Sunday, May 26, 2024

Loud Disquiet: The Battle of Save Tinago Alliance

By Kristia Niña Daymiel | February 2, 2024

Several members of the Silliman community came together in a silent protest, along the pillars of Hibbard Avenue. This happened on a sunny Wednesday afternoon last year, on the sixth of December.

Placards painted with grievances filled the sidewalks. Students, faculty, and alumni of Silliman University (SU) expressed their sentiments through a silent protest regarding Dumaguete City Mayor Felipe Antonio Remollo’s appointment to the Board of Trustees (BOT). Preceding that day, however, Remollo signed a letter addressed to the SU BOT, sealing his decision to withdraw as a trustee. 

The mayor’s retreat from a supposedly five-year term struck a sense of victory among rallyists. Banner after banner, revolt after revolt, when Remollo returned his seat empty to the SU BOT, the silent protest that had once hoped to amplify reforms turned silent likewise. 

With Remollo’s withdrawal alone, has the protest gone triumphant even when the transparency people demanded remains in captivity? For a citizen-led organization advocating coastal rehabilitation and inclusive development of Tinago, Dumaguete City, the answer is no. 

Dapat from now ma-realize sa tawo na systemic na siya nga [problem], para ma address gyud ang roots,” emphasized Vincent, co-founder of Save Tinago Alliance. 

(From now on, people should realize that it is a systematic problem, so the roots will be addressed.) 

Outwitting the smart city: Save Tinago Alliance

Three months ago, Vincent united with environmental groups Kahugpungan Para sa Kinabuhi ug Kinaiyahan (Kinaiyahan) and Friends of the Environment Negros Oriental to form Save Tinago Alliance.  

“We don’t see the Tinago issue as one issue lang, sign siya of a systemic [problem]. There needs to be meaningful reforms in the government,” Vincent says. 

(We don’t see the Tinago issue as only one issue, it’s a sign of a systemic [problem]. There needs to be meaningful reforms in the government.) 

Eight government officials versus thirty activists: The alliance—amid red-tagging as well as logistical and monetary challenges—hurdled their way up to Sandigang Bayan and filed a legal case against the Pantawan 2 extension and 174-hectare “Smart City” reclamation project with the following proponents: Felipe Remollo, Dumaguete City mayor; Karissa Faye Tolentino-Maximo, city councilor; Lilani Ramon, city administrator; Renz Macion, former SK president and ex officio city councilor; Dione Amores, ABC president and ex officio city councilor; Michael M. Bandal, former city councilor; Edgar Lenterio, former city councilor; and Nelson Patrimonion, former city councilor. 

If one looks closely enough at the smart city project, one might see the intricacies of what Vincent believes to be “neoliberal aggression” disguised as shoreline protection. This explains the alliance’s goal of mobilizing the residents with paralegal training, discussions on urban poor rights, rights of public land settlers, and the like. Most especially, it highlights their aim to protect and save the 1.9-hectare land yet to be colonized by an Olympic-sized swimming pool, skyscrapers, and beautification projects, which all come at the expense of the locals’ welfare. 

Through the lens of fisherfolk

Lisud gyud, di na nimo ma alsa ug [walay] pulo ka tawo akong panagat, ug walay tawo, baling lisura kaayo,” one can see through the weary eyes and voice of Ramil Inoferio, the disquiet nesting in his heart. He is a local fisherman and vice president of Fisherfolks organization, a group of fishermen in Tinago. 

(It’s really hard, my boat can’t be lifted with less than ten people, so if nobody’s around, it’s very hard.)

For people like Ramil, the ongoing extension doesn’t look like much of a “landscape improvement” as how the proponents describe it to be. Likewise, the limitations they experience in their community speak for the complexities the smart city project entails. 

What the smart city looks like now 

A narrow, maze-like flock of homes sits south of Dumaguete’s Rizal Boulevard; houses face tightly next to each other, leaving a small alley for people to pass by. This part of Poblacion 1, Tinago, is a melting pot of fisherfolk and shoreline residents, all dependent on the ocean. Though cramped, the people residing therein already find comfort in the sea. But now that the start of the project has allowed excavators to encroach upon the land where these locals reside, fear has festered. The last thing the residents want is to lose their shelter and livelihood. 

Considering the current situation of Tinago and the ongoing demolition—which has been deemed “illegal” by the complaints—the ₱74-million smart city project is currently a hallmark of inequality and impunity. 

While the claim of this project is up in the Office of the Ombudsman, a similar fight goes for Remollo’s SU BOT appointment. The only difference between the two is that the Save Tinago Alliance went beyond placards and campaigns. They stood against seemingly insurmountable people—at least considering their political power—by pursuing to decipher what could be the problem’s ultimate core.

For SU, however, the issue has become faint since Remollo’s withdrawal. Perhaps, many are already satisfied with the mayor’s withdrawal alone—hence the silence. But if one critically sifts through this case, it will reveal that the big call remains unanswered: Transparency. 

While the details of Remollo’s renomination have yet to be disclosed, the SU Student Government Environment Committee assures that they are “close with the people in the environmental movement” and “plan to support any initiatives.” 

The Pantawan 2 extension project and Remollo’s SU BOT appointment are two seemingly separate issues, but both put across one common message: Disquiet can only be heard if those concerned choose to keep it loud until it makes a sound—or rather, to keep speaking out until their noise makes a difference.

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