barangay Isla Blanca A waiting for the city mayor to answer their demands for the redress of their grievances.

At noontime yesterday, a demolition crew of 300 rushed to Isla Blanca A to forcibly clear the area of what the City Development Authority viewed as nuisance, therefore “eyesores” in the city as the government always referred to the urban poor since Adam. There were 300 families to be driven away purportedly to give way to the construction of a dike and the government brought in an armed demolition team of 300 men.

In less than an hour, the human barricade of protesting citizens of the city was broken and the creaking and cracking sound of backhoes mingled with the sounds of heaving and bursting chests.

“Wala kayong kaluluwa! Hindi niyo iginagalang ang batas!” You have no compassion! You don’t heed what the law says. These words reverberated in Isla Blanca A, an urban village occupied by rural poor migrants for 40 years now. Why this clearing operation happens at a time when there is a rice and oil crisis, the citizens of the city could only make the sign of the cross to explain the situation.

“Ang tao/ Ang bayan/ ngayon ay lumalaban!” The people/ The nation/ Demands redress of grievances now…This chant was repeated like a mantra while the people waited for the mayor to come and meet them.

Valiente’s parents were stone-faced. They exerted a calm appearance. Just two days ago Marianina and Estan were proud parents of Valiente. The young boy could mimic the TV matinee idol to the neighbors’ surprise.He could count from 1 to 50. He could pronounce words with "r" and this amazed the neighbors.

“One day he will be the President of the Philippines,” teased the neighbors who asserted that dreams are freebies so they can dream big with no one stopping them.

At 11:00 in the morning, the mayor finally inched towards the chanting crowd. When the mayor greeted the crowd, the chanting stopped and the group’s spokesperson addressed the mayor courteously.

“We have nowhere to go, Mayor. What remains with us are ourselves and this dead body of 2-year old Valiente in front of us. In the consternation yesterday after the demolition crew fired on the air, he fell on the creek. Valiente’s mother thought the baby was with her older sister but events happened so fast. There is nothing left to us now but our homelessness and our grief. We invoke our rights in Section 28 of the Urban Development and Housing Act. We have rights too under the United Nations Convention on Social and Economic Rights.

”Where are these rights in this city?”

The Mayor displayed his poker face as usual and in a carefully worded pronouncement told the crowd that they should be patient and try to understand that the country wants to move forward. He was sorry that the creek accident happened. Careful not to blame the parents for the death of the baby, he promised that city hall would shoulder the burial expenses.

“What about our homes? “

“What about our livelihood? We are staying on the sidewalk right now. We deserve a relocation site near our sources of livelihood.”

As usual, the Mayor’s answer was a poker face. He promised the group that he would call the City Development Authority and the Public Highways to finalize the subject of resettlement.

The people’s anger showed when the mayor couldn’t make a categorical commitment. The speaker’s fists were clenched as he heaved a sigh.

“Mayor, we are citizens of this city too. We will set up tents on these grounds until we are settled as human beings.”

There was silence like something to be revered or to be feared just whiffed by and people could not move including the mayor.

“You’ll get Isla Blanca B as your resettlement site. That is only a 30-minute ride from city hall. Just wait a bit for the development of the site.”

Nerves started to calm down but someone from the crowd who had seen very little drinking water since their homes were dismantled yesterday said: “Kindly give us a written copy of your commitment, Mayor.”

As some solutions evolved, Valiente’s story is repeated in other areas in the country where dreams of greatness that could be the corner stone of a truly humane society are snuffed out at a flick of a finger.

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