Google the Following: “mayor punch”

…and you will find this:

Once this clip hit Gawker this past July, Mayor Sara Duarte became fairly popular in the US mainstream.  I think being in the Philippines really colored my view of the situation, because I completely considered Duarte a hero, and an ally to the poor living in Davao City as squatters/informal settlers.  No, hitting is never a good thing, but to stop the demolition is important.  In the Philippines, demolitions are violent and a show of power by the state. I completely agree with this quote:

In its report, the DILG team said Duterte’s punching of Andres was “neither acceptable nor the only option then.”

It, however, recognized that Duterte’s action was spurred by her desire to avert violence from ensuing between the demolition team and settlers in Agdao whose houses were set to be demolished.  (Source)

What’s very interesting was the way Americans reading these blog reports perceived the situation, not fully knowing the entire context of corruption in the Philippines.  They were really quick to assume that Duarte was abusing her power, as the mayor who outranked the Sheriff.  Some even attacked Duarte’s femininity, and claimed that had she been a man, she’d be “under the jail.”  Or that this was a show on un”CIVILIZED” behavior, since you know, we’re still the US’ little brown brothers needing salvation from our savagery.  Yes, the Philippines is corrupt, but I think Americans on Gawker confused their antagonist.

Squatting exists in the Philippine as a result of various factors:

  • There is a serious lack of affordable housing in the urban centers of the Philippines.
  • Effort to relocate squatters to housing developments (like those in Montalban, Rizal province) are very far from sources of livelihood and income.
  • The Philippine government recognizes its inefficiency and has established government programs that actually allow squatters to pay-to-own.  As a result, many squatters who have been on track to pay-to-own are swindled during demolitions.
  • Residents in urban poor areas are the ousted residents from various provinces due to corporatized agriculture, foreign mining interests, and warlord landowners who land-grab.  There are left with no land or opportunities for livelihood in the rural areas.
  • FYI – squatters who don’t pay-to-own still pay for rent and utilities (electricity, water, etc.) believe it or not.

Since I’ve had the privilege  of working with various community organizations in the Philippines, I already had a different understanding of the situation.  For the most part, demolitions are unfair processes carried out when landowners want to cash in and build condos or more malls.  At times, the Philippine government owns the squatted land, other times, its some private, rich landowner.  Usually, these are empty lots when informal settlers first get there.  They begin to create irrigation, canals, cement things down, install plumbing and hardware.  There are times when these squatter neighborhoods stand for more than 25 years at a time.

When the land owner finally seizes the opportunity to sell for profit, that’s when the motions to demolish begin.  Sometimes they’re men with hammers (like the video below).  Other times, there are mysterious fires set which wipe out the homes of thousands. Most times, they are accompanied by police, full clad with riot gear and shields.  The demolitions are strategically planned, and usually occur in the lull of Philippine holidays, or very early mornings.  When I say demolitions are a violent act in the Philippines, I am not exaggerating:

In the video, the younger man is screaming and cursing at the demolition crew because they’ve hurt the children who were playing in the streets.  The older man tells the cameraman that he has lived in the area for 27 years, and that the demolition team has thrown tear gas canisters into an area where a majority of children were playing/resting.  He says that most of the children have fainted, and that family members haven’t been able to get to them.

Here’s some press on another demolition in the North Triangle area of Quezon City, the most populated area of Manila.  It provides more context on the back-end deals between developers, and the limited provisions given by the government for squatters/informal settlers to relocate to other areas.

While it was unfortunate that this kind of resistance took the form of a couple of punches to the sheriff’s head, I support the actions Mayor Sara Duarte took to ensure the demolition in Agdao would not take place.  However, given the uninformed Google-related-article based opinions seen in that Gawker thread (like the one comment talking about “CIVILIZED” society – terrible!), I plan to rethink the method I use to form my opinions on other international incidents, especially when given such little context (and having access to only major media news outlets online.)


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