SOME 26 informal settlers yesterday lodged a complaint before the Regional Trial Court to stop the Cebu City Government from demolishing their houses.
The petitioners, who occupy the Citicenter Commercial Complex in Barangay Kamagayan, filed the civil case for injunction against Mayor Michael Rama and City Administrator Jose Marie Poblete.
They also asked for a temporary restraining order to stop any attempts to demolish their houses.
The petitioners, who called themselves “underprivileged and poor urban settlers,” sought a court order against what they described as an “inhuman eviction and demolition.”
The court gave City Hall officials five days to answer the complaint.
The residents sued after receiving a notice from Poblete on Oct. 19, ordering them to vacate the property in three days.
Otherwise, the residents were warned of “forced leave by clearing operations” should they refuse to leave the property.
The petitioners said they are “urban settlers” of Cebu City who can’t afford to construct their own houses. Their village chief issued “certificates of indigency” to prove it.
The residents have been occupying the property since 2000 when the area was still a private wet market. They said the property owners “consented” to their stay, on condition that they would pay monthly rentals.
The City Government levied the property in 2004 after the property owners failed to pay the real property taxes.
The City told the informal settlers that the area would be used for the city’s night dwellers program and a residential site for the City Hall employees.
From the time the City levied the property, monthly rentals were no longer collected. The petitioners assumed the City Government had allowed them to stay.
For the past 12 years, the residents said they were “peacefully” dwelling in the area until the day they received the notice from the City Government ordering them to leave the property.
“This despotic move by the defendants is not only inhumane and disrespectful of the basic human right to shelter, but is also a clear contravention to the 1987 Constitution, which only allows eviction and demolition of urban and rural poor dwellers in accordance with law and in just and humane manner,” the complaint read.
The petitioners’ lawyers also cited Republic Act 7279, or the Urban Development Program, which they claimed “discourages eviction and demolition of urban settlers.”
Summary eviction, the petitioners added, is allowed only if the area is occupied by professional squatters.
In this case, the residents said they are not professional squatters because when they occupied the area, they paid monthly rentals to the previous owners.
Likewise, the City Government has no relocation site for the would-be displaced families.
They also said Mayor Rama “anomalously delegated” to Poblete his task to order the demolition because such function should have been delegated to Vice Mayor Joy Augustus Young.
Nevertheless, they said Poblete “usurped” the authority of the mayor by issuing the notice to vacate the property.
The residents asked the court to issue a status quo order ceasing the enforcement of the notice of eviction and demolition.
Asked what he has to say, after learning that the families introduced themselves and the City Government’s clearing operation, the mayor advised:
“Ayaw mog pataka ug dasmag (Don’t just barge in if you feel like it),” he said.
In his regular news conference yesterday, Rama said the families cannot stop the City from clearing Citicenter by seeking a temporary restraining order from the court, considering that the subject lot is a City-owned property.
“Di man na mao ilang action kay public land man na. Beyond the commerce of man man na.
Ang public land gamiton sa gobyerno. Kung file-an ug injunction ang gobyerno, there will be no more government. We can no longer govern and exercise what public service is all about,” he said.
Rama said the City’s move to clear the Citicenter of illegal structures is for the good of the city’s constituents.
The mayor wanted the area to be transformed from being the city’s main red-light district and drug den into “a village within the city.”
The mayor said the City is planning to use the area as a housing site for people who have been displaced by the City’s clearing operations along the three-meter easement of rivers creeks and waterways.
Meanwhile, another set of families, 56 of them, in Barangay Carreta will be displaced because of a court-ordered demolition.
The families who are living in Sitio Tabay are occupying an estimated 700-square-meter property, owned by a private person named Domingo Garcia.
Their houses were supposed to be demolished yesterday but they sought help from the City.
The mayor instructed them to talk to the Division for the Welfare of the Urban Poor to identify which recommendation to follow.
In a related development, Rama said he might give an extension to the 32 families in Barangay Mabolo who have been ordered to vacate a City’s property at the North Reclamation Area.
The notice to vacate, which was issued by the City’s Squatters Prevention, Elimination and Encroachment Division, lapsed yesterday.
Asked how the City intends to use the estimated 1000-square meter property, Rama said he wants it to be part of the Serging Osmeña Business Park he plans to establish at the NRA.
Rama said the property is not suitable to be used again by the City Agriculture’s Office as a plant nursery. (Sun Star)