Defending and protecting oneself against violence
Letter to Friends around the World # 80

For 7 years, Anne R. has been present in this shanty-town area of Manilla, in the Philippines. She’s always known around 20 families here, living under one of the sides of the bridge near her home, whose houses are threatened with demolition.  

During the demolition, initially, it’s each man for himself. Everyone tries as best they can to save at least a few planks of wood, or they start to demolish their homes themselves.

When they get advance warning, or when they suspect that a demolition is imminent, they demolish their homes themselves and hide their wood and their belongings before the demolisher’s arrive, sometimes in the adjacent field.

Sometimes we see real heroism. Every day, every day, demolisher’s come, they take away any wood they find, sometimes burning it. “But it’s that”, says Marilou, “or having a nice relocation home, where there’s no work or school, and being hungry.”

We meet up with these families every week, and spend time together sharing and praying. We started out with 7 women and now practically all of the families come, including the men.

These daily demolitions prevent them from working, from earning a living. They’re also hungry and they get angry. However, they often say how they don’t want to get angry and they give examples of occasions when they have refrained from hitting each other.

One of the most important things that helps them is the fact that they are able to express their feelings within a group, as Adolpho explains: “Sharing within our group means a lot to me. I can offload my suffering, and get off my chest what I feel about the demolitions. The presence of the nuns is also a big help to me.”

Once he was mulling over his hatred for a “skinny little boss”; who he wanted to hurt. At that same moment, I went near him, and that made him realise how much hate he was projecting. He stopped thinking bad thoughts, and he felt happier!

They understand the demolisher’s dilemma: earn a living or refuse to demolish the homes of families like theirs. “They’re just like us; it’s their job”, they say. “They’re nice – it’s the authorities, the mayor who is at fault”. So they’ve reached an arrangement together. “We take down our homes ourselves every morning, and when the demolisher’s come, they take photos to prove that our shacks have gone.” Afterwards, they rebuild their shacks.

Anne R.- Philippines