On the fifth month of Yolanda disaster:

PeopleSurge alliance holds protest "Senakulo" to dramatize plight


Quiapo Church, Mendiola


April 8, 2014





Photos by Abby Valenzuela, PeopleSurgePhils and Tanggol Kabuhayan as indicated by the filenames


Yolanda survivors hold protest “Senakulo” to dramatize plight
April 8, 2014

Survivors of Typhoon Yolanda in People Surge alliance are marching from Quiapo to Mendiola Bridge to hold the Aquino government to account for what they dubbed as “criminal neglect.” “The Senakulo protest today coincides with the fifth month after Typhoon Yolanda struck, dramatizing how the survivors are still suffering and face uncertainties,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor, People Surge spokesperson. “Their entire ordeal can be summed up as the result of poor government response. This can be seen in how Aquino and other key officials collectively dubbed as the “Gang of Five” showed insensitivity, corruption, incompetence and ultimately sheer criminal neglect before and after the storm.”

Eslopor said the survivors will reenact Christ’s suffering as an expression of their own. “The Calvary of the Yolanda survivors is the Calvary of the Filipino people. The storm survivors have been pushed to the brink that they are beginning to wonder whether there is a government at all, or whether the government is doing its best to go against the interests of the people. For five months, the survivors have sought to make ends meet while demanding emergency cash, livelihood, housing and basic social services. All these basics have not been met.

“Instead, the Aquino government has flogged the survivors with its Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda. This is merely giving opportunities to private business through the so-called Public-Private Partnership, where the Aquino government abandons its responsibilities in favor of its big business cronies. The survivors have also been denied the rebuilding of their coastal communities through the policy of “no-build zones.” Water and electricity have been cut off in these communities to make sure the inhumane conditions will drive the people away. Despite their dire conditions, the relief operations have been lacking if not rotten already.”

The People Surge spokesperson said the protest Senakulo will depict a Yolanda survivor bearing a giant yellow cross being scourged with masks representing the “Gang of Five.” “What we call the “Gang of Five” is our term for President Aquino and his key officials in the post-Yolanda relief and reconstruction – Interior Sec. Manuel Roxas, Social Welfare Sec. Corazon Soliman, Reconstruction Sec. Panfilo Lacson and Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla. The meanness and mediocrity of the present government has been made apparent by these top officials.

“The struggle of the Yolanda survivors will not end this month, but will continue in the coming months to the first year of the calamity and beyond. We vow to hold the Aquino government accountable for its tyranny so well represented by Jesus Christ’s agony and death on the cross,” ended Sr. Eslopor.


▲ Mass at Quiapo Church  ▼


Aquino must be brought to account for criminal negligence - PS

Updated about a week ago · Taken at Times St. West Triangle, QC
Survivors of Typhoon Yolanda today marched on President Benigno Aquino III's house on Times Street in Quezon City to clamor for justice over gross government neglect despite the people's sufferings.

“While it is true that there are incompetent officials in charge of relief and rehabilitation, the final responsibility falls with President Aquino,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor, People Surge spokesperson. “Typhoon Yolanda exposed a disastrous president. The horrendous casualties could have been avoided in the first place, if the Aquino government had acted promptly and evacuated the people. Now the casualties will surely mount in the coming years because of the serious shortcomings in relief and rehabilitation.”

The protesters denounced President Aquino as “Waray pulos!” (Useless!) and the chief representative of inutile officials whom they dubbed the “Gang of Five.” “The President sent armed troops to Tacloban City in the early days after Yolanda because the people were up in arms over the long-delayed relief operations. Today relief and rehabilitation remains a joke, and there are still numerous armed troops because the government's Oplan Bayanihan is their way of suppressing the people's discontent. It is not surprising that there are many who are up in arms. President Aquino has proven to be a disaster himself for leading the militarized, corruption-ridden, politicized, and ineptly delivered and implemented relief and rehabilitation.”

The People Surge protesters said the President must be brought to account for his criminal negligence. “Typhoon Yolanda has cast a shadow on the rest of the President's term,” said Sr. Eslopor.

“The survivors will not let him forget his responsibility. Having said an apology is not enough without any far-ranging rectification such as the sacking of all corrupt and incompetent rehabilitation officials, providing the people's immediate needs and basic social services, consulting the people for a genuine reconstruction program, and asserting sovereignty and self-reliance. The people will certainly hound President Aquino until the end of his term and even afterwards. Without justice, there can be no genuine reconstruction,” ended Sr. Eslopor.




APRIL 10, 2014

Yolanda victims seek support of Church in call for justice, assistance from gov’t

“We feel that the Aquino government has let the people down. There are many who continue to suffer five months after the calamity, and the government’s reconstruction is inherently anti-poor.” – Sr. Edita Eslopor, spokesperson of People Surge.


MANILA – Survivors of super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) held their biggest rally in Metro Manila to date last Tuesday (April 8), the fifth month since Yolanda made landfall and ravaged the region of Eastern Visayas most heavily. In Tacloban City, another protest was held on the same day. By now, a forensic expert has estimated the death toll to be more than 18,000. Even as the Aquino government maintains the official death toll is somewhere in the region of 6,200, more bodies of the dead continue to be unearthed in various places in the region to this day.

With relatives, friends, and other progressive groups, the Yolanda survivors held a Lenten-inspired protest march to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang to mark what they called as five months of injustice. Before marching, they called on the Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to seek the support of Catholic Church for their struggle for justice, as they attended a mass offered for them at Quiapo Church.

“We feel that the Aquino government has let the people down. There are many who continue to suffer five months after the calamity, and the government’s reconstruction is inherently anti-poor,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor, spokesperson of People Surge.

As far as the Aquino government is concerned, based on claims of Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, they have been doing their best. They questioned the protesters and called them “leftists,” as reports from the ground revealed that state soldiers have begun hunting for those who signed the People Surge’s petition.

Wanted: A Christian response?

The church and the religious sector have been assisting Yolanda victims right from the start, gathering relief goods, going to the devastated area themselves, and urging the people to continue helping the victims and the survivors of Yolanda, said Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez. The bishop prayed, during a mass he led for the Yolanda victims, that the Church and the rest of the faithful would find, especially this season of Lent, greater understanding and support for the victims of typhoon Yolanda.

With church leaders and at least 10 clergy from the capital, the bishop went out to Plaza Miranda after the mass to join the storm survivors in a “solidarity lunch” of sweet potatoes.

On lean months such as this month, people from the Visayas islands usually eat root crops such as sweet potatoes to get by. But after Yolanda, they said, these lean months have gotten even leaner, such that they often have to go hungry. Yolanda destroyed not only their main crops but also their root crops, hence their demand for continued relief until such time they have recovered their livelihood.

At Plaza Miranda, the survivors held a brief program to share with the crowd and the faithful why some members of People Surge have been in Manila for two months now. They said that shortly before the 100th day after Yolanda, they came here to speak about “the true condition of the people in Eastern Visayas,” and to press for the rightful demands of Yolanda survivors.

They tried to deliver to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III the petition containing these demands, signed by nearly 18,000 from Eastern Visayas. The demands include aid in rehabilitating their agriculture and sources of livelihood; at least P40,000 cash relief; and an end to the No Build Zone policy, which, they said, evicts the poor for the interest of big businesses. But even after five months since Yolanda, with two months of it spent on approaching and practically “begging” for aid from government agencies, not one of these demands were met.

“It has been five months of Calvary,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor.

“President Aquino told the people that they are his boss, but it turned out that he meant the people are his ‘busabos’ (oppressed lot),” Joel Abaño, a member of People Surge and one of those affected by the No Build Zone, said at Plaza Miranda and later at Mendiola.

Senakulo symbolizing the storm victims

While they were in Plaza Miranda, the Yolanda survivors and supporters had unveiled a larger than life puppet depicting President Aquino. The puppet attracted attention and laughter from the crowd, including children, in Plaza Miranda.

At the “Senakulo procession,” this puppet Aquino walked with his “gang,” flogging and kicking a representative of Yolanda victim bearing a huge, blood-stained yellow cross.

“This dramatizes the sufferings of the Yolanda survivors under the Aquino administration and the ‘Gang of Five,’” Eslopor said. The ‘Gang of Five’ is President Aquino and his officials: Interior Sec. Manuel Roxas, Social Welfare Sec. Corazon Soliman, Reconstruction Sec. Panfilo Lacson and Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla.

The Senakulo procession proceeded at the head of the protest march to Mendiola from Quiapo Church. The bearer of the yellow cross is a 58-year old farmer from Samar.

According to People Surge, this cross represents the burden being suffered by the Yolanda survivors, and that burden is the Aquino government and its anti-poor policies.

Hundreds of protesters also carried small white crucifixes bearing names of some of the dead due to Yolanda. These crucifixes should “remind Pres. Aquino of his criminal negligence to the Yolanda victims,” said Sr. Eslopor.

Aside from People Surge, another progressive group held their own trip to Calvary, except that their suffering Jesus Christ is someone from the urban poor who decries the chronic problem of joblessness, low wages, high prices and political repression. Their suffering Christ is depicted as being flogged not just by President Aquino but also by a representative of US imperialism.

Bishop Iñiguez has likened the storm survivors to the tribes of Israel (from Old Testament) who suffered untold sufferings while wandering in the wilderness as they searched for the Promised Land. The bishop asked the public to give something of themselves to those in need (he calls it Alay-Kapwa), or the likes of the Yolanda survivors.

In having conducted a Lenten-inspired protest, Sr. Eslopor expressed hope that it could help enlighten the Catholic Church and the public about the continuing struggle of the Yolanda survivors. They hope also that the Aquino government “will wake up to its immorality and unjustness toward the Yolanda survivors.” (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/04/10/yolanda-victims-seek-support-of-church-in-call-for-justice-assistance-from-govt/#sthash.HwBvPMJe.dpuf




APRIL 8, 2014
‘Hypocritical No Build Zone Policy evicts poor for the rich’

“The No Build Policy arbitrarily bans dwellings within prohibited zones without social acceptability, feasible relocation, and livelihood alternatives presented to the displaced families.” – Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE


MANILA – It is not for the safety of many but for the profit of a few; it is eviction and dislocation instead of aid and rehabilitation. This is how the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda, grouped in People Surge, has been describing the No Build Policy currently being implemented in coastal areas of Eastern Visayas by the Aquino government.

This week, environmentalists allied with the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment joined the People Surge in demanding the scrapping of this controversial policy. President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), ordered its implementation as reports poured in about massive damages and casualties suffered by coastal communities.

But “The No Build Policy arbitrarily bans dwellings within prohibited zones without social acceptability, feasible relocation, and livelihood alternatives presented to the displaced families,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE. In a picket in front of the office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources this Monday (April 7), Bautista likened the No Build Zone policy to “another storm surge,” only this one is man-made and it can be prevented easily by way of revoking the policy.

Not a new or a respected policy

The No Build Zone policy is not actually new. As stipulated in the Water Code of 1976, it is prohibited to construct permanent structures within 40 meters from the shoreline. This policy has evidently been violated numerous times. But with Aquino’s current No Build Zone over Eastern Visayas, it doesn’t look like it is suddenly taking the prohibition to heart.

Green groups depict No Build Policy as man-made storm surge against the common people, in Apr 7, 2014 picket at DENR. (Photo by M. Salamat)
Green groups depict No Build Policy as man-made storm surge against the common people, in Apr 7, 2014 picket at DENR. (Photo by M. Salamat)
The No Build Zone is “a total failure” in protecting coastal and marine ecosystems and ensuring the safety of coastal communities, Bautista said in an earlier statement.

“In spite of this policy, most of our public domain like mangrove areas and shorelines were converted to private ownership and were used for commercial purposes. This included the proliferation of fishpond production, private resorts, shopping malls, economic zones, and luxury subdivisions,” said Bautista.

The country’s current mangrove area is just 20 percent of our original mangrove forest cover, a measly 117,000 hectares, said Kalikasan PNE. Statistics also show that the country’s coral reef areas are now in a critical state, and fish production is fast declining because of overfishing, marine pollution and degradation of coastal areas.

This, unfortunately, will not be corrected at all in the implementation of No Build Zone policy in Eastern Visayas. On the contrary, the policy is being used to continue its “crystal clear total failure” at protecting coastal and marine ecosystems.

Kalikasan PNE echoed the complaint of typhoon survivors that the Aquino government’s No Build Zone policy over Eastern Visayas is focused more on demolishing the communities affected by super-typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), to give the way to big businesses.

At the same time the Aquino government is demolishing communities and barring the survivors from rebuilding in their former locations, it is reportedly exempting the operation of big business projects over the same areas. ”Private corporations are in a mad race to convert thousands of hectares in Eastern Visayas and other Yolanda-affected areas into special economic zones, extractive industries and ecotourism projects, Bautista of Kalikasan PNE said.

In addition to the national government’s plan to convert the vacated areas into ecotourism projects, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA) expressed plans to develop the affected areas into IT parks and special economic zones for manufacturing. The biggest local private corporations like Ayala Land, SM Development, Aboitiz Corp, and Pangilinan’s PLDT-Smart are being prioritized and tasked in ‘rebuilding’ the infrastructures in the devastated areas.

It is in fact “this profit-driven mode of coastal development that has led to the rapid degradation of our coastal and marine ecosystems in the first place,” the environmentalists pointed out.
Hypocritical non-solution

Aquino’s No Build Zone Policy is decried as neither help nor rehabilitation for the disaster victims. It is also not at all about concern for their safety.

“Reducing disaster risks in coastal areas cannot be achieved by removing communities away from their livelihood, and promoting the entry of coastal development aggression projects,” said Bautista. On the contrary, he added, this policy would make them “more vulnerable to poverty and hunger, with or without the incidence of natural calamities”

If, on the other hand, the government would indeed go for minimizing risks of disasters and ensuring the people’s safety from natural calamities, then mangrove rehabilitation areas and the construction of disaster-proof evacuation centers should be the bigger priority, Bautista said. He cited experiences showing how communities with healthy mangrove forest and those immediately evacuated in safe infrastructures mitigated better the impact of storm surges and flash floods.
Also, there is the Republic Act 10121 or the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, Kalikasan PNE reminded the Aquino government during their picket at the DENR. This law mandates the national government with a framework to pursue a comprehensive community-based approach in disaster risk reduction and management. Why then, they asked, is the Aquino government pursuing the exclusionary approach of the No Build Zone, when it contradicts this mandate?” (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/04/08/hypocritical-no-build-zone-policy-evicts-poor-for-the-rich/#sthash.annfnmqT.dpuf




APRIL 6, 2014
Yolanda survivors depict their sufferings under Aquino administation


MANILA — Uttering in Filipino, “Hail Aquino you are oppressing us, you are killing us, you turned your back on us,” a play on the prayer Hail Mary, members of People Surge and supporters held a cenaculo-inspired procession to Times street in Quezon City, the ancestral home of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

The Philippines is predominantly Catholic and cenaculo, usually performed during the Lenten season, is a play depicting the life, sufferings and death of Jesus Christ.

At the head of the procession was a survivor of typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) bearing a yellow, bloodied cross, flanked by protesters wearing the faces of Aquino, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, so-called rehabilitation czar Panfilo lacson, Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.
As the procession proceeded, those portraying the five government officials took turns whipping and kicking at the survivor carrying the cross. Behind them, women in black mourning veil, carrying crosses, were praying loudly for the government to listen to the petition of Yolanda survivors.

They failed to turn left, however, toward the residence of Aquino, as they were barred by interlocked steel barriers, three police vehicles from the National Capital Region, and numerous security guards and policemen. Some of the security guards shared their drinking water with the protesters, but they still did not remove the roadblock.

The barrier forced the marchers to conduct a program instead at the intersection of Times st. and Examiner st.

Joel Abaño, a member of People Surge from Leyte, said that instead of finding help, the government is “making things even harder for them.”

Eastern Visayas is poorer after Yolanda. After their main crops consisting of coconut and some roots for food were washed out by Yolanda, and with little to no agricultural subsidy that could help them rehabilitate agriculture, their main sources of livelihood, Abaño said their people are now lacking in food. Even the 58-year old farmer from Samar who was carrying the yellow cross and wearing a crown of thorns told Bulatlat.com that his family’s coconuts had died due to Yolanda, and they have no way of replacing all of it now as the family struggles just to subsist.

Amid the suffering and challenges to survival of Yolanda victims, what has the government been doing? Abaño asked during the program.

“They’re like playing a basketball game — they’re fond of passing the blame. But we continue to demand those donations and relief that were sent for us,” said Abaño.

People Surge reiterated the rest of their demands for genuine rehabilitation.

Adding burden rather than help

What hurts the typhoon survivors in Eastern Visayas is the fact that the government is doing worse than just inaction regarding the Yolanda victims’ needs – “the Aquino government is adding even more burden to what we’re already suffering after Yolanda,” Abaño said.

The statement of People Surge and their leaders who spoke at a brief program at Times St. decried the “Gang of Five,” referring to Aquino, Soliman, Roxas, Petilla, Lacson, who they say came to Eastern Visayas not to help the survivors but to grab their lands. Under the Aquino government’s supposed rehabilitation plan, Abaño said “they distributed our lands to rich businessmen like Danding Cojuangco, Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, Manny Pangilinan and other cronies who play guns with the inutile president.”

Five months after Yolanda ravaged their land and their livelihood and killed probably 10,000 people, “nothing is happening for us,” the survivors said.

Eric Labagala, 60, a member of People Surge from Samar, reiterated the common expectations that the government is supposed to help the survivors, as it is the government’s duty.

Instead, Soliman allowed the donated food to rot, hastily burying it so as not to be criticized for her selfishness, Labagala said.

“Roxas built houses fit only for doves, and full of issues of corruption at that. Petilla did not give light but made us spend Christmas in the dark. When finally we get back our electricity, we are told we will be charged higher,” Labagala said during the procession.

He continued that “Ping Lacson is threatening the families of the 17,585 who signed the People Surge petition that they would withhold relief.”

Worse, according to Marissa Cabalijao of People Surge-Samar, soldiers from the state military are now hunting for the family members of those who signed the petition, especially those who are joining rallies and protest actions against the Aquino government’s flawed rehabilitation.

We have gone through typhoon Yolanda, but we can’t bear typhoon Noynoy, Labagala said.

Not beggars

“We are typhoon survivors, not beggars,” the People Surge statement reads. They expressed apprehension that they would be pushed even deeper into poverty because the way things are shaping up as “rehabilitation” under the Aquino government, 80 percent of the budget are earmarked for infrastructure when majority of the people need aid in agriculture.

Much of the 2013 unspent funds from the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of more than P14 billion were earmarked for relief and rehabilitation and disaster concerns, but under the discretion of Aquino. In this year’s budget, aside from the increases in budgets of, say, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, there are also unprogrammed lump sum funds of more than P100 billion for disaster issues, relief and rehabilitation. Yet, the People Surge repeatedly reported they did not feel these funds helping them.

In fact, the budget allotment for the regions lashed by Yolanda is the lowest compared to other regions. Visayas gets only 18 percent in the regionalized portion of the 2014 budget when it was still being proposed (despite Yolanda).

The typhoon survivors said they cannot be expected to get back on their feet if all livelihood-related aid is in “cosmetic” temporary and limited cash-for-work program. They reiterated also their condemnation of the “hypocritical No-Build Zone” that they say means eviction of former residents to give way to rich businessmen raring to take over their coastal addresses.

“If the Aquino government is indeed worried only of our safety, how come they are allowing big business and foreign investors to construct infrastructures right where our loved ones died during Yolanda? Why are the mining and logging operations in farflung areas lashed by Yolanda still continuing?” the People Surge asked in a statement.

Global Day of Protest

On April 8, the survivors of Yolanda and supporters in the Philippines and abroad are set to conduct a day of protest. In a statement, Benedictine nun Edita Eslopor asked the public to write the offices of each of the “Gang of Five,” telling them of public support to the petition submitted by the Yolanda survivors last February.

She also urged the public to help them press Aquino to answer to and release the donations sent by relatives, friends and other helping hands from abroad. Eslopor also requested support for their rally at Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang on April 8.

At the very least, she asked the public to join their ongoing “black ribbon for justice campaign”, as she invited everyone to be a member of People Surge through Facebook page (facebook.com/peoplesurge). She asked the public to show their support of the survivors’ campaign for justice from the government’s criminal negligence through messages in radio, TV, newspapers, text or SMS and various social media. (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/04/06/yolanda-survivors-depict-their-sufferings-under-aquino-administation/#sthash.d67sA4uD.dpuf




April 2, 2014
Yolanda survivors set a week of protest vs Aquino-led ‘Gang of 5’

Today, the survivors of Yolanda’s wrath are also finding it difficult to get back on their feet, not only because they lack appropriate services from the government — on the contrary they are being “evicted” and forced to accept loans or “cosmetic” solutions of short-term jobs – they also have to contend with increased military deployment.


MANILA – A week leading to the fifth month since supertyphoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit the Philippines, members of a region-wide alliance of its survivors, the People Surge, announced a series of protests in Metro Manila and in Eastern Visayas against what they call as the “Gang of Five.” People Surge referred to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Local Government Sec. Mar Roxas, Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman, Energy Sec. Carlos Petilla, and former Senator and so-called rehab czar Panfilo Lacson.

Parodying a show of gratitude, the storm survivors are set to “thank” each of the “Gang of Five” through picket-protests in front of their particular headquarters starting April 2, culminating in a big rally toward Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang on April 8, exactly the fifth month since Yolanda hit the country.
Taking to task the Gang of Five, one by one

Decrying their “fifth month of agony,” the typhoon survivors “thanked” on April 1st Fools Day in a press conference President Aquino and his administration’s “prompt, efficient and continued” delivery of services to the Yolanda survivors. The survivors’ report had detailed how the Aquino government’s response has, in fact, been the opposite of prompt and efficient.

The storm survivors have repeatedly conducted protests in front of the office of Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman.

“The Social Welfare Secretary has been ‘exposed’ several times,” People Surge said, citing as one of the most recent examples last March 28 when, with various sectors, they stormed the office of the DSWD to return the rotten and wormy relief goods Soliman’s office has distributed to storm survivors.

On April 2, Wednesday, People Surge and supporters from various organizations based in Metro Manila trooped to the office of Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas. After Aquino and Soliman, Roxas is dubbed as another member of the Gang of Five who failed the Yolanda survivors.

In a protest in front of DILG office, members of People Surge deplore the actions of Sec. Mar Roxas and warn the public against his presidential ambition. (Photo by M. Salamat / bulatlat.com)

In a protest in front of DILG office, members of People Surge deplore the actions of Sec. Mar Roxas and warn the public against his presidential ambition. (Photo by M. Salamat / bulatlat.com)

Roxas is seen as being groomed to be the Liberal Party’s presidential bet in 2016. But the Yolanda survivors asked: “Do you expect the Yolanda survivors to believe him and vote for him after his politicized response during the crucial period of rescue and relief distribution?” Roxas’ now famous line, “You’re a Romualdez and he’s an Aquino,” delivered at a meeting with local government executives, demonstrates what the People Surge denounces as “color-coded” disaster response by the government. In this kind of response, local allies of politicians in higher positions are more swiftly cornering the bulk, if not all, of available aid and relief.

Survivors of Yolanda said Sec. Roxas failed to deliver prompt social services to storm victims; he responded to the calamity in a “politicized manner,” and he plays a big part in implementing the anti-people, pro-big business No-Build Zone policy. This policy evicts, in effect, the residents from their homes and livelihood, the People Surge said.

On April 2 also, at the Baclaran Church, church people, artists and professionals held a day of sacrifice, a whole day of hunger strike, in support for the Yolanda survivors. In the evening, a concert arranged by Tulong Kabataan was staged at Plaza Miranda, Quiapo, Manila. Various musicians and youth artists advocating justice and hope for the Yolanda survivors participated.

Lack of affordable electricity and other utilities

On April 3 Thursday, it is the turn of Energy Sec. Carlos Petilla to receive the storm survivors’ “thanks.”

They said that in the storm-affected areas in the Visayas and Mindanao where electricity has finally been restored, the survivors now have to contend with steep power hikes. Worse, as Joel Abaño of People Surge said, residents asserting their rights to reoccupy their homes in areas declared as “No-Build zone” are being denied connection to electricity and water services. This effectively drives them away from their homes and livelihood, Abaño said.

Abaño told Bulatlat.com that of the thousands of households that used to be his neighbour in the coastal side of Tacloban City, only some 200 have braved to rebuild their houses in defiance of the “No-Build Zone” Policy. But they are being denied services of utility companies.

Most of Eastern Visayas bear the brunt of incompetence of the Aquino administration in the delivery of peoples’ basic needs, including power, said the People Surge at a press conference this Tuesday Apr 1. The group asked Petilla to stay true to his word, to make good on his promise to resign after his many repeated failures.

Betrayal in reconstruction

On April 4, People Surge is set to protest at former senator Panfilo LAcson’s rehab czar’s office in Nickel Asia Corp. Tower in Taguig City. Lacson is in charge of implementing the Eastern Visayas Rehabilitation plan called the Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) or the PR-spun “Build Back Better.”

It consists of policies which the survivors said are nothing but betrayal of the peoples’ needs for rebuilding and rehabilitation. The plan is composed of the No-Build Zone Policy and micro-financing in agricultrure. It gives profitable business opportunities to big businesses via infrastructure projects and lending.

Based on the studies of People Surge, “Build Back Better” is patterned after other programs in calamity-stricken countries such as Haiti, that resulted in the failure to deliver prompt, appropriate and genuine services to the survivors. People Surge said those flawed “rehabilitation programs” yielded the same corruption-riddled bunkhouses and even worsened poverty in Haiti.

As the “rehabilitation program” is infrastructure-driven, the survivors said it is no wonder then why the Eastern Visayas region has been divided among big influential families for their huge business ventures.

Aquino branded as Waray pulos (inutile or useless)

Of the whole “Gang of Five,” the group said, Aquino is the epitome of “Waray Pulos.” Sr Edita Eslopor said Aquino’s “sorry” is meaningless and insincere if the demands of Yolanda survivors, which are more suited to their needs to help them get back on their feet, continue to be rejected.

The storm survivors chiefly blame Aquino for the militarized, corruption-riddled, politicized, inept delivery and implementation of relief and rehabilitation to the storm survivors.

“Aquino is criminally liable for the thousands of lives lost as a result of his ineptness and negligence in guaranteeing the safety and welfare of the people residing along Yolanda’s path,” Eslopor said. Before Yolanda made landfall, the rest of the world had been monitoring the Philippines because it was expected to be the strongest typhoon in history – but all the Aquino administration did as preparation was issue statements that they were “prepared.” Not much in action was observed, according to survivors.

“We were told about the likelihood of a strong ‘storm surge,’ but no one told us what it was,” Abaño said. He told Bulatlat.com that as a leader of a local citizens’ group, he went around his neighbourhood in the coastal area of Tacloban City. They asked many “learned people” about that ‘storm surge’ but no one can say anything more than this being “a very strong typhoon.”

Abaño said they concluded that they just had to be careful – some suggested seeking higher ground, but generally most of the residents asked, “where shall we go?”

Abaño himself survived the rapid rise of water, as much as 30 feet in just a few minutes, by clutching at cables of electricity. He survived the storm surge and saw many of his neighbors lying dead among the debris.

“We had been talking only the night before,” Abaño said about his dead neighbors. With the People Surge, Abaño is now one of the thousands demanding justice for the Aquino government’s criminal negligence.

“Aquino has been criminally negligent not only during the onslaught of Yolanda but even before and after it struck the country,” People Surge said. In Tacloban City for example, when night fell after most of their neighbors and houses were swept away, the children survivors were crying because of hunger but there was no food. It took four days before relief came, and it wasn’t from the government but from concerned organizations, the survivors said.

Aquino mainly and firstly sent in the military, citing as excuse the reported “looting” that happened, and disregarding the logical explanation by survivors that desperate heads of the family were driven to such desperate measures as their children cried for lack of food and water.

Today, the survivors of Yolanda’s wrath are also finding it difficult to get back on their feet, not only because they lack appropriate services from the government — on the contrary they are being “evicted” and forced to accept loans or “cosmetic” solutions of short-term jobs – they also have to contend with increased military deployment.

In Samar, storm survivors with People Surge told Bulatlat.com that the farmers are finding it hard to work on their field as soldiers accost them and question those who signed the People Surge petition.

“What’s wrong with making noise? We can’t stomach it anymore. They’re threatening our relatives in Eastern Visayas,” said Marisa Cabalijao of People Surge Western Samar chapter. Another survivor said that just because they are criticising the government’s response, “it doesn’t mean we are automatically members of the New Peoples’ Army.”

With Cabalijao, Bishop Deogracias Yñiguez urged the public to support the storm survivors. “It is really shocking what our kababayan suffered, and what they’re still suffering now,” Yñiguez said. He called on the public and his fellow Church people to “continue to open their eyes to what are really happening, because much of what are happening are not reaching the public.”

Benedictine nun Eslopor also urged the public to support their efforts and their week of protests against the Gang of Five, as they demand justice from the Aquino’s criminal negligence and flawed rehabilitation efforts. (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/04/02/yolanda-survivors-set-a-week-of-protest-vs-aquino-led-gang-of-5/#sthash.WNclbYoP.dpuf




FEBRUARY 25, 2014
Rising from the devastation


It has been more than three months ago when I first set foot in Tacloban City. It was unfortunate that the first time I visited the city – referred to as one of the most beautiful in the country – it was during the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda.

When I stepped out of the bus when it reached Tacloban, I thought to myself, how can one rise from this devastation?

Homes, especially along the coastline, were crushed to the ground. It was impossible not to sense the fear and worries of the people. It was an eerie feeling; one could sense the feelings of despair and inconsolable grief in the air. If one is not tough enough, it was so easy to just give up.

That was how I – the outsider, the supposed independent but terribly affected observer – felt when we walked the streets of Tacloban and neighboring towns, carrying our tripod and camera, interviewing residents and documenting the havoc brought by the typhoon.

There are no words to describe the grief felt by those who were directly affected, those who lost their loved ones, their homes and livelihood to the typhoon.

The scenes that I saw imprinted in my mind, haunting me up to this day. It was surreal, a nightmare played out in real life.

Days before the One Billion Rising event, I interviewed Jessica Darantinao, a survivor of Typhoon Yolanda. She recalled what happened that fateful day as if it was only yesterday. Her eyes still show the grief the typhoon left. It was the same grief I saw in the eyes of the people I met and interviewed during my stay in Tacloban and neighboring towns.

But aside from grief, there was also rage in her eyes.

Jessica narrated how the government neglected the survivors. She belied claims that residents are fast recovering from the typhoon. Rehabilitation programs are marred with corruption issues and that there are those profiting from the supposed services for the affected residents.

This pushed the survivors of Yolanda to form People Surge, a movement that aims to demand justice for the negligence, which, according to Jessica, they have received from the government. Others tried to belittle their protest action, which was one of the biggest in recent years, saying that it was “merely” led by activists.

But knowing what residents went through, one could easily see that the negligence of the government is an injustice, a continuing calamity, being inflicted on the people. And it is the very same government and its negligence that bred the resilience and rage that led to the People Surge.

Tacloban City and the rest of the Yolanda-affected areas may longer be as “beautiful” as it used to. But the strength and determination being shown by the people is the most overwhelming, most beautiful I have ever seen. (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/02/25/rising-from-the-devastation/#sthash.sld1x2Ts.dpuf




MARCH 28, 2014
4 months after typhoon Haiyan| Children still struggling to cope, survive

The family’s livelihood, relief, and schools are what children need most to cope and recover, but even these are still scarce in areas devastated by the supertyphoon, more than four months after.


MANILA – Children are the most vulnerable during and after a disaster. Thus, immediately after supertyphoon Haiyan (local name: Yolanda) struck the Visayas islands, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) conducted psychosocial first aid on children traumatized by the tragedy that hit their province.

The findings of the CRC and other NGOs servicing children were shared in a forum series dubbed Ulat Bulilit. In the second series of Ulat Bulilit, which was sponsored by the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, held last March 5, children’s organizations and People Surge, an organization of survivors of typhoon Yolanda, reported the situation of children after the typhoon Yolanda wreaked havoc in Eastern Visayas.

“When typhoon Yolanda hit large parts of Leyte and Samar, most of the victims did not expect the extent of the damage that it caused primarily to their lives, livelihood, and their communities. These unexpected or sudden events have caused trauma, emotional stress and anxiety, especially among children,” said Jacquiline Ruiz, executive director of CRC.

Data from the Save the Children revealed that 41 percent of the 14 million affected by super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) are children.

Psychological effects on children

Ruiz added: “Seeing that everything dear to them – their house, their school, their friends’ and neighbors’ houses – were all swept away by the typhoon had a great impact on children.”

Ruiz said children in Palo, Leyte where they conducted a psychosocial activity, manifested intense fear during and after the typhoon. “Children shared that they heard the whistle of the wind and saw their roof, their cows and other farm animals, and their houses being taken away by the strong winds.”

“They feared for the lives of their friends and classmates,” Ruiz added.

Ruiz said the manifestations of trauma among children include: recurring nightmares, sleep problems (sleeping too much or having difficulties sleeping), loss of appetite or compulsive eating, changes in energy level (either feels tired all the time when before, he or she was highly energetic, or suddenly active when previously quiet), poor concentration, feelings of guilt for being alive, mood changes, easily irritable or gets angry, easily scared or worrisome. Many of these manifestations, according to Ruiz, were present in children who survived the typhoon.

“Although the time allotted for the psychosocial processing was limited, we tried to help them identify their strengths and vulnerabilities. The trauma that the children experienced during the typhoon were made even worse because their families have been struggling to survive, especially since they lost their livelihood,” said Ruiz.

Continuing trauma

Jessica Darantinao, convener of People Surge said children in the municipality of Carigara, Leyte are suffering from hunger. “The government started to deliver relief goods four days after the typhoon,” she said.

“We just harvested the fruits of the tumbled banana trees in our yard even if it was not yet ripe. We cooked the saba banana and put sugar so somehow it tasted better.”

“Adults could stand hunger for days but not the children. When there was no more food left, the children cried because of hunger,” said Darantinao who got emotional.

Darantinao added: “People in Eastern Visayas are already poor even before the typhoon. We could hardly find food to eat everyday even before typhoon Yolanda came.” She said that before the typhoon, an average family earned a meager P43 ($0.96) per day and those who were able to land jobs in factories earned P110 ($2.45) per day. “Some leave the province to work in nearby cities or in Manila. Children are even forced to work to help augment the income of the parents.”

The latest report from the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) showed that Eastern Visayas is the third poorest region in the Philippines. Thirty seven percent of its population or an estimated 4.2 million people are living below the poverty line.

“Eastern Visayas also has the highest percentage of undernourished children, affecting 20-30 percent, and malnourished children, affecting 60-70 percent,” Darantinao added.

Darantinao said the most effective way to help them recover from the devastation brought about by typhoon Yolanda is to help them restore their livelihood. Darantinao said 69.5 percent of the population in Eastern Visayas is from the agriculture and fisheries sector. People Surge’s data show that the damage on agriculture in Eastern Visayas has reached P65 billion ($1.449 billion).

“The typhoon has greatly damaged coconut trees and other crops, as well as fishing boats. She said the government estimate of the damage on agriculture in the region is conservative, pegged at P31 billion ($691 million) as of January.

That is why, Darantinao said, some of the survivors under the People Surge are here in Manila to demand to that the government addresses their immediate needs. She said that among their demands are for the distribution of P40,000 ($891) cash relief to every family affected by the typhoon and continuous distribution of relief goods until they are able to get back to their normal lives.

Kharlo Manano, secretary general of Salinlahi said the dismal conditions of women and children after the disaster make them vulnerable to sex trafficking. According to Manano, children as young as 10 years old are made to perform sexual acts with customers for a meager amount of P20 ($.45).
“And this could not have happened if only the government acted immediately after the disaster,” said Manano.


A report released by World Vision, Unicef, Save the Children and Plan International, entitled “After Yolanda: what children need, think and recommend” showed that children want to immediately return to school.

The said report documented the findings of consultations conducted with 124 children and young people affected by typhoon Yolanda. “The consultations were conducted in the hard-hit areas of Capiz, Cebu, Iloilo, Leyte and East and West Samar, and were aimed at seeking the views of children on the humanitarian situation, to find out what their priorities are and ask for suggestions to improve the responses to the disaster.”

According to the report, the priorities identified by children and young people are rebuilding homes, restoring electricity and returning to school.

According to the report, all the children and young people who participated in the consultations spoke about the importance of education. “Most children have already resumed schooling, either in Temporary Learning Centers set up by local authorities with the support of international agencies or in schools that were not damaged extensively by the typhoon. In some places, including North Cebu and Iloilo, classes are being held in the morning and cleaning and repairs of school buildings are taking place in the afternoon. Children in Iloilo said that they do not think a half day of classes is enough because school is the place where they normally spend most of their play time. However, in areas of West and East Samar where consultations were held, children reported that their classes have not yet started,” the report read.

The Department of Education (DepEd) said 17,620 classrooms in the Visayas region and Palawan needed to be replaced and repaired.

Manano said getting back to school helps children cope. “The government did not even immediately initiate rebuilding of schools, it was the international and national non-government organizations that responded to this particular need of the children.”

NGOs taking the lead in disaster response

Manano criticized the government’s delayed disaster response, especially to the needs of children. “We should take note that national and international NGOs have initiated immediate disaster response to the affected areas in Eastern Visayas when it should be the government – the country’s primary duty bearer.

Save the Children, for one, immediately set up “child center facilities” in areas in Eastern Visayas since last year.

Child Fund’s child protection officer Allan Nunez said they set up child center spaces during the first three months right after the typhoon. They also provided psychosocial interventions. They are also working closely with the Unicef and Save the Children in addressing the nutrition needs, protection and education of children in 40 heavily-damaged municipalities.

“The government should adhere to the demands of the victims, especially to the needs of children. The NGOs are only here to support,” said Karl Mark Labagala, project officer of Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia (Arcsea).

Ruiz pointed out that children have their own characteristics, capacities and skills to help them cope with and overcome their trauma. External factors such as the family or the support system are also important. “It is important to note that these children need help to cope and recover from the devastation brought by the disaster.” (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/03/28/4-months-after-typhoon-haiyan-children-still-struggling-to-cope-survive/#sthash.NMHS9Emj.dpuf




MARCH 21, 2014
Aquino forum on post-Yolanda reconstruction just ‘meaningless chatter’ – typhoon survivors

“It is the national government’s responsibility to lead the reconstruction… many private companies involved are not in there for humanitarian reasons but for profit.” – People Surge


MANILA – The People Surge alliance of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors boycotted the “Yolanda Transparency Forum” in Tacloban City, which was sponsored by the Aquino government and The Asia Foundation March 20. In Metro Manila, People Surge members and supporters marched to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang to call for genuine reconstruction efforts.

Sr. Editha Eslopor, spokesperson of People Surge, said they have studied what would be discussed in the forum – the Aquino government’s Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) – and they reject it “as anti-people, pro-big business, debt-driven and prone to corruption.” She urged her fellow survivors of typhoon Yolanda to guard against those who will use them to legitimize what she calls as a flawed reconstruction plan. The typhoon survivors call it flawed because, they said, it is not a meaningful reconstruction program as it would not result in the upliftment of the lives of majority of the typhoon-affected residents.

“If the Aquino government cannot even do the basics of providing relief operations and other short-term needs of the survivors, how much more for long-term recovery?” Eslopor asked.

Aquino’s RAY anti-people

Eslopor explained why the Aquino government’s RAY is against the interests of the people.

Under RAY, the government would allot ?18 billion ($400 million) for the recovery of agriculture in all regions affected by Yolanda, but the agricultural damage in Eastern Visayas alone amounted to ?65 billion ($1.444 billion). “How would the majority of the people, who depend on agriculture, be able to recover with the scant attention paid to their main means of livelihood?” Sr. Eslopor asked.

The spokesperson of People Surge also pointed out that the Aquino government is bent on handing over most of the projects for post-Yolanda reconstruction to the private sector. Sr. Eslopor said this does not bode well for the direction of the reconstruction, because “it is the national government’s responsibility to lead the reconstruction; and in the final analysis, many private companies involved are not in there for humanitarian reasons but for profit.”

The People Surge likewise snubbed the Aquino government’s “pretences” at transparency. Eslopor said the government should be held accountable by the people’s movement. She cited the continuous complaints of the people that they are not receiving aid, despite the Aquino government’s “attempts to feign transparency.”

Eslopor reiterated the typhoon survivors’ basic demands for food, cash assistance, livelihood and social services. She said their long-term recovery efforts should be hinged on genuinely serving the peoples’ interests.
Sr. Edita Eslopor shows the Malacañang-received copy of their petition, signed by 17,585 Yolanda survivors. (Photo by M. Salamat / www.bulatlat.com)
Sr. Edita Eslopor shows a copy of their petition, signed by 17,585 Yolanda survivors. (File Photo by M. Salamat / www.bulatlat.com)

Leaders of People Surge have come to Metro Manila on the 100th day of Yolanda to submit a petition signed by 17,000 Yolanda survivors. They have also tried to engage the Aquino government in dialogues, but a few weeks into trying, and meeting either “insults” or the usual run-around from government agencies, Eslopor concluded that they can expect nothing from the Aquino government. (http://bulatlat.com)
- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/03/21/aquino-forum-on-post-yolanda-reconstruction-just-meaningless-chatter-typhoon-survivors/#sthash.AcZxgNQj.dpuf




MARCH 28, 2014
Yolanda affected fishers received ‘epoxy’ from government

“Subsistence fisherfolk need new boats, at least 10-12 horse power motor engines and new nets because all their fishing gears were swept away during super typhoon Yolanda.”


NEW WASHINGTON, Aklan- Could fisherfolk revive their livelihood after being devastated by a super typhoon with a tube of adhesive, some pieces of plywood and few kilos of nails? It seems the government thinks so.

The fisherfolk group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) learned that small fisherfolk affected by super typhoon Yolanda in New Washington, Aklan province merely received “epoxy,” (a brand of adhesive) some pieces of plywood and few kilos of nails from the government’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), which, the group said, is grossly ridiculous and highly revolting.

In a consultation held in Tambak village last March 26, one of the Yolanda stricken areas in this coastal town of Aklan, Pamalakaya found out that the fishing village composed of 3,041 population and 769 households, mostly full time fishermen, has yet to receive substantial rehabilitation assistance from national and local government agencies.

The consultation with Yolanda fisherfolk victims was facilitated by Pamalakaya-Aklan, Task Force Tabang Aklan and the Iloilo City based Fisheries Marine Environment Research Institute (FMERI). It was attended by nearly 100 village leaders and members of the local fisherfolk group affiliated with Pamalakaya.

Pamalakaya and other organizations said the BFAR’s Rehabilitation Initiative that involves the building of 10,000 fishing boats for 20,000 families who had been affected by last November’s super-typhoon was never felt in Aklan and other areas stricken by super typhoon Yolanda.

They said BFAR’s rehabilitation program for fishing communities affected by super typhoon Yolanda was more of a “praise release” rather than a concrete one. ?

“Subsistence fisherfolk need new boats, at least 10-12 horse power motor engines and new nets because all their fishing gears were swept away during super typhoon Yolanda. Yet, what they got from the national government were tubes of mighty bond, some plywood and a few kilos of nails. This token approach to rehabilitation will not rebuild livelihood and restore lives,” the Pamalakaya research team said.

“The Aquino administration is not doing anything that is substantial. It is resorting to tokenistic rehabilitation, which is tantamount to criminal neglect and state abandonment of responsibility to the people,” the group noted.

Pamalakaya said in barangay Tambak, a total of 234 houses were partially damaged and 384 houses were severely damaged. Quoting a report compiled by Task Force Tabang Aklan and FMERI, the Pamalakaya staff researcher also said 50 percent of the small fish cages being maintained by small fishing families along the 10-hectare coastline beach were destroyed which cost P 10,000 ($222) per fish cage.

Pamalakaya said in Barangay Cawayan composed of 3,784 fisherfolk and farming residents, a total of 284 houses were destroyed, and about 35 pumpboats were washed away. In Barangay Poblacion, 80 percent of fishing and aqua farms were destroyed and about 561 houses were either totally or partially damaged.

In Barangay Ochando, around 45 motorized boats were swept away by strong winds to high seas at the height of super typhoon Yolanda, while 204 houses with 3,038 total population were destroyed.

In Barangay Pinamuk-an, 30 small motorized fishing boats were swept away, 120 fish cages and 298 nets were destroyed; while in Barangay Polo, 52 motorized bancas were swept to the sea, including 169 nets and 42 fish cages. In Barangay Fatima, 36 motorized boats and five commercial sized fishing boats were either destroyed or swept away; also lost were 60 fishing nets.

Pamalakaya said in Barangay Dumaguit, 51 small fishing boats were lost and around 132 fish cages were swept away.


“So what’s the use of epoxy, plywood and some kilos of nails? The government is treating the situation as if Yolanda never came to Aklan. This is stupidity to the highest order,” the group said.

FMERI, Pamalakaya-Aklan and Task Force Tabang Aklan also said typhoon Yolanda affected at least six fishing and farming barangays in Kalibo, nine barangays in Numancia, eight barangays in Tangalan, seven barangays in Altavas and eight barangays in Batan.

Last year, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) of Aklan issued its final Damage Assessment Report, which pegged the damage brought by Yolanda to the province at P 2.8 billion ($62 million).

Rowena Narciso, Task Force Tabang Aklan coordinator, said the government did not immediately release the funds to help the survivors despite the despite the widespread clamor and there are no any indications that it will make good with its promise to give P30,000 ($666) to families with totally damaged houses and P10,000 ($222) to families with partially damaged houses.

Slow response, inaction

“Since super typhoon Yolanda struck the province, all that the government extended was just 2.5 kilos of rice and some cans of sardines. For families whose houses and livelihood were destroyed, which is the case for most of the affected families in Aklan, this paltry assistance could not even adequately support an average family for one whole day. This is disheartening especially in the face of the fact that extension of assistance to typhoon-affected communities and families is the primary responsibility of the government,” Narciso said.

On March 7, Task Force Tabang Aklan and Pamalakaya-Aklan Moreover held a picket-dialogue with the Provincial Office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Aklan Provincial Social Welfare. During the dialogue, the provincial development and welfare officer confirmed that the national government has not released any funds to help the Aklanon survivors of super typhoon Yolanda. (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/03/28/yolanda-affected-fishers-received-epoxy-from-government/#sthash.Rye6Yy1y.dpuf




NOVEMBER 21, 2013

Disaster aggravated

So much has been said about the resilience and fighting spirit of the Filipino people as exemplified by the millions of families ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan). Such praise is not misplaced given that the vast majority of our people have long been suffering under socioeconomic conditions that have kept them constantly treading the water to survive, barely keeping their heads above it, and sinking to extinction with every adverse event or circumstance.

But it is wrong and deceitful to use this as a camouflage for sheer incompetence, criminal negligence, lack of genuine concern, preoccupation with image-building and a propensity for finger-pointing, hand-washing, and massaging of facts that the Aquino government has displayed in the wake of this latest calamity visited upon our calamity-prone archipelago.

Such calamities (usually described as "natural" but, invariably, also man-made) are a fact of life in a country geographically located and geophysically constituted so as to be regularly visited by typhoons and storm surges, shaken by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, deluged by floods and buried by landslides. The increasing frequency and fury of bizarre weather disturbances attributable to climate change, largely the result of environmental destruction and degradation carried out primarily by highly industrialized economies while ravaging the more vulnerable developing countries, are harbingers that the situation for island-nations such as ours can only go from bad to worse.

However, human intervention, most especially the organized, systematic , comprehensive and widespread kind that only governments both national and local can put together with the cooperation of an enlightened citizenry, can prevent a natural calamity from becoming a total disaster. There is such a thing after all as disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness even before and apart from rescue, relief and rehabilitation. This much has been proven not just by advanced capitalist countries such as Japan but even more convincingly and heroically by resource-poor, socialist countries such as Cuba.

Concrete proof of the Aquino administration’s shortsightedness is the presidential veto on budget allocations for disaster preparedness, specifically “pre-disaster activities such as preparation of relocation sites/facilities and training personnel engaged in direct disaster (sic)” under the government’s calamity fund. President Benigno S. Aquino (“B.S.” Aquino for short) irrationally put pre-emptive and mitigation measures in unnecessary conflict with requisite quick response capabilities during and immediately after a calamity when the former should be given priority attention and is actually key to the latter’s effectiveness.

And where have the hundreds of billions of presidential and congressional pork, i.e. lump sum, discretionary funds loudly defended by “B.S.” Aquino, gone? We all know the answer in light of the non-stop exposes of how government officials at the highest levels have diverted funds meant for disaster preparedness, relief and rehabilitation to ghost projects under the name of bogus NGOs.

Unfortunately for the victims of typhoon Yolanda in the provinces of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, Bohol, Negros provinces, Panay provinces, Palawan, Bicol and Mindoro, the Aquino regime’s “quick response” has turned out to be appallingly slow, disorganized, inadequate and even non-existent in many areas. Contrary to “B.S.” Aquino’s constant reassurances that the government was totally prepared with pre-positioned relief goods, air/sea craft and rescue equipment standing by, more than adequate funds ready for quick disbursement and the national and local government machinery on red alert, the scene in Tacloban City, Leyte where Defense Secretary Gazmin and Local Government Secretary Roxas had set up their command center, was total chaos as late as five days after the typhoon hit.

“B.S.” Aquino was forced to eat his words only after the real situation was broadcast by local and foreign media by which time, the effete president could only harp on how local government units failed to prepare, understate the grievousness of the situation by downscaling the number of deaths and the extent of devastation, then belatedly acknowledge the destructiveness of Typhoon Yolanda in order to blame it for the “breakdown of practically everything”, thus rendering his government paralyzed to inutility.

To be fair, the government’s weather agency PAG-ASA and Project NOAH had commendably done their part by predicting with remarkable accuracy the typhoon strength, scope and path, including the height of the storm surge waters and the affected municipalities. All these vital information was forwarded to Malacanang and all concerned government agencies as early as Nov 5, three days before the storm’s landfall. Additionally, the scientific community – government, academe and NGOs – has repeatedly warned of vulnerabilities and hazards practically throughout the archipelago as a result of its being in the typhoon path, the Pacific Rim of Fire, and on the fault-laden Pacific trenches.

Clearly, delegating disaster preparedness and response to the local government units while allowing national funds and resources to be hijacked and misused by unscrupulous government officials amount to unconscionable criminal negligence for which there should be accountability.

Why is it necessary to expose the truth at the risk of being labeled as inveterate critics and naysayers? Because government is lying and covering up. Because government has to be pushed to act rather than drag its feet. Because government has to be unmasked for its failures, its anti-people policies and programs that have caused so much misery, deaths and destroyed lives. Or else continue in this vicious cycle.

This is not a pointless exercise. This doesn’t go against mobilizing non-government efforts to make up for the patchy and woefully inadequate government response. This is not so-called Filipino “crab mentality” at work. Shining a light on the ugly, dark reality of government ineptness, corruption and deception especially in times of national emergencies is a necessary step to breaking the vicious cycle.

Just as there is a welcome and heartening surfeit of compassion and aid locally and from abroad, there is also no lack of prescriptions on disaster preparedness as well as relief and rehabilitation response. All of these prescriptions are not only correct but also long overdue. Most of them are not even new.

All are derived from lessons from disasters here and abroad, paid for by the blood and tears of countless victims, mostly the poor and vulnerable. The more crucial question then is why have these prescriptions not been put in place, given the perennial incidence of these tragedies?

It is now all too obvious that the answer does not lie in satellite images, sensors and forecasts, much less in grandiose plans, presentations and media statements.

The answer lies in the political will of government, to first of all lift the large mass of Filipinos from poverty that makes them most vulnerable to these calamities, and second to see to it that all available information and knowledge -- from scientific data to lessons learned from past experiences -- are used to devise and implement national as well as local plans and measures to mitigate if not avoid massive loss of lives, dislocation and destruction. #

Published in Business World
22-23 November 2013


MARCH 14, 2014
Organization of victims finally meets with Social Welfare Sec. Soliman

“She [Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman] is very patronizing. She showed no compassion – here there are typhoon victims who are crying because they are getting no help, but she is not bothered.” – Monique Wilson, director, One Billion Rising


MANILA – Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman and officers of People Surge, an alliance of victims of supertyphoon Yolanda, finally met for a dialogue this Wednesday March 12 at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office in Quezon City, despite Soliman’s protestations that typhoon victims should have been in the Visayas and not in the capital. The officers of People Surge, led by its chairwoman Benedictine nun Edita Eslopor, had travelled to the capital last month to bring to the national government’s attention “the real situation in Eastern Visayas” after Yolanda.

Their dialogue lasted an hour, while outside other members and supporters of People Surge were conducting a picket-protest.

The Yolanda (Haiyan) typhoon survivors and supporters were asking Soliman why the DSWD has announced it would stop relief distribution by the end of this month despite the fact that many in the typhoon-ravaged areas have not yet recovered their livelihood, and why, among others, the government’s relief distribution has been very slow and has failed to reach many underserved villages including those near the highway in Leyte.

People Surge leaders also tried to follow up on a petition they submitted to the Office of the President 100 days after Yolanda. Signed by 17,000 petitioners from Eastern Visayas, they were asking the Aquino government for P40,000 ($888) immediate cash relief per family, to help them survive as they struggle to get back on their feet; for the continuation of relief distribution until such time that the people have recovered their livelihoods; and for the scrapping of the policy called No-Build Zone, which bars typhoon victims from rebuilding their houses in its former coastal location.

Soliman said the government cannot give the P40,000($888) cash relief to every affected family in Eastern Visayas, because, at 280,000 families, that would amount to P5 billion ($111 million). She did not give any reason why the government cannot spend P5-billion for cash relief, but she later said the Commission on Audit is watching them and they will be asked: ‘What is the basis for releasing funds?’

Instead of cash relief, Soliman cited the government’s upcoming new batch of cash-for-work program involving a 15-day minimum-wage paying work for cleanup or rebuilding tasks. But members of People Surge said cash-for-work is not sustainable. They would have wanted to rebuild their livelihood and the cash relief they are demanding would have helped.

Soliman said the families under the CCT program (Conditional Cash Transfer) have also twice received aid. But members of People Surge said not all of the typhoon victims urgently needing relief and rehabilitation are covered by the CCT program, which they also criticized as a dole-out, stop-gap solution to poverty.

A clash of expectation, a clash between report and reality

Soliman denied they had announced a stop to relief distribution by end of March. But by then, she said, only those “truly in need” would be given relief. She branded as “impostors” those who put up signages announcing the end of DSWD relief distribution. Sr. Edita Eslopor said she saw such announcements posted “in many corners of the airport” and in other places in Eastern Visayas. Soliman claimed she did not see such signages when she was there on March 5.

How would the DSWD determine who are “truly in need” and who can stand on their own feet? How it defines “typhoon victims in need of relief” has already clashed with the definition for example, of Gabriela members in the Visayas. The Aquino administration has supposedly mapped the areas most severely devastated by Yolanda. According to Soliman, they are focusing relief on municipalities within the radius of the most severely affected areas. But People Surge and Gabriela are saying that there are families in upland and other villages not within the government-determined radius who are also hungry and devastated.

Joan Salvador, Gabriela’s officer for international relations, said even some of their members in Leyte who live within the government-marked radius and within sight of the highway have also complained of nil relief from the government.

By end of March, Soliman said they would conduct an assessment where it would be determined who are qualified to continue receiving government relief packs.

Soliman parried complaints of meagre to no relief reaching the needy by ticking off figures of how many foodpacks the DSWD had released to municipalities in Eastern Visayas.

But when asked how such foodpacks were actually distributed and if the DSWD has a way of monitoring the situation of those in need, Soliman “washed her hands off the problem,” stage actress Monique Wilson told Bulatlat.com by the end of the dialogue.

Citing the devolution of functions under the Local Government Code, Soliman said “We have no mandate to go directly to villages.”

Because of the devolution, the DSWD, which is a national agency, has to coordinate with the local government unit who, in turn, coordinates with their barangays or villages. Soliman said they could not command the welfare officers employed by local government units.

“Every time we go to medical missions we hear complaints that the people are not receiving any relief,” Eslopor said.

Soliman again cited the devolution, saying they are “incapable of going from village to village”. The only monitoring the DSWD can do is “spot-checking.”

The data Soliman cited to parry complaints about nil relief from government “came from municipal welfare offices.”

Soliman said they will investigate if there are reports reaching them. But four months after Yolanda and amid persistent complaints from people on the ground about meagre or no government relief, no one has yet been charged.

Salvador of Gabriela said they have given names of places complaining of little action from the government in a dialogue with the DSWD Regional Director on Feb. 24. “But, until now, there has been no action. Nothing has moved forward,” Salvador told Bulatlat.com.


Reacting to complaints about the scarcity of relief, Soliman said “Stories can be easily made up.”

An officer of People Surge countered, “So can reports of distributed relief – it can also be made up.”

Asked about what the DSWD has done in response to the list of areas that scarcely received relief packs, which was submitted to their regional director on Feb. 24, Soliman told Bulatlat.com they have not received such a list, adding that claims saying the DSWD had been given such list were just “lies.”

Soliman told reporters after the dialogue that she cannot understand why they (referring to People Surge) don’t want to give the DSWD the names of the families who are complaining.

During the dialogue, Sr Eslopor had said there is fear among the people in Eastern Visayas, because of experiences where those who criticized the government had been punished, harassed or even murdered.

“Here (In Eastern Visayas), if someone reports a wrongdoing by the government, they fear its repercussion because it’s their life and livelihood that’s on the line,” Eslopor said. For example, a government employee who witnessed a truckload of expired rice hastily buried away cannot easily disclose this for fear of losing his or her job, Eslopor said.

“This is why the people would rather ask the People Surge and organizations such as Gabriela to bring their message across,” the members of People Surge said.

Soliman’s CCT has also been criticized as being used for counter-insurgency, as the government seems to be using this to conduct surveillance and to control certain families especially in what they consider as “rebel-infested” areas.

During the dialogue, on top of asking for names of complainants, Soliman had also proposed to send “people” to members of People Surge to help them craft proposals and apply for cash-for-work program.

Soliman also said the DSWD can only transact with local governments (and not the likes of People Surge) in matters involving relief distribution. However, toward the end of the dialogue, she expressed a desire to partner with international NGOs who received millions of Yolanda (Haiyan) donations.

No compassion

The dialogue with Social Welfare Sec. Dinky Soliman was frustrating for Monique Wilson who sat and participated. During the dialogue, Wilson had asked Soliman why the DSWD gives “the onus of responsibility to people who are already hungry, have no means to communicate and who fear for their life if they identify themselves when they complained about government neglect.”

Asked about her take of the dialogue, she said she was struck by Soliman’s lack of humility, of her inability to accept responsibilities.

“She is not bothered by reports that relief packs are not reaching the people,” Wilson said.

“She’s very patronizing. She showed no compassion – here there are typhoon victims who are crying because they are getting no help, but she is not bothered.”

As far as Soliman is concerned, what the Aquino government is doing has been approved by the typhoon victims in Eastern Visayas, citing the results of the December survey of the Social Weather Stations, which supposedly showed that the respondents approved of their efforts.

Asked why she keeps citing that survey, where only 650 people from the Visayas were asked, compared to the 17,000 who signed the People Surge petition submitted to Aquino 100 days after Yolanda, Soliman replied: “Where are those 17,000? (http://bulatlat.com)

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2014/03/14/organization-of-victims-finally-meets-with-social-welfare-sec-soliman/#sthash.5ZuY9f3W.dpuf