This home is occupied – Protest march for Niki

Housing_1

Monina Gesmundo – a Nurse and President of the Filipino Nurses Association gives her point of view on the march, the occupation and her experience of housing evictions in the Philippines.

I have been to several marches across Metro Manila, Philippines in protest of home evictions and housing demolitions. I never thought I’d be in another one after I have left for New Zealand. But here I am again at Glen Innes, marching to protest the eviction of Niki from her home of 21 years.

Without asking about her medical history, I knew as a nurse that she had a medical problem as she addressed the crowd. She looked frail. However, her frailty did not match her spirits when she uttered, “I am fighting this eviction because it’s better to live on your feet than die on your knees.” What an amazing strength and defiance. What an amazing person.

As an experienced community health nurse in the Philippines, I have nursed the sick and injured and have fought with families in their attempt to stop evictions similar to Niki’s. Immersing myself in urban and rural communities in the Philippines has made my social conscience grow faster than my technical skills as a clinician. I do not need highly technical skills when nursing in this context. Why? Because what people were deprived of are basic human needs – food, clothing, education and shelter – with the latter threatened to be taken away from them violently.

Yes, I have seen blood spilt on muddy grounds in the Philippines due to violent clashes with the police who care less about the thousands of lives that they have destroyed when they tore down shanties along railways in Tondo, along reclamation sites in Roxas boulevard and along mounds of garbage in Payatas. Yes, I have cried buckets of tears from teargas thrown our way by anti-riot squads and washed my face on sewage water just to get rid of that chemical that burnt my skin as we ran away with the injured whom we vowed to protect. And yes, I have been injured as I fell and scraped my knees on the rough pavements of Metro Manila as solidarity marches were dispersed by armed police. I have been through these as a community health nurse, and I do not regret any moment of it. As a nurse, I have vowed to protect the health and safety of people in need, and I shall do it till the end.

These experiences made me realise how those who rule often favour private capital instead of attending to the needs of the people. Thousands of houses were demolished to give way to a billionaire’s malls that cater to the whims of the middle to the upper class. Children’s lives were shattered to pave the way for the construction of private universities for the sons and daughters of the elite. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in favour of private luxury hotels and condominiums that none of the hundreds of urban poor families combined can afford.

That was in the Philippines. I am now here in Auckland and my heart continues to ache for Niki and those whose homes are being threatened. Niki is being evicted from her home so that the land can be redeveloped to house the rich. Oh yes, her home had a nice view of the water and the city, a sight with a million-dollar tag price. These will not be affordable houses.

While there was no violent physical clash with the police today on the march, I can feel the effect of the ‘violence’ that losing a home has had on Niki and the other families’ spirits. Yes, private capital can tear one down physically, emotionally, morally, spiritually. That is still a form of violence. It is present and threatening constantly.

Evicting tenants and redeveloping the area is not about building more homes for people, it is about making profit out of the valuable land in the name of the rich. As Niki waits a few more days in limbo, the community is rallying around. Members from Auckland Action Against Poverty, Defend GI, Student Housing Action Group, No Pride in Prisons and many others gathered on this day to show support to Niki. All of these people were at this march and support the demand to end evictions. We were standing together in solidarity.

I am glad to have supported this. I believe in people keeping their homes. After all, in an era when almost anything has a tag price, a few things cannot be bought still – our collective strength and our ideals.

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