In one of her latest livestream sessions via Instagram Live, Mimiyuuuh—with her effortless comedy—taught Zumba. With her partners' help, she was pledging to donate two pesos for every person who had watched. She eventually raised PHP 100,000—all for Save San Roque Alliance, an advocacy group whose logo (a little house with a leaf) appeared over her livestream.
But what is San Roque, and why does it need to be saved, anyway?
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An urban poor community that's a stone’s throw away from North EDSA and across the Philippine Science High School, Sitio San Roque traces its roots to the 1960s. They lived on a land given to veterans of the Hukbalahap who had given up arms and wanted to start life anew in the city. Over time, with people from every corner of the Philippines settling there, Sitio San Roque’s population eventually grew, with currently has 6,000 families on site.
Come early 2010s, Sitio San Roque caught the attention of professors Chester Arcilla and Andre Ortega, then researchers from UP Diliman specializing in housing and geography.
Arcilla and Ortega got drawn to work with Sitio San Roque because of the people who lived there, and because of its location—over the years, what was once open fields and barren grassland transformed into malls, roads, schools, and everything else possible in the bustling city that sprouted up around Sitio San Roque.
Because it stood in the way of the possibility of a lucrative business venture, the land was slated by the government to be sold off for the development of luxury condos, malls, and offices. The decision caused the houses there to be demolished, and the residents to be sent off to live in far-flung relocation sites.
Despite the failure of an effort that Arcilla and Ortega put in to organize the residents, their research there managed to turn the academic community’s attention to Sitio San Roque, with professors and students from all sorts of fields interested in finding out how they could help.
In 2018, Save San Roque Alliance’s co-convenor Arvin Dimalanta, an architect working on a master’s degree in Anthropology at UP Diliman, would embark on his own research with Sitio San Roque after reading Ortega's book. “Sumama ako sa community for the duration of the semester, mga six months,” he recalls. “Doon ko nalaman kung ano yung kailangan ng community.”
“’Yung call nila for the longest time was on-site development, pero sinisingil sila ng (Department of the Interior and Local Government) for a site development plan,” Dimalanta remembers. “Bilang ‘yung work ko as a community architect, tinanong ko kung paano naming iaa-assert ang karapatan ng urban poor.” And that was how the Save San Roque Alliance began.
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Adds Dimalanta, since this volunteer-run organization began their work on the ground in May 2019, the Save San Roque Alliance has done all sorts of things for and with the community. These activities include conducting interviews and surveys, working the architecture departments of UP and the University of Melbourne, and even writing and illustrating a children’s storybook. All this work has one goal in mind, Dimalanda stresses: To secure the community’s right to the city.
It has borne fruit, too. By December 2019, seven months since they began, the Save San Roque Alliance got in touch with Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte to show her their site-development plan, and to schedule further talks. The alliance's plans, however, have been pushed to the sidelines since more urgent problems such as the Taal eruption and the COVID-19 outbreak have sprung up in 2020. Although, the people behind have kept their focus— the community now has now come up with ways to take care of themselves through the pandemic, setting up raised planting beds for them to farm and opening up communal kitchens for everyone to come and get food from should they need it.
Yet, the crowning glory of these plans is the medium-rise building complex that the Save San Roque Alliance designed through the residents' guidance. With all the buildings linked to each other like arms locked together and holding each other up to surround a park and a playground, it shows a community that is whole.
As Dimalanta interprets, this is coming from “trauma from continuous demolitions. Parang gusto nila ng barricade, para mayroon silang sariling shield.”
Truly, the complex is a concrete metaphor that what the residents are fighting for, they’re doing it all together.
To find out more about the community and how you could lend a hand to them, click here .
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Photos from the Facebook page of Save San Roque