Now we are back to reality.
We had our knees seemingly trembling after a narration by a cousin of ours of his agonizing experience in Lebanon where he worked as an OFW in the late 80’s until the 90s. He was caught in the crossfire during the civil war in that Middle East country that nearly cost him his life. He and three other companions were part of a group who were escaping the atrocities perpetrated by one of the contending forces when a mortar was fired and landed in their direction. Our cousin was severely wounded and had he not been rescued by Red Cross personnel he would have died and became part of the statistics of cross fire victims in a senseless war.
There are however battles of different forms and dimensions that are fought not in the conventional manner and location of the fighting. Instead these battles are substitution in situations and materiel.
And these battles are actually the ones making every Filipino victim of cross fires, in varying degrees and impact.
In Davao City for example, we can say that the families whose houses were razed to the grounds by fires that hit in several places and different times in the city over the years, are caught in the cross fire of the battle of conscience among the victims themselves on one hand, and among local officials on the other.
We know that deep in the minds of our city officials, especially Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, they want the fire victims to have decent houses to live. They want them to have livelihood. That is why the local government is always trying to make sure there are relocation sites available for victims of fires that have razed certain areas in the city over the years. But they can only do so much. And sadly, even the victims of fires themselves prefer not to be relocated and instead stick to remain in the burnt area where they argue that livelihood is easy for them.
Because of this situation we cannot help but remember an offer by a Malaysian business conglomerate to develop the burnt area along Quezon Blvd. close to six years ago, into a mix-used commercial-residential enclave. And this exactly was an answer to the advocacy of urban poor groups to convert the area into a more productive sector of the city instead of as haven to some criminal elements and showcase of the perpetuation of poverty in a community. The Malaysian proposal was to have been the city’s first venture into the Public Private Partnership (PPP) development scheme.
But then again, to have the Malaysian company’s proposal realized, the city has to do away with a Presidential Proclamation setting aside the fire-ravaged areas in Isla Verde, and two other barangays along Quezon Blvd. purely for residential purposes only.
And add to this the fact that the barangays concerned are vote-rich areas. Thus the battle of the conscience of the city’s political leaders whether to displace temporarily the affected residents or let them keep their previously occupied space will most likely take a much longer period before this can come into a more viable settlement. After all, we know each one of them has political ambitions that they are taking extra caution of not hurting. And a not-so-well-thought of decision in handling the fire victim’s concern could spell disaster to their political plans.
But even as the Malaysian proposal is starting to be, or may have already been shelved, the families of the fire victims are slowly but surely rebuilding their homes minus the clear delineation of areas by the city government. In other words today the burnt areas at the Isla Verde and neighboring barangays are very much back on its old situation – a large agglomeration of informal settlers. Only this time, the houses are more durable and getting bigger. Meaning, should a development plan for the areas concerned be finally adopted by succeeding leaders with unflinching political will and implement the same without hesitation, it would be extremely difficult and costly for the city to boot the residents out and resettle them somewhere else.
And who are hit by the cross fire in this seeming “battle of conscience”? The fire victims themselves are among the first even if clearly they appear to have benefitted from the procrastination of city officials in deciding on the Malaysian proposal. With very limited assistance from the local government the new community that now rises from the ashes of the burnt areas still appears to be as vulnerable as the previous residential structures – perhaps even more.
The city itself is also a cross fire victim as well. With other considerations weakening its position in the conscience war, the local government will definitely lose the opportunity for that sector of the city to be developed into a world-class mixed use community. The indecision of its officials may have also allowed to slip from their hands the city’s opportunity to provide new housing units as well as the livelihood that may be made available to the fire-affected residents through the commercial establishments that would have been built on the site had the plan materialized.
There is no doubt the local officials could already be losing their chance of proving to their constituents that they are ready to exercise political will if in doing so it will give more benefits to the fire victims.
A little over five (5) long years have passed and we have yet to hear of the city’s final plan for the fire devastated barangays in lieu of the one offered by a Malaysian property developer.
What happened? Things have long been gone with the wind? Or, were all those grandiose plans for those particular devastated areas during the last few months of then city mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte flashed down the drain of forgotten memories?