As the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports today, eleven people were injured, and three people perhaps killed, as stones were pelted and shots were fired between the Pasay city police and a community of Muslim slum dwellers. The police were moving to evict the community, which centres on a mosque, to make way for an expanded transport terminal in Baclaran, a major rail and bus hub in the south of Metro Manila.
While police insist they fired only warning shots, and did not fire into protesting residents, discharging firearms during evictions is a breach of police procedures. Only "non-lethal modes … such as tear gas and water cannons" may be used on these occasions, and only as a last resort, as GMA News' article indicates.
That article also reports that the Philippine government's Commission for Human Rights will investigate the policemen's actions, although it will also investigate the acts of slum dwellers that might have precipitated the shots.
The slum dwellers pelted the police with stones and human waste to defend their homes. The "wrap and throw" method of human waste disposal is a normal part of life in Manila's slums where sanitary facilities are non-existent, so the residents' actions are less extreme than may appear to more sensitive readers.
The residents will now file action against the police, and against the court order used to carry out the eviction, which they say had expired its 30-day deadline.
Sectarian conflict is rare in this predominantly Catholic city, and Christian slum dwellers are evicted with alarming regularity. The eviction in Pasay city cannot be interpreted as an attack on Muslim society.
However, Christian residents are usually evicted with much less physical resistance. For some this indicates that while Christian residents ultimately acquiesce to the will of the state, growing numbers of Muslims define themselves in opposition to the state through experiences such as these evictions.
A report by the Manila NGO Urban Poor Associates quotes one young evictee: "We are one of the million[s] of Filipinos but we are not treated right. I am thinking of going back to Mindanao to become the enemy of society."
If sectarianism is far from the minds of the government, that doesn't mean that it is drawing the right lessons from this week's clashes. The Manila Bulletin interviewed a spokesperson for the Metro Manila Development Authority, the government planning agency notorious for evicting slum dwellers from sidewalks, canals and highways without providing for their rehousing, but which was not involved in this week's evictions. He commented that "the demolition of shanties must be a lesson to the informal settlers not to fight back with the government demolition teams."
When police breach protocol by firing bullets, resulting in the deaths of residents, and the government is more interested in reprimanding the poor than the police, then residents of any sect need to be asking themselves whether the state has abandoned them.