MANILA,Philippines — Almost a year since the arrests and with the country now earning the title of the “world’s longest lockdown,” the community continues to struggle to survive the pandemic.
The government’s lack of urgency and plan of action with regards to pandemic response took a toll on the economy, and in effect, displaced the poor, who are mostly daily wage earners, from their livelihoods.
In response to the lack of government support, the urban poor community, led by the women of Kadamay and Save San Roque, established an urban garden guided by the principles of organic farming.
“Our community garden was established to strengthen the people and give them food support, especially during this pandemic. We have to feed our people, but we don’t have the budget to fund community kitchens, so we thought of planting our food to start. Pantawid lang sa sikmura (Just to fill our stomachs).”Estrelita ‘Inday’ Bagasbas, San Roque resident and vice-chairperson of Kadamay, says in Filipino.
Sitio San Roque is located at the heart of Quezon City, and residents who have been living there since the 1980s have been facing threats of demolition for a decade now over a planned Quezon City Business District.
Residents reported in 2019 that they were given an option to accept P32,000 and access to better housing if they demolish their homes. But those who self-demolished only received P5,000 and were offered relocation sites with no access to water and electricity.
This is one of the reasons that, despite continuous threats, residents continue to assert their right to their homes.
With the continuous rise in cases and dwindling food supply, Sitio San Roque’s residents have had to make the best use of what land they can still use.
Women had to find time in between managing their households and attending to their livelihoods just to clear the land where demolished homes used to stand.
Using their bare hands, mothers carried rocks, scraped the soil, and properly disposed of non-biodegradable waste such as used diapers to reclaim spaces.
Aside from the strenuous work of land clearing, residents said they also faced intimidation from private security guards.
“Initially, we couldn’t even bring in soil to put over the rocks without getting harassed or being questioned by the guards, but what we’re doing is simply planting food,” Bagasbas says.
To enrich their efforts, the community also requested assistance from SAKA, an alliance of cultural workers for land reform and food security, to give them workshops on organic farming.
The community learned to make organic fertilizers and pesticides such as Oriental Herb Nutrient (OHN), Fermented Fruit Juice (FFJ), and Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ).
Bagasbas’ family was one of the first 25 who inhabited San Roque in the mid-1980s, when, she said, the land was still a grassy cogon field.
“The land here was fertile, life was easier when I first came since we planted and sold abundant crops of taro, celery, and onions for a living,” Bagasbas says.
“Back then, I used chemical pesticides for my crops, but I noticed that they also harden and destroy the soil. Receiving workshops on organic farming was helpful not just for myself but also to my community because I can now also teach others to care for their crops better,” Bagasbas adds.
“Our organic garden today is a way for us to resist demolitions while promoting food security. We hope that the rich won’t destroy our crops by demolishing [our community]. We hope that they realize that the poor are, in fact, very diligent.”