By ARTHUR LAPAAN ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY — “Imbag pay dagiti agawid a taga-City Camp lagoon. Ada balay da a danunan da. Haan a kasla kadakami nga awan pulos ta nadidigara” (Evacuees from the City Camp lagoon are fortunate. They have their house to go home to unlike us who lost everything to the calamity.)
This was what 60 year old Benita Sar-ayen said of her family and the 16 families who left the Mansion House on Sunday (October 11) to go back to their residences in different devastated areas here.
Nanang (mother) Benita was among the 20 families who were transferred on Saturday from the Saint Vincent Gym, Naguilian Road to take refuge at the Mansion House, the Malacanang of the North.
It was opened by Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself to evacuees in the city on Saturday but most of them had already returned to their homes as fair weather started that day.
Nanang Benita recounted how the floor of her house slowly cracked open on Thursday night, and her family’s hurried evacuation to safer grounds. Like her neighbors, four other houses, her house slowly went down with a landslide to a creek below at Purok 7, Sunny Side, barangay Fairview.
Her only consolation, if such can be considered one, was nobody from her family was hurt when the landslide pulled down at least five houses. “Imbag la ketdi ta in-inut a kasla pakdaar kadakami” (It is fortunate that the slide moved slowly as if it was warning us), she said.
“Massive landslide and earth movement characterized the area during typhoon Pepeng”, said Olive M. Luces, Executive Officer of the Cordillera Regional Disaster Coordinating Council (CDRCC).
There were at least 10 barangays struck by landslides in the city which claimed some 70 lives, according to the City Disaster Coordinating Council (CDCC).
In the height of typhoon Pepeng, more than 317 families mostly from the 10 barangays sought refuge in different evacuation areas in the city, reported the Serve the People Brigade – Cordillera Disaster Response Network (STPB-CDRN), a joint effort of several sectoral and non-government organizations led by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance.
Interviewed Sunday afternoon, Nanang Benita was joined by Corazon and her husband Sammy Lagmayao, and Gina Valdez. Rebecca Wacangan, the fourth family who sought refuge at Mansion House, was taking care of her kids outside. Her mother, Rosa Sar-ayen, more than 70 years old, sat on a makeshift bed in the corner watching us.
All were neighbors from Purok 7, Sunny Side. They narrated how they scrimped and saved as they scraped a living from irregular employment; Corazon and Valdez did laundry while Nanang Benita was into the buy-and-sell of bottles and old news papers.
From their earnings for years of stay in the city, these neighbors were able to build light and small shelters for their families.
Nanang Benita, said in Iloco, “it makes me crazy to think that all my hardwork can disappear in an instant. The house, utensils, everything was taken by the slide. We only had the clothes we wore when we escaped!”
As tears welled in her eyes, her friends joked; “Don’t worry!we have the Mansion House now.” and she forced out a smile.
Like most of her neighbors from their purok, Nanang Benita came from “the province”. She left Sadanga, Mountain Province as a teenager with her family. They rented a small room at Holy Ghost Hill until they finally were able to buy a parcel of land in Purok 7 when, after the 1990 earthquake, land became cheap in the city.
A check in the status of the land in the area showed it was “taken by squatters” earlier and then the “rights” were sold to them. A common story and issue among urban poor communities in this city. But Nanang Benita says that what is important is land for them to build their houses on.
Under the 1909 Charter of Baguio, land can be bought only under the Town Site Sales Application (TSA) system, where land of public domain is awarded to the highest bidder.
Human rights advocates here say, “this foreign-initiated land (TSA) system pushes these settlers to occupy unstable areas – like the peak or foot of the mountains – as they have no money to bid for lands appropriate for residence”.
An urban poor group, Organisasyon Dagiti Nakurapay nga Umili ti Siyudad (Ornus) point out that prime lands in the city are under realty groups and rich individuals who are not actually from the city. This group finds this system as anti-poor hence Baguio is built only for those in the have.
Back to the “ili” (village)
How should the issue of Nanang Benita and her companions, who are now homeless, be addressed? This was raised to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
The local DSWD’s Nelly Mazon shared some solutions calamity victims may opt for: first, they maybe encouraged to go back to their provinces of origin, the likes of Nanang Benita. And, second is to stay at the DSWD Silungan centers, but she emphasized that this is only temporary.
Asked if DSWD could help rebuild their houses? She explained that the local government units (LGUs) have the authority to assess and determine who among them could be assisted. She pointed out however that even if these residents passed the requirements, assistance is dependent on the funds of the local government.
For Nanang Benita, she does not buy the idea of going back to her village. She pointed out that the reason for leaving her ili (village) is poverty.
“How can we go back when we have less there to survive in our village?” she asked. She is now being encouraged by her relatives to live with them and face their new struggle.
Majority of the residents in the city are classified as urban poor. Like Nanang Benita, the city government, which happens to be celebrating its Centennial year now must address the rights to shelter, employment, and basic services after they delivered relief as a tactical solution to the calamity, said Ignacio Pangket, an urban poor leader. # nordis.net