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A Night on the Waiting ShedDec 8, 2008

A Night on the Waiting Shed

Sidewalk vs. Forbes Park
Seeing homeless people sleep in sidewalks have long captured my intrigue. What could it possibly be like? It was something I was too chicken-shit to try but now, with my social experiment in place (crashing in a different place every night during my Manila stay), it was as good a timing as it can be. Moreover, when I got the booking for a night in luxurious Forbes Park, the thought of spanning the other end of the spectrum was too good to pass off. When I broached the idea to friends, their main concern was safety. Sure, I'd be taking a chance as this living condition is rife with criminal elements. When someone suggested sleeping with the Calatagan farmers as they rallied their cause in front of the Dept. of Agrarian Reforms (DAR), it was perfect. I'd been to Calatagan for my Survivor Phiippines training (coconuting and fishing) and I've even met some of the those farmers. It's a privilege to join their ranks if only for that evening.

Calatagan Backgrounder
Back in 1989, under the Land Reform Act, the Calatagan farmers were sold the land they have been tilling. They've now become the new landowners. However, in 1995, a 2nd owner, Asturias Industries, surfaced. Apparently, the mother title was not annotated by the register of deeds, thus the former owner was able to resell the land to another buyer - Asturias. It was later learned that Ramon Ang is the principal behind Asturias. This is the same Ramon Ang who is also involved in the land dispute against the Sumilao farmers. He is also the president and CEO of San Miguel Corporation.

Mining vs. Farming
Ramon Ang wants to put up a mining concern which in turn will displace the farmers and wreak environmental havoc on this pristine agricultural land. Both are now disputing ownership. The farmers, to dramatize their cause, undertook the harrowing march from Calatagan Batangas to Manila where they set up a makeshift camp in front of the DAR.

MMDA waiting shed
There was no more room to squeeze myself on the cardboards they lined up as beds. Fortunately, in front of their camp is an MMDA waiting shed....right by the busy Quezon Elliptical Circle. This is where I put up my hammock to call it a day.

Sipon at Ha-ha-hatching!
You don't see too much garbage around, but this is probably one of the dirtest places to spend a night in. Traffic from buses, jeepneys, trucks was 24/7, continuously kicking up dust, dirt and exhaust. In the first hour, I was already sneezing and my eyes were tearing up. My allergy was kicking in. I can't say I slept at all. The traffic noise never stopped...not even in the early morning hours. My allergy became progressively worse.

No Bail
I was still lucky. I could bail anytime, but the farmers had to endure all that for the long haul. Coming from Calatagan where air is rich and clean, it was a drastic environmental change for them. Some were getting sick just from being there. I felt terribly bad for them.

39 Days vs. No End in Sight
In the way I regret not having endured the Survivor experience for the entire 39 days (and morph into its resulting headshift), I was wondering what kind of personal transformation these farmers were going through by standing up against a Goliath with no light at the end of this pitch-black tunnel...peaceful farmers, holding their ground, even if it means walking the 300+ kilometers from Calatagan to Manila. In sympathy, 7 bishops went on hunger strike to join the 10 farmers who were already on a hunger strike. Through their valiant stand, I was on a ringside seat to their unflinching resolve.

Ending Thoughts
I thought I was going hardcore by spending a night on a waiting shed. However, justaposed with the farmers' plight and their sustained struggle to keep ownership of the land they and their fathers have been tilling, I was left humbled by their bigness...a triumph of the human spirit in no small measure. With a sympathetic Church, I'm crossing my fingers that the scales are tipped in their favor. I hope my next visit to Calatagan, the sight of green pasture greets me...the spectre of stacked industrial chimneys billowing toxic gas from the mines is simply too revolting.

--- TheLoneRider

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