Arya Dipa, Bandung, West Java – Authorities in Bandung, West Java, forcefully evicted residents of Taman Sari subdistrict on Thursday, leading to a clash between security personnel and those who refused to yield to the city administration's plan to construct rumah deret (row houses) in the area.
About 1,200 officers – from the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), military and the police – were deployed to carry out the eviction, which saw the demolition of dozens of houses and affected at least 33 households that had refused to be relocated.
Sambas Sadikin, a forcibly evicted resident, said the officers arrived before 6 a.m. and started forcing residents to empty their houses at about 10 a.m.
"This is very shocking. They arbitrarily evicted us and removed our belongings from our houses. Who will be responsible if our things are missing?" the 58-year-old said. "I resisted because the eviction is illegal and baseless."
Another resident, Enjo, 38, concurred with Sambas, saying the officers did not show any documents ordering the eviction. "They said it was their superior's order. We couldn't keep them out," Enjo said.
The eviction, which authorities claimed had been in accordance with standard procedure, was met with resistance from local residents, students and activists who stood in solidarity to block the officers from demolishing the houses.
The tension escalated into chaos in the afternoon after a local resident who attempted to stop a backhoe from tearing down buildings was arrested. Those who opposed the eviction started throwing stones at the security personnel.
The police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) was later deployed to disperse the crowd. They fired tear gas into the group of protesters and forced them back with shields and batons.
Rifqi Zulfikar, the residents' lawyer from the Bandung Legal Aid Institute (LBH Bandung), called the eviction illegal as the residents' lawsuit against the city's Public Housing and Settlement Agency was ongoing at the Bandung State Administrative Court.
The lawsuit pertains to an environmental permit issued by the agency for housing construction in Taman Sari. The residents and activists challenged the permit because they believed it was not in accordance with the 2009 environmental law, Rifqi said.
The ongoing lawsuit is the second of the residents' challenges to the permit. The first lawsuit was rejected by the court due to formal errors after the city administration revoked its own permit. A new permit was issued soon after.
"One of the formal requirements in issuing an environmental permit is a [land] certificate, but the administration does not have one," Rifqi said, adding that the verdict on the lawsuit was expected on Dec. 19.
Taman Sari residents were also trying to obtain land certificates, Rifqi said, citing Government Regulation No. 24/1997 on land registration, which stipulates that anyone can obtain ownership of unregistered land if they have worked on the land for at least 20 years.
"All along, the residents have managed the land and paid their taxes, but the city administration has never given them a chance to register their ownership and is instead arbitrarily and forcefully evicting them," he said.
Satpol PP Bandung head Rasdian Setiadi said the eviction sought to secure the city administration's assets and serve Taman Sari residents, most of whom, he said, had agreed to live in the rumah deret.
The rumah deret Taman Sari project is being carried out under the Bandung Public Housing and Settlement Agency with PT Sartonia Agung serving as the executor after winning a Rp 73 billion (US$5.2 million) tender for the project.
The project began while former Bandung mayor Ridwan Kamil was in office. Ridwan, who currently serves as West Java governor, previously promised there would be no evictions.
"How can we build if the existing buildings are not demolished? Construction should start early and be managed well so that it will not lag behind schedule," Rasdian said, adding that authorities had issued warning letters prior to the evictions.
He claimed about 90 percent of Taman Sari residents wanted to live in the new housing complex.
At least 176 residents have agreed to move to rusun rancacili (low-cost apartments) – located about 15 kilometers from the project's location in Taman Sari – to wait for the construction to finish.
Residents who refused to be relocated to the rusun rancacili – including Sambas, Enjo and dozens of others who resisted Thursday's eviction – will be given Rp 26 million to rent a house for a year while awaiting the construction of the new row houses.
Once the rumah deret construction has finished, the city administration will offer units for rent starting between Rp 280,000 and Rp 400,000 per month.
West Java Ombudsman chapter head Haneda Sri Lastoto said that the forced eviction of Taman Sari residents might be legally flawed as authorities might have violated procedures.
Haneda said authorities should have explained the legal basis of the eviction order to the residents at least three days before it took place.
"The details of the [eviction] subject, the address and the target should have been made very clear," Haneda said, "There should be a clear, legal basis in this case, otherwise it is an abuse of power." (ggq)