Thousands of squatters resisting eviction fought police and shut down the Philippine capital’s main highway yesterday as demolition crews pulled down their shanties, police and witnesses said.
Several officers were slightly injured and traffic on the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue was backed up for several kilometers as slum dwellers fought running battles with police, officials said.
One section of the six-lane highway that bisects Manila was strewn with wooden barricades and rocks by early afternoon, five hours after the standoff began, with daytime traffic diverted to smaller, more crowded streets.
“There was some rock-throwing and scuffles. Some of my men were slightly injured,” said Senior Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, head of the 300-member riot police deployed in the area.
A quarter of a million vehicles use the artery on a typical workday, according to government estimates.
Undermanned police were pegged back by a hail of missiles as they attempted to charge the protesters, while water cannon blasts also failed to disperse the crowds, photographers at the scene said.
Shantytown residents stood with arms linked across the breadth of the road, with their belongings stacked in the middle of the highway behind them.
By midday, the largely unprotected demolition crews had been forced to stop their work in the roadside shantytown, called North Triangle, after having torn down not more than 50 dwellings, a photographer on the scene said.
Magalong said residents were resisting a court order to remove some 6,000 shanties in the 340-hectare property, which the government wants to redevelop into a business district in a joint venture with a private firm.
“I believe there are a lot more than 6,000 [families] in there,” Magalong said.
The World Bank estimates up to half of Manila residents live in slums.
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