By Rio N. Araja, Christine F. Herrera and Maricel V. CruzDinky earns ire of storm victims with useless offer
ANGRY Yolanda survivors from Eastern Visayas walked out of a meeting with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman Wednesday to express their disgust over the government’s failure to provide them with adequate help.
Soliman triggered resentment when she blamed local government units for the lack of relief in many devastated barangays and towns four months after Yolanda flattened the provinces, and for the food aid that had to be buried because it had gone bad.
Soliman also refused demands for immediate cash assistance of P40,000 for each survivor family.
“We have nothing to talk about. We thank you for inviting us to a dialogue,” Sister Elfleda Eslopor, a Benedictine nun and leader of the People Surge alliance of Yolanda survivors, told Soliman.
The nun then stood up and left Soliman behind.
“Of course, we will leave her. It’s useless. Is this a basketball? She keeps on passing the responsibility to the local government,” Eslopor told the Manila Standard.
Earlier, Soliman said the pork barrel scandal had stopped her department from tapping non-government organizations to extend help to the victims of the super typhoon, and said it could not be held accountable for the non-distribution of relief, since these goods had already been turned over to local officials who should take charge of the distribution.
“If there is non-distribution of relief goods, please report it to us so we would know and check from the mayors or governors why our relief goods were not able to reach the victims. Please state the address,” Soliman said.
Soliman also said it was the local governments’ responsibility to carry out the cash-for-work program.
“We can only give technical assistance, but cannot give money directly to you. I can mobilize our regional offices to help you seek help from the local government units,” Soliman told the typhoons survivors.
But their representatives refused Soliman’s offer.
“So, we cannot expect anything from the national government,” Joel Abano, another member of People Surge, told Soliman.
Gabriela and People Surge called Soliman’s offer a band-aid solution.
Responding to Soliman’s call for them to report problems to the DSWD hotline, Gabriela’s Joan Salvador told Soliman: “The people are hungry and tired. They do not even have cell phones, then you tell us that?”
“As a national agency, we give to the LGUs our assistance,” Soliman said.
Soliman also said that relief would only be made available beyond March to “those who cannot stand on their own” and that assistance to others would stop by the end of the month.
By then, she added, people would already be enrolled in a food-for-work program.
But when Gabriela’s Emmi de Jesus asked how many people had been enrolled in the program, Soliman said her office had yet to collate the data.
“And how, if I may ask, do you define people that are already stable and can stand on their own feet?”
Soliman said by March 31, she expects the people to have regular income.
“And how many are they?” De Jesus asked.
“We don’t know yet. We are still collating the data,” Soliman replied.
During the meeting, Soliman acted as if it was the first time she heard of their woes.
“The DSWD has been giving us rotten food that’s unfit for human consumption,” one of the Yolanda survivors told Soliman.
“Is that true? From what barangay are you? This is the first time I’ve heard of that. You must understand that we are undermanned and it’s usually the local executives that distribute the relief goods,” Soliman replied.
The typhoon survivors got even angrier because Soliman appeared distant and distracted and talked to them with a “poker face,” said De Jesus.
“Soliman is clueless and doesn’t know what she’s doing. This government is really indifferent to the hapless and helpless victims of Yolanda,” she said.
Some 100 survivors picketed outside the DSWD headquarters while the dialogue was ongoing.
Garbriela on Wednesday filed a resolution in the House urging President Benigno Aquino III to grant the demand of the survivors for P40,000 immediate financial assistance to the 3.4 million families affected by the typhoon.
In a resolution, Gabriela party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan said also urged the government to source the funds from the remaining 2013 Quick Response Fund, the P14.6 billion supplemental budget, the Presidential Social Fund, and cash grants from foreign aid pledges, among other sources.
Ilagan said the post-disaster actions and measures undertaken by the government had been dismally poor and wanting after four months of waiting for meaningful relief.
“Considering that donations, both domestic and foreign, as well as allocations of government funds are made to and for the victims, it is only fitting that the government listens, and listens intently, to the victims themselves,” Ilagan said.
“Unfortunately, most disaster response prioritizes Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership projects, investing larger amount of funds for the rehabilitation of infrastructure, instead of investing more on agriculture which is the most damaged sector and the basic livelihood of the people in the affected areas,” Ilagan said.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a member of the opposition, supported the call for financial assistance for Yolanda survivors.
But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. rejected financial assistance for Yolanda survivors.
“After they have spent it, what then?” Belmonte asked. “For me, [we should] hire them to work on the rehabilitation of their own homes,” the Speaker added.
Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III added that financial assistance to the typhoon victims would only promote mendicancy, noting that a long term plan—and a livelihood—should be provided to the Yolanda victims.
But Ilagan said said the government has money to spend P200 million on substandard bunkhouses that will benefit only 100 families at an overpriced cost of P1 million for every substandard unit.
“Yet it keeps telling the victims it has no money and no solution for the requested P40,000 financial assistance per family,” Ilagan said.
She added the resolution is intended to move the Aquino government to provide the necessary funding for the Yolanda survivors.
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