Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Today Dapu, Tomorrow the Government" - Protests for the Dapu Forced Demolition Continue

Four days after the demolition of the Miaoli Dapu residents’ homes, activists, supporters and the residents came to the President’s Office again and this time, to issue an ultimatum to the central government. 

Changs' wedding photos
Activists and residents brought the remains of the Chang Pharmacy and displayed them on Ketagalan Boulevard.  Old photographs of the Chang family - Mr. and Mrs. Chang’s wedding, Mrs. Chang with her first born, family vacation and good old times.  There was also a pot and a pan, a water flask, a bowl, legal documents from the on-going lawsuit with the county government, and Mrs. Chang’s ripped and torn clothes – one of her favorite shirt, and another she didn’t have a chance to wear before. 

Mrs. Chang, or Peng Hsiu-chun(彭秀春), was being interviewed by reporters when I arrived.  I was relieved to see her looking better than I expected; however, I also know she is doing everything she can to hold herself together, just as she has done in the past three years. 

The press conference started on 10 o’clock.  The organizer asked Peng to say something everyone.  Mrs. Chang told the horror story of leaving her home in the morning and coming back in the evening, finding the home she lived and raised three children in demolished and all of her properties gone.

On the Miaoli County Government’s website, County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung(劉政鴻), in a press release on the July 18th demolition, stated the county government has hired “professional moving company” to pack the Chang’s belongings and keeping them in storage.  What is even more outrageous is the money the Miaoli County Government offered the Chang’s for their land, NT$ 24,2000, is the same amount, the county government is charging the Changs to demolish their homes.  In other words, the Chang family would receive no compensation for the government taking their land and destroying their homes.

Official Miaoli County Government announcement
On demolition day, the workers were seen packing what they perceived as valuables, like refrigerator, television and other appliances.  Remains of the Chang’s house were trucked over to three different dumpsites 30 minutes from their homes and dumped on the premise, along with personal items the Changs had.  Volunteers and Peng Hsiu-chun dug and sorted through the rubbles all weekend in hopes to salvage some of her belongings.  Fortunately, Peng was able to find a bag of her hold photographs, a pair of old gold cufflinks, some old coin collections from her children and other things. 

Members of the Laid-Off Workers Alliance(關廠工人陣線) were also at the press conference to lend their support.  Taiwan Rural Front (台灣農村陣線) spokeswoman, Professor Frida Tsai(蔡培慧), issued an ultimatum to the central government, especially to President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih, Premier Jiang Yih-huah.  Professor Tsai said the Dapu residents and their supporters are giving the central government until August 18th, exactly one month to the date of demolition, to respond with solution to resolve the matter; otherwise, the group calls for supporters to “Tear down the government”.  The group chanted the movement’s slogan, “Today Dapu, Tomorrow the government (今天拆大埔, 明天拆政府)”. 

“For my friends, anything - For my enemies, the law”

These words of former Peruvian President Óscar R. Benavides seems fitting in describing what has been happening in Taiwan in the past few weeks with regards to the Dapu demolition case. Law enforcement at the direction of the National Security Bureau have arrested professors, students and supporters for demonstrated at locations where the president, vice president, the premier and the Miaoli county commissioner attended events. The charges ranged from violation of Public Safety Act, obstruction to police business to violation of the Parade and Assembly Act.

Police taking Hung Chung-yen away
Yesterday (July 23rd), supporters of Dapu residents went to the Ministry of Health and Welfare (衛生福利署), where President Ma and Premier Jiang were scheduled to be at the opening of the new ministry to voice their discontent.

By the time I arrived Ta Cheng Street (塔街) in Tatung District, there were already tremendous police presence. As soon as I approach Ta Cheng Street, a line of police officers blocked my path, as scuffle broke out simultaneously in different surrounding area.

“Are you a student?” one of the police officers asked me.
“No, I’m not a student”, I said.
“You’re not a student?” he asked again, looking me up and down.
“Really, I'm not a student, but I’m happy that you thought I look like one”, I said jokingly.
“It’s those professors,” he said to me, “they bring these students here, create all kinds of ruckus and they don’t take responsibilities for the students behavior.  There are formal procedures to follow, and they are allowed to express their opinion in the designated area”.

As the cop was finishing his sentence, I heard loud chanting and four police officers carrying Hung Chung-yen(洪崇晏), a student of the National Taiwan University, from the other side of the street and dropped him on the ground right in front of me. Chung-yen got up and immediately held up his banner again and started chanting, “Rebuilt Dapu!”

I then saw another protesters attempted to enter the enclosed area but were stopped and blocked by the police.

Police dragging Lin Fei-fan away
I returned to the line of cops and started snapping photos of students being chased, surrounded, pushed back and carried away by cops. I also saw the police erected the warning sign to ask the protesters to leave. The protesters didn’t listen and kept chanting, “Today (you) tear down Dapu, Tomorrow (we) tear down the government!”

"Ay!” I heard a long sigh coming from a skinny cop standing in the police line.  
"What’s going on? You seem to have something on your mind”, I said.
“If I were off work, I’d go with them,” the cop said, “I'll tell you one thing, I am moved by is the students’ passion and determination”.

I was completely surprised by this police officer’s candidness. The same police officers would later told Hung Hsiang (洪箱), the chairwoman of the Wanboa Community Development Association, that his heart was with them.

Another more senior looking police officer also told me he has seen increasing protests in recent years and months. "It's ok, I'm out here standing around, so I can lose some weight", he said.  I have to say, most of the police officers I met were polite and professional.  Some are even very helpful.

We then heard loud female scream, and I saw Chung-yen, who was protesting further ahead fell back to the ground. The police officers prevented me from approaching the crowd to investigate, but a few minutes later, an ambulance sped toward us. As we moved to the side of the road, I realized the ambulance was for Chung-yet. I found out later that Chung-yet had split his head open on the sidewalk, after the police tackled him.

The line of police blocking me was called toward the Ministry building where the president was, because more protesters have managed to move closer to Ministry building. As I moved with the police toward the protesters, I saw two police officers dragging Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), the convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters, away from the crowd. Fen-fan threw both his hands up, shouting the slogan, as the police dragged him away.

Police blocking protesters
I also learned later, the police also dragged Professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) of the National Chengchi University away rather brutally, once to move him even further away from the police barricade and the second time, to move him to a police vehicle putting him under arrest. The police said at the time of arrest Professor Hsu was in violation of the Public Safety Act. Just Professor Hsu was sitting on the sidewalk and chanted a few slogans as the president’s motorcade went by?

The prosecutor released Professor Hsu twelve hours later without charging him with any crime due to insufficient evidence.

What I also discovered, after monitoring so many protests in the past months, is the presence of plain clothes unidentified men at these protests. Most of them look mean and thuggish. I’ve seen them at the demolition of Huaguang Community, and I saw them again yesterday. Those men not only refused to identify themselves when asked, they were also extremely aggressive and rough with the young protesters. They’d push, shove, drag and pull the protesters to remove them from the scene. I saw a man in a white t-shirt pick up a small female student and threw her against a wired fence at the Huaguang Community.

In addition, there were also increasing attempts to prevent journalists from taking photographs or filming. The same thing happened at the Huaguang Community forced demolition as well.

It was also an unidentified man who gave the order to arrest Professor Hsu and to drag the students away. The same man also refused to identify himself. The students later tracked him down as a commander from the Tatung Police District.

Many academics, including law professors have signed petitions condemning the behavior of the police and the National Security Bureau. As of now, the list of names continues to grow.

Protests Continue

Undeterred by yesterday’s events, the students were at it again today.

After finding out the Miaoli County Commissioner was scheduled to come to the Legislative Yuan to promote the pears of Miaoli County, the students gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan to protest. Legislative assistants also came out of the gates of the Legislative Yuan to demonstrate support for the Dapu residents. Commissioner Liu didn't show up at his own event, but reporters later discovered he was hiding inside the Legislative Yuan barber shop, getting a hair, a massage and having his earwax removed. Liu also told reporters he has no regret tearing down the Dapu residents’ homes.

Legislative assistants supporting Dapu
There were two other protests today. One in front of the Kuomintang headquarters, where the central standing committee was meeting, and another one at Howard Civil Service International House where Vice President Wu Den-yih(吳敦義) was an attendee to an event.

The Dapu supporters have promised to bloom like wild flowers (遍地開花), and they are keeping their promise. The protesters also demand four things from the government:
1) Apologies from President Ma, Vice President Wu, Premier Jiang and County      Commissioner Liu and compensate the victims of forced demolition.
2) Return the acquired land to the residents.
3) Investigate the legality and possible corruption involving County Commissioner Liu’s development projects.
4) Amend the Land Expropriation Act to protect the public rights

Tomorrow, film directors and other members of the art industry will hold a press conference in support of the Dapu residents.

The protests for Dapu demonstrated that civil society in Taiwan is very much alive and well. The quality of Taiwan’s democracy is maintained through civil and political participations like these. This is one fortunate thing that stemmed from the tragedy of Dapu.

To be continued…

(All photos by author)

Mrs. Chang and her damaged property

Bento box

Litigation documents 
Water flask



blobOfNeurons said...

Gotta love that happy cop in Picture #11 at the bottom.

Anonymous said...

Milton Friedmann and Ronald Reagan started this back in the 1980's. Until the people unite to reverse these "rights for corporations" along with the "no rights for the people", these types of issue's will continue. WAKE UP PEOPLE OF THE PLANET! Since 2010, 97% of the wealth has gone to less than 1% of the people on this planet . . .

Mike Fagan said...

@Anonymous above

Not at all. What is happening in Miaoli, Taipei and elsewhere is theft of private property on some two-bit public-interest trick by a State with few and weak limitations (principally the electoral mechanism). Stealing people's land by arguing "public interest" is characteristic of socialist political demands, irrespective of who the receipient of those lands will be: in Miaoli, it is the corporations who will erect factories, but down here in Tainan it is the city government's new underground train line.

It doesn't matter who benefits and to what purpose. What matters is that the property was stolen by the use of State power.

Milton Friedman spent decades arguing against the expansion of State power and for a return to voluntary, market action; that everybody needs property rights, especially the poor, and that the powers of the State should in many cases be abolished and in some cases be strictly limited.

Mike Fagan said...

"Those men not only refused to identify themselves when asked, they were also extremely aggressive and rough with the young protesters. They’d push, shove, drag and pull the protesters to remove them from the scene. I saw a man in a white t-shirt pick up a small female student and threw her against a wired fence at the Huaguang Community."

I am not sure what the law says on this, but if a man who refuses to identify himself starts pushing people around, then surely the protestors could physically retaliate and claim self-defense. Not that I have any confidence in Taiwan's courts.

Mike Fagan said...

What worries me most about these protests is the people who appear to be leading them - the Taiwan Rural Front - and the content of their political demands; what they are demanding is "revision" of the Land Expropriation Act such that theft of private property can still go ahead so long as it meets their (vague and ill-defined) socialist criteria.

This is the wrong approach to take.

What they ought to be doing is demanding the outright abolition of the Land Theft Act. What the Miaoli County government is doing to the residents whose homes they have bulldozed is wrong, not because sufficient environmental impact assessments weren't carried out; nor is it wrong because of inadequate public participation; nor is it wrong because of the particular vision of "public interest" used to justify the expropriation; it is wrong because it is theft of private property.

Private property is a universal right, and along with freedom of expression is the real issue of "public interest" here. The ability of any single human being to live in society with others under conditions of mutual freedom is predicated precisely on these two rights. Therefore, no incursions against these rights - typically dressed up in nonsense about "balancing" individual rights and "public interest" - ought ever to be tolerated.

I am already banned from two national newspapers for saying this, but it has to be said. The Taiwan Rural Front is not defending the people, much though their appearance on the streets might suggest, but in actual fact they are arguing for the conservation of State aggression under legal pretenses of limitation.

That is not good enough.

Mike Fagan said...

A second thought on that, is that it's also entirely possible that the plain clothes men are agent provocateurs and are just waiting for someone like me to come along and start knocking them about so that they would have an excuse to ramp up the violence and intimidation. I would like to come to these protests up in Taipei, but I'm not sure how I'd react if I saw these plain-clothes goons beating up young girls. It might be too easy for me to lose my temper.

The other thing that bugs me is the question of why President Ma, who has apologized over the killing of corporal Hung, has so far been silent over the land theft protests. The only thing I can think of (other than attribution to simple malice) is that Miaoli County Commissioner Liu has some sort of dirt on Ma, otherwise Ma would surely slap him down. It would have to be pretty big too - enough to make Ma fear that he might suffer a similar fate to that of Chen Shui-bian once he leaves office. Is Ma's refusal to intervene and refusal to slap Liu down an attempt to buy restraint from Liu and his other enemies within the KMT?