I remember the time when our neighbor’s shack was demolished by a rock hammer.
An official in dark sunglasses supervised the demolition. Our entire neighborhood noticed. I remember them silent.
I was six, or perhaps five. We are informal settlers in Commonwealth, backwater mud paths and mango trees. After a few years living in what is practically a nipa hut, my parents decided to lay down a house made of actual rock. We all helped build the house. I remember scooping the tiny ‘volcanoes’ of sand, water, and cement.
Imagine my shock as I watched the hammers bludgeon our neighbor’s bare and newly-constructed house in the middle of the noon. They had the discretion of demolishing the shack while she was at work. At around dusk, she returned to what was previously her home and is now a pile of broken blocks and dust. I remember hearing her cry.
The morning after, we woke to a commotion of people gathering in front of our house. I remember my father facing the same sun-glassed official. I remember listening. I couldn’t remember anything they said tho. I couldn’t remember any technical term. Was it because I was too young to understand the words ‘ilegal’, ‘iskwater’, ‘ demolish’? All I remember was Papa looking straight into the sun-glassed guy’s face. The guy left.
The day passed without any incident, but I remember feeling something was wrong. Inside the kulambo, I remember asking some questions. I couldn’t remember any of what they replied.
The next day, the commotion that woke us was more intense. I remember seeing neighbors gathered in front of our house. I remember seeing a group of 4 or 5 people walking briskly towards their direction. One, if I remember right, has a rock hammer in hand. I remember my neighbors linking their arms, with Kuya Bernie shouting “kunin niyo mga camera niyo! Piktyuran niyo, piktyuran niyo!” I did not see my mother or my father or my siblings, but perhaps they were there, in that defiant mass of flesh, sweat, and hesitation, bracing themselves for the possible violence of the hammer and the certain fury of the Law. Sun-glassed guy and company was safe and, in an instant, was not, as the mob swarmed towards them, and left (Were we 50 or 20 or five? I can’t remember, it did not matter).