COTABATO CITY—Housing disputes in Iligan City are feared to escalate into a sectarian conflict, even as officials there warned of the penal consequences of illegally selling houses owned by beneficiary-victims of the December 2011 Typhoon “Sendong.”
The row is stirring a religious divide, as the Task Force Bayanihan Village in Iligan was reportedly rude in dealing with Maranao Muslim occupants who have bought housing units that were later found to be sold illegally from as early as 2016, according to residents.
Iligan City Mayor Celso Regencia said in an official notice posted citywide that penalties under the law would be meted out to the original occupants who illegally sold their houses.
But the city’s task force found out that 1,000 of the 1,700 housing units in Bayanihan sa Iligan Village, in Barangay Santa Elena, have been sold by the first owner-beneficiaries.
Jimaloden Abdullah, whose family bought a house from a Sendong beneficiary, said the Task Force Bayanihan Village under the mayor’s office warned him he would be forced out of his unit if he would not vacate it voluntarily.
Vice Governor Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said masked men have ringed-off Bayanihan houses lived in by Maranaos, and on March 28 they raided a unit and “arrested” an unidentified Maranao male resident.
Lucman said many of the Maranaos occupying housing units in Bayanihan Village are among families displaced by the six-month armed conflict in Marawi City last year.
“This early morning, I woke up to a call from a friend in Bayanihan village. A house was raided, and one was arrested. The wife and other household members saw a member of the raiding team placing a .38 caliber and a sachet of drugs,” Lucman said.
Residents have asked why Maranaos are being singled out when only a few of them bought more than half of the houses, as they suspected deception by the sellers.
Some residents, requesting anonymity, said the armed men taking part in the roundups, which they described as “hoodlum-like”, could be part of a scam by the sellers, as the new house occupants would later be forcibly evicted.
Abdullah said he and other buyers were probably conned by selling owners or middlemen who assured them their transactions, covered by deeds of sale, were in order.
Alberto Samejon, president of the Bayanihan Housing Association, who residents said would have known of the selling of the units owned by his members, even sounded alarmist, calling on the authorities to deal with what he said were “armed” Maranao residents.
The Maranao residents said the sale of five to 10 units could escape Samejon’s guard, but for all 1,000 housing units sold to people of different tribes without his knowledge would be “unbelievable even to fools.”
The Gawad Kalinga (GK), the city government, and National Housing Authority jointly developed the 1,700 houses for “Sendong” victims in Barangay Santa Elena, an interior area in Iligan.
Under Section 14 of Republic Act 7279, the Urban Housing Development Law, Regencia said the houses could not be sold nor leased by the beneficiary families. It states: “No land for socialized housing, including improvements or rights thereon, shall be sold, alienated, conveyed, encumbered or leased by any beneficiaries as determined by the government agency concerned.”
Mino Macalandap, a Maranao lawyer, said the law “is intended to uplift the conditions of the homeless and the underprivileged, not to harass them nor deprive them of basic human right.”
Abdullah said he has already made improvements on his family-bought unit, after the original owner sold it to him for P90,000 in 2016.
Broadcast journalist Dandee Macarambon confirmed that the conflict even predated the 2016 Marawi siege, and that the mayor had previously called for a dialogue among parties involved in the brewing property dispute and with the local government.
Macarambon and “Jham-Jham,” an overseas Filipino worker whose family also bought a house in Bayanihan Village, said improvements made by Maranao families on units they occupy were too exposed for the neighborhood to ignore.