It all began when, over Vergel’s warnings and misgivings, I succumbed, yet again, to the lure of acquiring something on an easy installment plan.
It was a mere postage-stamp piece of property, all of 48 square meters, a one-bedroom condominium unit, offered on pre-selling terms. I see it as an investment; Vergel sees it as “a potential source of aggravation—at our age.”
It livably fits no more than a couple. A piece of real estate I bought a long time ago in Forbes Park, the only one I could afford there, and again acquired on a bargain, packs four people, although all must have been dead and properly processed—it’s a nicho, a literal hole in the wall.
Our condo unit was ready for occupancy in three years. A friend in the rental business warned me to furnish it not for myself, but for renters looking for temporary accommodations. But I like to furnish, and so I hired an interior decorator and went a little overboard with a leather sofa, a home theater, a water-heating system, a queen-size bed with special mattress and pillows and side tables, split-type air-conditioners, hanging lamps, blinds, mirrors, a refrigerator and a microwave, apart from other optional kitchen amenities. It looked like a model unit.
I was put onto a broker who would manage the place for us and guarantee us tenants. Vergel conceded. An agreement was reached, and she gave postdated checks for the remittances due us for the three-year term, her commission already sliced off.
Soon, my husband’s prophecy began to become self-fulfilled.
Just over a year into the contract, one check bounces, and my husband’s antennas perceive the beginning of the end. He wants out of the deal. The broker begs me and, given the chance, covers the check. Vergel still wants her fired. Five months later another check bounces. I give her another chance, and she pays the fine. But we begin looking for a buyer.
Before we can seal a deal, I get a call from a prospective buyer, a fellow owner in the very same condominium with the same property manager. He warns us that, after defaulting on her utility and other fees, apart from her remittances, the property manager herself takes over the unit, with a man and four children, her family, she says.
Obviously she is using the children to fight eviction with the threat of child abuse; they are often left alone unsupervised, out of school, but with instructions to lock themselves up in the bedroom when any outsiders come knocking.
Anyway, the opportunity comes one day; the unit is empty, and its illegal dwellers are padlocked out, but not before it was thrashed. As it turns out, yet another owner has suffered the same abuse before him.
As we dread our turn, we meet with the victims for some strategizing, but we are beaten to it.
Soon enough, the building administrator alerts us: She’s moving in!
A lawyer we’ve engaged writes her a letter firing her for all manner of violations. She holds out and even turns the tables on us. Denied access to our unit by elevator, she brings in the cops not only to the condominium in Taguig, but to our own home in Makati, in another condominium, crossing jurisdictions. Good thing we are out.
We complain of the intrusion and intimidation to our barangay, but it’s us who get a summons. The woman, misrepresenting herself as a resident of our barangay, trumps up a complaint. The fraud is found out in the end, and the barangay chairman hands us a letter of apology.
Sense of impunity
Suspecting about her a sense of impunity backed by influence, Vergel decides to wait for that “one flagrant instance that will justify preemptive action.” It comes once, twice, and yet again, and in the form of threats to our very health, if not life, and our property.
In text messages and in occasional confrontations, she and her man mocked us for our old age—we’re of course both seniors—indeed for being “close to death,” and worthless (“mamamatay na kayo… umalis na kayo dito [our own unit, which we’ve come to inspect] at baka magwala ako… wawasakin ko lahat ’to”; “mas mahalaga pa ’tong kotse ko [a BMW] kaysa buhay n’yo”).
At another time the woman, learning of another inspection, this time observed by policemen we have ourselves summoned, and catching us in the lobby, creates a scandal, screaming, swinging and pepper-spraying away. (I myself nurse a sore throat and a headache all night.) She gets away with all that, favored by what the police authorities call “a policy of maximum tolerance.”
Indeed, we’ve gained practically nothing with our own representations with higher police levels, to which we have felt forced to take our case, given what we’ve observed to be unfair police favors to our adversary.
Finally, the condominium administration, having gotten over any feeling of intimidation, decides to follow our instruction to cut the power and water supply to our unit.
That gets them out but, again, not after they have run away with some appliances and devices (microwave oven, heater, an induction burner, remote-control zappers) and thrashed the place: gluing table drawers, door locks, and the refrigerator doors with sealant; spreading chairs, tables, and floor with the same material; smashing the television screen and cutting the home-theater cables, ripping curtains, clogging drains, destroying some room doors with a hammer and pulling closet doors out of alignment.
What refurnishing it requires does not inspire me now. What does inspire Vergel and me is a good fight, one for which we definitely feel never too old for: We’re hounding those creatures back to hell!