The afternoon was dark and gloomy. The rain kept on falling like the tears of Pangarap Village residents especially the bereaved ones.
“I don’t know if I should say I am ok,” says Teng, 30 years old, the common-law wife of Rommel Fortades when asked how she is doing. Rommel is 36 years old. Their only child will turn two in September this year.
Early morning of July 23, Rommel was in his usual routine of video and photo documenting the actions and events of Pangarap Village people. Little did he know that this passion of his would cost his life.
The residents of Pangarap Village staged a picket-vigil at the gate to protect the village from demolition by the Carmel Development Inc (CDI) headed by Greggy Araneta. A security guard shot him on the leg. Those who attempted to rescue him were also shot. Then there was another fatal shot to his head. Before he died he was able to pass on his video recorder and camera to another person. Those were his last shots. Precious actual documentation that caused his life.
Teng shared to the PCPR team that Rommel’s passion is to let the people know the struggles of Pangarap Village residents. He has a facebook account KutoniGregAraneta. It is where he posts the pictures, videos, links and write-ups. On top of his casket are his pictures that reflect how youthful and energetic he was. Full of enthusiasm and full of life. He believed then that social networking is a potential means to spread to the world what is really happening on the ground. It was his ardent interest.
Not a few meters away from the residence of Rommel is the home of Sol Gomez, a tricycle driver who was also killed on the same morning of July 23. He is 44 years old, well known for his ever-ready help whenever he is sought for support. He dedicated his life serving the community. For many nights he was a source of inspiration at the vigil. He told his wife that he could not leave the vigil, because chances are, the CDI security guard might attack the vigil site. His fear turned into reality on that tragic day. He was shot and bullets pierced through his chest. All those who tried to help him were shot. It was reported that scores were hurt, but the most tragic was that two of residents got killed.
Two lives are too many. Rommel Fortades and Sol Gomez with what they did do not deserve bullets and violence. No, they were not accidentally shot, they were targets. They were there for a purpose: they supported a cause worth fighting for – a land where they can live with dignity. A community that has a sense of neighbourhood. An informed society aware about the reality being experienced by many.
The Security Guards of CDI must be accountable. They could be as poor as like many of us, they were paid to follow orders and those who pay them must be held responsible, too.
The families know by heart that they are fighting a “Goliath”, a strong and powerful clan. They and the supporters of Pangarap Village hope that justice will be rendered.
[i] Pangarap Village covers 156 hectares of the 7,000-hectare Tala Estate (named after the state-operated leprosarium in the area), which was declared a government reservation in 1971 under Proclamation 843, issued by then President Marcos. In 1973, through Presidential Decree 293, Marcos designated the 156 hectares as settlement for low-income families and government employees, including members of the Armed Forces and the Presidential Security Group.
Many of the families have been living there since the 1970s. The place is now a thriving community of 40,000.
However, a dispute arose between the government and a private firm, Carmel Development, Inc., owned by the wealthy Araneta clan. CDI claims ownership of the estate through three Torrens titles and contests the presidential edicts.
Ironically, the CDI is now headed by Greggy Araneta, Marcos’ son-in-law, who’s trying hard to undo the probably one good thing his departed father-in-law did.
In 2002, the Solicitor General filed a petition at the Regional Trial Court to nullify the titles held by CDI and uphold PP 843 and PD 293. The RTC ruled in favor of the government. But in the subsequent appeals, both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court favored CDI.
Today the issue is pending at the SC after the government filed a motion for reconsideration.
While the case awaits final judgment, CDI has employed various means to induce or coerce the residents to give up their homes. Among the complaints are:
• CDI has engaged the services of a security agency whose guards, armed with M-16 and M-14 rifles, have been going around the village telling the residents to vacate their homes.
• Last March 15, the guards kept firing their weapons for an hour in broad daylight.
• The guards have allegedly demolished a number of houses in the middle of the night.
• At past midnight on April 28, the guards fired indiscriminately at residents who rushed to a house being demolished, wounding three, including a teenage boy and a barangay tanod.
Last May 10, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares delivered a privilege speech denouncing the violence and harassments by CDI. He urged the House of Representatives to support the Pangarap Village residents. The legislators agreed to send a delegation to assure the people of their support. Ocampo, S. (2011, May 28). Retrieved July 27, 2011, from publicationSubCategoryId=64&articleId=690538: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?publicationSubCategoryId=64&articleId=690538
Norma P. Dollaga