In his ruling, RTC Judge Soliver Peras of Branch 10 said the residents aren’t qualified beneficiaries of the socialized housing program under Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
More than 300 families living along the Cebu City side of the Mahiga Creek will be affected said Collin Rosell, chief of the Department for the Welfare of the Urban Poor (DWUP).
He secured a photocopy of the court decision when he visited the Palace of Justice yesterday.
“Based on a list I got from the Management Information Services, there were more than 300 families living along the creek and the Mahiga Creek is a very big area,” Rosell told Cebu Daily News last night.
The other half of the Mahiga Creek is occupied by settlers on the Mandaue City side. Judge Peras said the settlers in the Cebu City side aren’t actually “poor” as they earn a huge income while residing near the creek for the past 20 years.
Some of the settlers disclosed their income to Peras who made an ocular inspection at the area last year.
Peras said local government units (LGUs) have the power to protect the interest of its people and are duty bound to ensure their safety.
He also denied the request of the settlers to issue an injunction to stop the city government from evicting them.
Cebu City Attorney Joseph Bernaldez was elated with the ruling and considered it a victory for the Cebu City government.
“We are glad to know about it. It simply means we can go ahead with our plans concerning the creek and the squatters,” Bernaldez told Cebu Daily News over the phone.
He said they expect the filing of a motion for reconsideration or an appeal by the Pagtambayayong Foundation Inc.—an urban poor group represented by its president Francisco “Bimbo” Fernandez.
Bernaldez said the demolition of houses along the creek was temporarily halted after the city offered a relocation site for the settlers.
The settlers declined the offer since the site is in the mountain barangay of Budlaan in Cebu City.
Bernaldez appealed to the settlers to voluntarily vacate the creek, which the city government wanted to decongest to prevent overflowing during heavy downpours.
The Mahiga Creek passes through five sitios in barangay Mabolo: Sindulan, Lahing-lahing, San Isidro, Holy Name and Magtalisay.
“The water on the creek should be free-flowing with no impediment (to avoid) floods,” Bernaldez said.
Bernaldez said no one or nothing should be built within the three-meter easement zones of rivers or creeks.
He said City Hall is also targeting business establishments in downtown Cebu City built within the easement zones of rivers.
These include Gaisano Main, Dimsum Fastfood and 138 Mall.
Bernaldez said he will have to wait for Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama’s instructions. Fernandez said he has yet to receive a copy of the decision.
The settlers are represented by lawyer Dax Quijano. Cebu City Consultant Jade Ponce considered the ruling as very timely in the wake of last Tuesday’s floods.
“The decision said while the affected creekside settlers were not qualified beneficiaries under the UDHA law, Rama provided them with ample assistance as well as subsequent relocation even when he was not obliged to do so,” he said.
About 2,000 families live in Mahiga Creek but only eight sought the intervention of the court to stop the demolition of their houses.
Named respondents were Rama and Noel Artes, chief of the Squatters Prevention, Elimination, and Encroachment Division (Speed).
Also cited in the suit was Alvin Santillana and Harold Alcontin of the Cebu City Disaster Coordinating Council.
In claiming to be socialized housing beneficiaries the settlers sought protection under Republic Act 7279 or the Urban Development and Housing Act of 1992.
The law requires local governments to provide suitable relocation sites to families displaced by demolition.
Rama said the court’s ruling was an early gift ahead of his 58th birthday on Oct. 28.
“I’m very overwhelmed because I was just doing my job (when I ordered the demolition) with sincerity and honesty and without being mindful of being misconstrued for my actions,” he said.
Rama said the ruling will boost his campaign to clear the city’s waterways of illegal structures.
He said he would now concern himself with finding funds for relocation sites.
Rosell said they listed about 6,000 families living in danger zones in 2006 and the figure may rise to 10,000 now.
Danger zone occupants live within the three meter easement of rivers and those within the Inayawan sanitary landfill and the sidewalks.
Rosell said Rama wrote President Benigno Aquino III last year to ask for financial help for the relocation of danger zone families and assistance from the Department of Public Works and Highways in the dredging of water bodies. /Ador Vincent Mayol and Doris C. Bongcac