MANILA, Philippines—An urban poor group has called on the Supreme Court not to allow what it claimed was the illegal demolition of shanties of squatters living along the shores of Manila Bay and its major tributaries after the tribunal ordered government agencies to clean up the bay last month.
The Urban Poor Associates and other militant groups told the Supreme Court that it should ensure that all demolitions and evictions of squatters living on or along the bay complied with Republic Act No. 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
The groups pointed out that RA 7279 required that a 30-day notice be given to urban poor whose houses were to be demolished. They added that the law also compelled consultation with affected residents and their relocation, and that without such compliance, no demolition or eviction should take place.
“The effort to clean up Manila Bay should not be at loggerheads with the basic human rights accorded to the underprivileged and homeless citizens guaranteed by no less than the Constitution itself,” UPA lawyer Ritche Esponilla said in the petition.
The high court, in a decision on Feb. 15, ordered the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to come up by June 30 with the lists of squatters living along the rivers of Pasig, Marikina, San Juan, Paranaque, Las Pinas, Zapote, Navotas, Malabon, Tullahan and Tenejeros, all of which directly or ultimately drain into the Manila Bay.
The MMDA was also tasked to submit a plan for the removal of the squatters and the demolition of their shanties, which should be fully implemented not later than Dec. 31, 2015.
The Court also gave the same instructions to the local governments of Bulacan, Laguna, Bataan and Cavite in relation to the squatter communities along the Meycauayan, Marilao, Obando, Talisay and Imus rivers, which also drain into Manila Bay, and for those on Laguna de Bay and its connecting waterways.
The Manila Bay cleanup case stemmed from the suit filed by the Concerned Residents of Manila Bay led by lawyer and environmental activist Antonio Oposa Jr. before the Cavite Regional Trial Court in 1999.
The group had lamented the government’s continued neglect in cleaning up the bay, which is famous for its scenic sunset view. It is also the country’s busiest port and considered the finest harbor in the Far East.
The group won a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1999 that ordered 12 government agencies to clean up Manila Bay, the country’s largest port, and regularly report their progress to the Court.
On Monday, Oposa filed a new civil action against 10 individuals who failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“I will withdraw the suit if they (government officials) swim in Manila Bay,” Oposa told GMANews.TV.
UPA said that with the Supreme Court directive, 129,606 urban poor families living along Manila Bay and its tributaries were in danger of being demolished without relocation.