A typhoon is a natural calamity. A tragedy is man-made.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) stands in solidarity with the survivors of Yolanda, who have received little but damning neglect three months after the worst storm to make land-fall in the country’s history. These protests will continue for so long as the victims of Yolanda and similar calamities have yet to secure justice.
Just last month, thousands of people – young and old, farmers, fisherfolk, and working-class families from across Samar and Leyte joined a “People’s Surge” organized by progressive groups. At least 12,000 of them marched through Tacloban city in a ‘gesture of indignation’ at the government’s scant relief efforts1. Today, protesters continue to question the administration’s priorities, pointing to its hands-off approach and over-reliance on the private sector. Already, big business interests, land speculators and favoured contractors are rushing to stake their claims on the rehabilitation operations. Profit-oriented real estate developers are taking over rehousing projects to build homes that will doubtless cost families much more than they can afford.
The Aquino administration’s chosen “rehab czar”, Panfilo Lacson, has openly declared his support for this private-sector led rehabilitation framework, to ensure “efficiency and effective delivery of aid”.
Despite this, communities beyond Tacloban city proper report government aid reaching them only rarely, if at all. Prices for commodities as basic as food, fuel, and clean drinking water continue to spiral out of reach of the most impoverished families who were vulnerable even before Yolanda made landfall. And despite government claims to the contrary, local energy grids have not been fully restored – even in Tacloban city proper, where thousands of homes, regional public hospitals and schools, including Eastern Visayas State University, still depend on private generators to supply electricity. At night, even San Juanico bridge is mostly cloaked in darkness.
None of this is new. Victims of other calamities, like Typhoon Pablo in Mindanao, have endured similar neglect in the past. From overpriced bunkbeds to aid delivered to anyone but the victims who need it most, the state of Eastern Visayas (where communities have, for the most part, relied on themselves for survival and recovery) three months after Yolanda made landfall, testifies to the political system’s willingness to profit from a tragedy that was largely of its own making. With bodies still missing and basic clean-up operations stalled, effective long-term rehabilitation for some 15 million people affected by the calamity seems increasingly unlikely.
Tens of thousands have been victimized all over again, with countless more still homeless, landless and jobless and with few prospects of fully recovering from one of the worst calamities of this scale in the country’s history — unless they act together and demand justice for themselves.
CEGP believes only long-term solutions to poverty, inequality and human vulnerability; on top of support by the government for community-led recovery efforts, and genuine moves toward sustainable development, will prevent similar tragedies like Yolanda from ever happening on this scale again.###