Monday, May 13, 2013

Destruction Delayed, Anxiety Continues - The Huaguang Community Update

Demolition Postponed 

The latest development of the Huaguang Community is that the demolition originally scheduled on May 17th, 2013 has been postponed.  The residents received notice of temporary suspension from the Ministry of Justice last Friday (May 10th, 2013) without any specifics or explanation.  According to a section chief from the Office of Secretary from the Ministry of Justice, Lu Je-Ke (盧哲科), the reason for the postponement isn’t due to the extent to which the Ministry of Justice might reconsider assisting the relocation of the elderly residents.  It is because “the student advocates and the police have all paid a price [in previous protests], and the Ministry of Justice sought to be even more effective during the execution of demolition and to avoid the frequency of protests”.

One of the houses due to be destroyed on May 17th, is the home of 90+ year-old Mr. Pan ().  Mr. Pan has been residing in his house since 1958 and worked as a security guard for the Ministry of Justice.  In the 1970s, Mr. Pan received permission from the former Director of the Taipei Detention Center, Wang Zhao-tai (王肇泰) to build an additional housing unit on Aiguo E. Road, after the residence he was assigned to began to leak.   Mr. Pan also applied for and received approval from another former director of the Taipei Detention Center to be relocated to another residence for civil servants.  Mr. Pan was never relocated.  Thirty years later, Mr. Pan and his children were sued by the Ministry of Justice and found liable for presiding on government land illegally and now have to pay two million NT dollars for “illegally profiting” from the land.  

The residents of Huaguang Community and their supporters know the delay is only temporary.  They also suspect this is yet another strategic move from Ministry of Justice to buy time and to decipher the extent to which the executioners of the Ministry can return to complete their task without being confronted, yet again, by the determined young advocates.

Meeting up with Mr. Chiu

When one comes to a demonstration or rally for the Huaguang Community, one is certain to observe a slender figure in the crowd.  He usually stays at the periphery of the crowd, moving silently from one spot to another to get a better look of the front event, usually puffing one cigarette after another.  His facial expression is often of concern and seriousness. Sometimes, he’d join the young advocates in their chants, and sometimes one could see tears swell up in his eyes. 

He is Mr. Chiu, a 72-year-old Taiwanese retired mason and construction worker.  Mr. Chiu inherited the small house he raised his four children in from his grandmother, who was a resident of the community under the Japanese Colonial Era.

I finally had a chance to catch up with Mr. Chiu for a chat last Friday (May 10th, 2013), when he joined the other community residents, academic and students for a protest in front of Taipei City Hall to urge Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin to help with the relocation of community residents and to stop assisting the Ministry of Justice’s endeavor by dispatching Taipei City police to the community. 

“We’ve been living there before the Kuomintang came to Taiwan”, Mr. Chiu exclaimed in Hoklo, “We owned the house even before there was a Nationalist government in Taiwan, so how did it become we were living illegally on their land!?  They were the ones who claimed our property illegally!”  

When I asked him about the MOJ lawsuit against him and his family, Mr. Chiu grew even more upset.  “I used to work construction.  I did masonry all my life. But, after I got my coronary stents, I could no longer lift anything too heavy, so I had to retire.  I now live on fixed income.  How am I supposed to pay the two million dollar fine the government won against me for ‘illegally residing’ on government property?”  I realized there wasn’t anything I could say to relief Mr. Chiu of his anguish.  “So what now?” I said.  “Keep fighting”, Mr. Chiu said, as he slowly taking off his Huaguang Community protest vest, “It’s just me against the system.  I have nothing to lose.  You see those politicians getting away with corruption?  They don’t go after those.  I’ve been a honest working man all my life, and they come after me”.

As I walked away from Taipei City Hall, I waved goodbye to Mr. Chiu.  Mr. Chiu called out to me, “Hey! My house is the one with orchids out front.  My son planted those.  Come see us when you have time and thanks very much for caring”. 

(All photographs by the author)

Mr. Chiu at Friday's protest

Residents of Huaguang Community demonstrate in front of Taipei City Hall (May 10th, 2013)

Official from the Taipei City Government's Department of Urban Development
receiving the letter of plead from the residents

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