Storm of protests set

Yolanda survivors, militants vow to surge at Palace gates

SURVIVORS of super typhoon Yolanda plan to storm Malacañang today as they warned that President Benigno Aquino III is “criminally liable for the government’s slow and insensitive action on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of calamity-stricken areas.”

Sister Edita Eslopor, chairperson of the 12,000-strong alliance of Yolanda survivors called People Surge, said they are not ruling out the possibility of filing criminal charges against the President and government officials responsible for the rehabilitation and reconstruction program.

100 days later. Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez
(leftmost), his wife Councilor Cristina Romualdez,
other city officials and representatives from various
NGOs and international humanitarian groups and
the interfaith sectors gather at the Tacloban
Astrodome on Sunday 100 days after super Yolanda
hit the Visayas.
“We will surge in Metro Manila streets...The situation is getting worse for the people of Eastern Visayas,” said the Benedictine nun in a statement to mark the 100th day afer the storm.

Simultaneous protests will be staged in Mendiola, in Manila, and in Tacloban City, where the bulk of protesters will gather.

“The people need more than relief operations that will not last forever...But because they still live in uncertainty a hundred days after the storm, the Aquino government only reinforces their fears for the future,” Eslopor added. “The people are suffering, and they are seething because the government cannot assure the most basic needs such as food, livelihood, housing and social services.”

In Tacloban, Mayor Alfredo Romualdez told a crowd gathered to commemorate the 100th day since the storm that they were heroes for having survived Yolanda.

He also denied allegations that Eastern Visayas was unprepared for the storm, or rumors that the commercial hub would be transferred elsewhere.

Romualdez urged his constituents to gain strength by keeping in their hearts and minds the memories of their loved ones, and to show the whole world what they can do with the help they are getting from the international community.

“We will show them that we will be empowered and we will bring a stronger city and most of all we will build now a stronger family. We will show them the real and true image of a Taclobanon,” he said.

Eslopor said protesters would bring with them a petition signed by the survivors demanding P40,000 in financial assistance per family as well as for the lifting of the no-build zones along coastal areas that have been identified as danger zones by the government.

The scenes of destruction in the
city and protesters (topmost) at
the University of the Philippines
in Diliman, Quezon City, slamming
the poor government efforts to
help the victims.
“We abhor the heartlessly callous government of Aquino who, instead of prioritizing and consulting the victims of Typhoon Yolanda on what they actually need, has appointed a blood-stained military man to take charge of its cold-hearted efforts of reconstruction that focuses on graft-ridden infrastructure for its business allies instead of social support to the farmer and urban poor who have no opportunity to get

back on its feet immediately,” Eslopor added, referring to presidential assistant on rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson.

In a phone interview, Lacson denied that the government had been slow in responding to the needs of the calamity survivors.

“If we go by the experiences of other countries that were hit by similar calamities, we are not slow. Bandah Aceh for example was hit by a deadly tsunami in December 2004. They had not started to implement their rehabilitation blueprint until after Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto was appointed rehabilitation czar in April 2005,” Lacson told Manila Standard.

“(Hurricane) Katrina (in the United States), Haiti (earthquake) and other rehabilitation efforts in the other parts of the world took even longer periods to accomplish their reconstruction work. Having said that, the government is exerting all efforts to speed up the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts by applying some out-of-the-box approaches without sacrificing the call of President Aquino to build back better,” he added.

Lacson was appointed less than a month after super typhoon Yolanda devastated 171 cities and municipalities on Nov. 8, mostly in Eastern Visayas.

“We are improvising a bottom-up approach to expedite the process of the post disaster needs assessment (PDNA) in accordance with United Nations protocol. We do this by going down to the local government units and not wait for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to finish the PDNA,” he said.

“Still, close consultation and coordination with the critical national line agencies will be done before implementing the LGU-prepared rehabilitation and development plans based on their individual needs assessments,” Lacson added.

Eslopor, however, insisted that Yolanda survivors have all the just reasons to criticize the Aquino government.

She said that despite the billions of pesos in donations and three months after Yolanda struck, calamity victims are still suffering.

“They have no food to eat, no shelter above their heads and no livelihood to help them survive. This government has apparently forgotten and forsaken them,” she said.

“This government has also turned the rehabilitation into a racket with substandard and overpriced infrastructures like bunk houses and tents. This is the true picture of daang matuwid (straight path),” Eslopor added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said the government is expediting efforts to ensure that lives of Yolanda survivors return to normal at the soonest possible time.

“The government is firmly determined to carry out massive rehabilitation efforts in all 171 municipalities and cities affected by this unprecedented calamity,” Coloma said.

“We realize that despite its best efforts, government is unable to adequately respond to all the needs of all the affected families and individuals. We continue to welcome suggestions on how we can improve our response and assistance. We will act on reports of abuse or anomaly in the provision of relief services,” he added.

A civic group, One Tacloban, laid down over 10,000
balloons along the highway in Tacloban City to
commemorate the tragedy. AFP, with Manny Palmero
and LGU Tacloban Facebook
Coloma said the President has also directed members of the Cabinet to prepare a detailed roadmap for effective response to disasters before the onset of the rainy season in June.

“This will include adoption of new emergency alert protocols for storm surge, floods, and landslides; strict implementation of no-build zones along coastlines; and higher standards for disaster resiliency of

buildings and infrastructure,” Coloma said.

The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, however, said the “privatized reconstruction” in calamity-hit areas will not really address the needs of Yolanda survivors.

“Privatized reconstruction under the Aquino regime will not work for the people. The thrust of this framework is the development of business, and not the actual needs of the people, especially those in agriculture and fisheries,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

“The entire Visayas has been subdivided among the biggest businesses in the country, supposedly for reconstruction and rehabilitation. The disturbing thing is that people’s needs are not at the center of this program. Government wants to take a back-seat and let big business take over,” he added.

The 171 cities and municipalities affected by Yolanda were divided into 24 areas of intervention and development or AID.

Eighteen AID areas have been adopted by companies such as PLDT-Smart-Metro Pacific Group, ICTSI Group, Metrobank, Injap Group, Lopez Group, Aboitiz Group, and the Engineering Equipment Inc. of the Yuchengco Group.

Based on a study conducted by the People Surge, more than 2 million farmers and fisheren in Eastern Visayas alone were affected by the typhoon.

Its own estimate is that the total damage to agriculture would reach up to P64 billion. This includes coconut production losses valued at P41.958 billion, P6.428 billion damage to the fishing industry, P5.695 billion damage to banana plantations, P3.462 billion damage to palay (unhusked rice), and P6.5 billion damage to livestock and root crops, abaca, corn and vegetables.

“Eighty percent of the population in the Eastern Visayas region rely on agriculture yet this will receive the lowest budgetary priority under the government’s reconstruction framework,” Eslopor said.

“The delay is proving deadly to the urban and rural poor who were left in dire straits. The peasants are living at the subsistence level already, with no foreseeable income, and are vulnerable to usury. Families in interior villages usually alternate root crops with rice, eating rice only one to two times a day. But with root crops heavily damaged by the typhoon, they are now consuming rice two to three times daily, thus, rapidly diminishing their rice supply. Worse, they are forced to sell their rice because their sources of cash crops have been damaged,” Eslopor said. – With Ronald O. Reyes and PNA



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