Yolanda Survivors: People not Pawns


Photos by CJ Chanco























A few days ago, survivors of supertyphoon Yolanda presented Malacanang with a list of their immediate demands: the quick delivery of long-promised food aid, the construction of decent temporary shelters,  cash relief amounting to Php 40,000 per family,  the cancellation of a ‘No-Build Zone’ policy in parts of Eastern Visayas.

President Aquino rejected the proposal outright.

The petition was signed by over 17,000 people, among the thousands who marched – in a mass mobilisation   dubbed a “People’s Surge” – across Tacloban city last month, demanding food, housing, and long-term rehabilitation for their communities.

Recently Panfilo Lacson, anointed ‘czar’ of the government’s rehabilitation efforts, denounced the protesters as “pawns” of “communist agitators”, presumably operating under the “legal front” of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which was just one among dozens of organisations that took part in the Surge.

The Guild believes the government’s response, on both counts, demonstrates nothing but open contempt for some 15 million people whose lives were torn apart by Yolanda.

Lacson’s comments are a slap in the face for millions who have yet to recover from the calamity in a region that was already one of the poorest and most vulnerable in the country. His red-tagging of the protests is the standard response of nearly every dictatorship throughout history, who brush aside all political opposition as the work of external provocateurs, rather than the legitimate grievances of  a society long-deprived and neglected.

It serves to strip people of their agency, to deny them even of the dignity of rage.

For despite the government’s claims to the contrary, hundreds of thousands of families have received not a penny of long-term aid or support, in any form (apart from a few bags of relief goods), from the government – more than three months after Yolanda.

That the Aquino administration thumbed down their petition for relief, with the standard excuse “that there is no money”, is hardly surprising. It sees no alternative to the rehabilitation programme it has set out in advance for the storm victims, largely without their participation.

But Php 40,000 is in reality no more than a representative figure: the estimated amount a typical family in post-Yolanda Eastern Visayas needs to survive. It can be in cash or in kind. At the very least, these funds are more than enough to rebuild a small shack without relying on government-“donated” temporary bunkhouses which Architect Jun Palafox has  criticised as failing to meet basic international standards for safety.

Apparently this is beyond the President’s comprehension. He sees it as a short-term dole out,  somehow unsustainable.

It has all the money in the world, of course, to defend the interests of the President’s family in Hacienda Luisita. All the money in the world to invest in an internet security framework to implement the new cyber-libel law. All the money in the world to favour the interests of big business in seamy public-private partnership contracts that demolish people’s homes, uproot mountains, profit from cheap labour, intensify climate change and the dispossession of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable.

No money at all for the victims of the worst storm to make land-fall in Philippine history. Instead, President Aquino boasts of long-term solutions:

“Sa totoo lang, binabalangkas na natin yung kumpletong solusyon para sa pagtugon nung ating tinatawag na more climate-resilient o disaster-resilient communities” [In truth, we are already working on a comprehensive framework, toward building more climate-resilient or disaster-resilient communities]

But we have seen these “communities”. We have seen the government’s “balangkas” – its so-called framework.

We believe it is a framework for the abandonment of our people to the whims of the private sector, a rehabilitation strategy openly endorsed by Lacson himself, where a narrow handful of corporations and vested interests that have controlled the levers of our economy since time immemorial can profit, yet again, from the greatest tragedy our country has faced in decades.

Indeed, housing for the victims of Yolanda has been left to the private sector, to the same real estate investors that brought us luxury condominiums at the Fort. Public services and the restoration of the electric grid have been auctioned off to the private sector, leaving even San Juanico bridge still in total darkness, and public hospitals, schools, and thousands of homes dependent on diesel-fueled generators at night. Roads are being rebuilt by the same contractors that profit enormously from under-the-table deals with politicians every election season.

In reality, communities are being rebuilt and restored by people who owe nothing to this administration, and who owe themselves the dignity of Rage.

Today, the only storm our people have to defend themselves against is the hurricane whipped up by a system where the lives of millions have been made meaningless.

The People’s Surge

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