The shanties of Backmatimco, Mandaue swayed with the afternoon breeze, like bamboo bending to the will of a summertime tempest. Amid the cool weather, children who were playing patintero between close-knitted houses were sweating as if they had been jogging around the 9.2-hectare settlement. A cacophony of different noises rung in the backdrop— mothers chanting “Turon! Turon! Tag-singko lang!”, neighbors yelling at one another over a wasted bucket of water, men arguing about the piles of garbage under their stilt houses which were feeding grounds for vermin and stray dogs.
For Silay Ramirez, these were normal scenarios in her humble home for 35 years. Blending in with the band of mothers and grandmothers who sold banana and camote cues for a living, the 59-year old armed herself with a tray of food on her left arm and her one-and-a-half-year-old grandson on her right. Though still struggling with his first few words, the child would often yell in high-pitched syllables “Sah-ging!” whenever his grandmother took a breath from shouting herself.
One day in July 2017, Ramirez’s banana cues did not sell well which led her to the heart of Backmatimco. A woman whom she did not recognize sped up to her and said, “Pagbantay. Masunog baya ni unya.” Silay shrugged. How could a random woman predict an accident? A few hours later, while Silay was away in the market, sirens blared, and black smoke rose in the distance. When she saw the blaze, she ran towards it until her lungs burned as well.
The community in Backmatimco has had its fair share of threats both from the government and from capitalist companies. In July of 2017, it was burned to the ground allegedly by capitalists who had vested interests in the land. A few months after the fire, a band of policemen marched to demolish the shanties, which the residents built in replacement of their burned houses.
Presently, the residents in Backmatimco have also been implicated with an ejectment case at the Hall of Justice. With about 200 families living in the community, however, the residents have firmly asserted their property rights. Meanwhile, Liloan Lighyear, the private company who filed the case, has been accused by the residents as a fraud who bent the law for its own benefit.
Plight of the Backmatimco populace
The settlers in Backmatimco have been living in the area since the 1960s, when it was still a mangrove and the houses were built on stilts. As the population grew, largely due to its proximity to livelihood, people also began to recognize themselves as part of one community.
“Kami diri, magtinabangay lang man gyud mi. Kay alangan parehas ra man mi tanan pobre unya nagapaningkamot nga maka kaon tulo ka beses sa usa ka adlaw,” Salvacion Jequillo, 63, and Organizer of Panaghugpong Kadamay Cebu in Backmatimco, expressed.
Through the years, however, urbanization has posed a major threat to the people’s safety and security. With the city government’s ‘Mega Cebu’ project, Backmatimco, now surrounded by hospitals, condominiums, and schools, has been a target of private corporations for its strategic location.
“Syempre, interesado gyud ang Liloan Lightyear ani nga lote. Dako man nga kwarta ilang makuha. Pero kami nga mga pobre, unsaon kay mi?” Jequillo said.
With the existing case in court, the people of Backmatimco, though continuing the fight for their rights, are restless because of the flawed judicial system in the country.
“Mao lagi na ron, kay ang korte sa Pilipinas dili man para sa mga pobre,” Jequillo lamented after recounting the court hearing she attended.
Capitalistic motive, government neglect
Despite being citizens of Mandaue City, the people in Backmatimco are also frustrated with the lack of government assistance. After the fire in 2017, they were given supplies and an amount of 10,000 pesos in order to ‘rebuild’ their lives. For them, however, these were barely enough to suffice their needs.
“Unsaon man pud namo ang kaldero nga gihatag sa gobyerno, kung wala man gani mi’y maluto nga pagkaon? Unsaon man namo ang 10,000, kung paghuman namo’g panday sa among panimalay, naay muanhi nga pulis para gubaon among gitukod?” Silay Ramirez expressed.
Without adequate assistance, the people now live in their shanties without access to electricity and water. Often, they improvise just to meet their needs. When Ramirez’s grandson contracted diarrhea, they had to buy a gallon of water, sacrificing their expenses for food.
“Lisod gyud kaayo among kahimtang diri. Pero unsaon man pud kung muhawa mi, asa man mi mangita og panginabuhi?” Ramirez said.
Jequillo clarified that the people were not totally closed to the idea of being relocated. They would agree with the relocation only when the government ensures that they will be given houses and livelihood in that area.
With the Mega Cebu project growing more and more momentum, the urban poor are constantly under threat of losing their homes and their security. While the people’s oppression under capitalism is a manifestation of the evils of development, Jequillo emphasized that the issue of inequality must be considered in the discussion of government and civil policies.
“Sa panahon karon nga kwarta ang nagpadagan sa tanan butang, siguro muabot gyud ang panahon nga mapahawa mi diri. Pero hangtod sa makaya, ipaglaban gyud namo among katungod,” she expressed.
The fire which razed Ramirez’s house could be the same fire which will burn society as a whole if we fail to heed the warning of the evils of development and to listen to the cries of the marginalized. However, the mere fact that the shanties still stand, and that the people continue to defend their rights in court is a triumph in itself—it signifies that strong capitalist companies will not conquer unopposed, and that a people in unity, though susceptible to bending, will never break.