Driving Away the Poor for the QC Business District


To pave the way for the Quezon City Business District, hundreds of poor residents are being driven away. While big corporations occupy public lands, the poor are not assured of proper relocation.

BY KRISTINE ANGELI SABILLO
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 19, June 15-21, 2008

People and market stalls cramp the narrow Sebastian Street, the main road of Sitio San Roque, an urban poor community in Quezon City’s North Triangle Area. Thousands of families live in this community, which was said to have been inhabited a couple of decades ago. Hundreds make their living here, selling food, services and merchandise.

San Roque is bordered by Epifanio Delos Santos Avenue (EDSA) and Agham road, enclosed by Trinoma mall and what they call “Dubai,” a vast desert-like piece of land. It is what developers call blight.

Along an eskinita (alley) from Sebastian Street, where women hugging packages of cheap National Food Authority (NFA) rice walk by, lives Yulie Villena, 46, mother of six. Her husband is a taxi driver and they have been living in San Roque for 18 years, one of the first residents in the area.

Rosalina Valdecañas, 52, has lived for 12 years in San Roque with her children. Her eldest son is a supervisor at a janitorial agency and her youngest is unemployed but does all sorts of jobs like delivering ice. Like Yulie, their family income is just enough for their basic necessities. When the need arises, her eldest son sells peanuts on buses after his shift.

With food becoming more expensive and money harder to find, the future is bleak for what society calls “the urban poor.”

Threat of demolition

But while residents like Yulie and Ros face uncertainty in terms of employment and food, they face greater uncertainty with the threat of demolition.

Over time, the community of San Roque is being reduced through a series of demolitions by the government and its partner corporations.

During the late 90s, a third of San Roque was demolished to make way for Ayala’s Trinoma mall. Last year, an initial six-meter strip of houses of some 30 families was shaved off for the EDSA widening project. Twenty-four more meters will be demolished in the coming months.

Business District

These pocket demolitions, while at first glance seem to be isolated cases, are actually part of a grander scheme for Quezon City – the QC Central Business District (CBD).

Under the QC CBD, the 250-hectare area of the North (96.4 ha) and East (99.2 ha) Triangle and the Veteran’s Memorial (55 ha) will be transformed into a mixed-use development, which the World Bank projects as “the center of gravity of all commercial activities in Metro Manila in the coming years.”

According to the Quezon City local government, the QC CBD was borne out of QC Mayor Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte, Jr.’s initial plan to turn the city into “an internationally competitive model of urban development.”

However, it can be said that big businesses and international entities have long been eyeing the area, which is government land, because of its strategic location and real estate potential. This is why the Trinoma mall was realized despite its current location beside the urban poor community of San Roque.

Based on the reported measurements, the QC CBD will be larger than the Makati or Ortigas CBD. It is also easily accessible because of its EDSA and MRT frontage, which is longer than any other CBD in the country.

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, two big financial institutions, would fund the design and commercial development of the area.

San Roque itself is situated in an area that, according to the QC government website, is speculated to have the highest land value if it becomes commercial. Instead of the community talipapa (small market), numerous basketball courts and thousands of houses, the San Roque and neighboring areas would house high-rise buildings, retail businesses and offices.

After Belmonte announced his plans of developing the 250-hectare area and the World Bank came up with a proposed framework, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order 620 for the realization of the CBD project and E.O. 620-A which determines the present composition of the Urban Triangle Development (TriDev) Commission.

The TriDev Commission’s task is to ensure the progress of the CBD project. Its chairman is Vice President Noli de Castro (Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council), its co-chair Mayor Belmonte, and its members National Housing General Manager Federico Laxa and Deputy Executive Secretary Joaquin Lagonera of the Office of the President.

Based on the present plans, the whole QC CBD area itself will be organized into five mixed-use thematic districts:

The Triangle Exchange (54.3 ha), where San Roque is situated, will be the high traffic district of the CBD, containing the three MRT stations and other roads. It holds the highest real estate potential of all the districts and would feature residential, commercial and recreational infrastructures.

The Emporium (37.9 ha) would focus on Information and Communication Technology infrastructures like research institutions, call centers and e-governance structures. Here, public and international offices will be integrated into commercial and residential developments.

The Downtown Hub (54.1 ha) would also be residential-commercial but with some of its lands devoted to institutional facilities for medical, education, science and training services.

Residences at Veterans (39.7 ha) would focus on the residential aspect, having a range of high-rise to lower residential buildings. Like the other districts, it still has commercial, recreational and transit centers.

Lastly, the Commons would be a mixed-use park with cultural, recreational and entertainment establishments nearby.

Relocation?

With the said plans, a complete overhaul of the area would be at hand. The inevitable question is, “Where will the displaced residents go?”

The residents see only three possibilities: relocation inside the area, relocation away from QC and demolition without relocation.

There have been talks within the community that the National Housing Authority (NHA) will be using its medium-rise housing project for the relocation of the San Roque residents inside the North Triangle. However, according to a local anti-demolition alliance in the area, such projects offer false hopes. In the first place, people would have to pay rent, which they could probably not afford. And second, to get a unit, one should complete certain requirements like a regular-paying job and a prescribed monthly income. This, according to the alliance, is impossible for most of the residents.

But most importantly, according to the NHA itself, relocation inside the area is not possible. The purpose of the CBD project is to achieve the highest financial potential of the land, according to NHA. Therefore, socialized housing inside the area is not feasible, especially now that the San Roque land has been leased to the New San Jose Builders company.

At the same time, relocation elsewhere is also problematic. Besides the terrible conditions of relocation sites – being far from the residents’ workplace, having no electricity or water, or having only a pair of bathrooms for the whole community – NHA engineers have admitted that there are really no relocation plans for the people of San Roque. Their relocation sites in other places like Montalban, Rizal are already full and could not accommodate another community.

With or without relocation, the project and the demolition it entails will push through.

At this point, one may ask, “Whose interest is the government prioritizing?”

One of Belmonte’s projects is to alleviate poverty. It is doubtful that demolishing communities and not providing relocation would help his constituents rise from poverty. The CBD project is said to be his gift to the people, but why is he demolishing his own constituents off public land in favor of profit-seeking companies?

Furthermore, with a series of executive orders, commissions and institutions paving the way for the CBD, the national government itself lends a hand to the escalating problem of widespread poverty and displacement both in urban and rural lands.

As Ros said, “Government property naman siya (yung  lupa). Sana ibigay na lang sa tao.” (It’s government property. I hope it gets distributed to the people) Contributed to Bulatlat

2 Responses to “Driving Away the Poor for the QC Business District”

  1. Ang laberinto ng San Roque « Tine. Says:

    […] taon na ang lumipas. Kampanya na din namin noon ang QC-CBD na iyan. Ginawan ko pa nga iyon ng artikulo para sa aking internship noon. Sumama kami sa interagency consultation noon. Pero ano ba ang […]

  2. Ang laberinto ng San Roque Says:

    […] taon na ang lumipas. Kampanya na din namin noon ang QC-CBD na iyan. Ginawan ko pa nga iyon ng artikulo para sa aking internship noon. Sumama kami sa interagency consultation noon. Pero ano ba ang […]

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