By Ronald O. Reyes and Maricel V. Cruz
People Surge dubs gesture ‘insincere’
TYPHOON Yolanda survivors on Friday rejected President Benigno Aquino III’s belated apology for not responding fast enough to their needs, saying he needed to answer for his “criminal negligence” and to indemnify the storm victims for the loss of life and property.
“We will not accept his apologies,” said Efleda Bautista, a typhoon survivor and convenor of the People Surge alliance, which demanded that Aquino sack rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, for failing to fulfill their responsibilities.
“Secretary Soliman has been a dismal failure in providing relief aid for the survivors of Yolanda and even other calamities before that. She must resign and the DSWD brought in line with delivering prompt and continuing relief aid to the Yolanda survivors for as long as they need it,” said Sister Edita Eslopor, the Benedictine nun who leads the People Surge movement.
She described Lacson as “a demagogue and a bagman” whose job was to ensure that reconstruction funds went to political allies and the administration’s big business friends.
“President Aquino had been weighed and found wanting over the past four months, and any apology from him without the corresponding necessary remedies would be meaningless,” Eslopor said.
Aquino offered an apology Thursday when he was being interviewed by students from Tacloban who transferred to the Hope Christian High School in Sta. Cruz, Manila, after Yolanda laid waste to vast areas of the Visayas.
“The problem with the President is that we presented our demands in Malacanang but he didn’t face us. Then he rejected our demands in another forum,” Bautista said. “Now he is saying sorry to students who had little to do with what happened with Yolanda.”
Eslopor hit Aquino “for insulting the public” with an apology after four months of government failure in providing relief and rehabilitation.
“President Aquino’s ‘apology’ seems to try to get away with his arrogant refusal to take responsibility for four months of hell for the Yolanda survivors,” said Eslopor.
“The ‘apology’ is not even directed to us, the survivors, who went to Malacanang in February and got snubbed by the President 100 days after Yolanda struck the region. Yolanda victims have been starving and dying as a result of this government’s ineptness and gross negligence and all he could say was ‘sorry’?” she added.
In an earlier interview with MST, Eslopor recalled how Aquino ignored her and other female victims during their visit to Malacanang. “The President did not even bother to give us water to drink.”
Eslopor said the government must make the people’s immediate and long-term needs its priority.
“The people’s lives are at stake. If President Aquino is sincere in apologizing for his government’s shortcomings, he must immediately compensate the Yolanda survivors with the P40,000 cash assistance they have been demanding,” she said.
The government must also direct the revival of the agriculture and industry in the region to provide the people’s livelihood.
“He must ensure that people have real jobs that can sustain their families. He must ensure onsite development in devastated areas that will ensure housing and stable and decent livelihood especially along coastal communities instead of imposing the unjust ‘no-build zone’ that effectively evicts Yolanda-stricken families from their homes and livelihood,” Eslopor added.
Earlier this week, the Social Welfare Department under Soliman came under fire for burying food aid that had gone bad in Palo, Leyte.
“The President cannot appease the people with mere apologies without performance. The people are desperate already, their outrage will certainly lead them to confront the government if their miseries are not addressed,” Eslopor said.
She said the recovery envisioned by Lacson would merely restore the “same unjust socio-economic conditions that impoverished the people even before Yolanda.
Lawmakers on Friday said the President’s admission of a slow response should spur the agencies concerned to take faster action.
In separate interviews with the Manila Standard, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Cibac party-list, Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe and opposition Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said national and local government agencies must fully cooperate to help survivors get back on their feet.
But the President’s critics from the left, including Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said Aquino’s apology only confirmed the government’s inaction and insensitivity to the plight of the typhoon victims.
“That is what we have been saying all along. And the snail-paced, politicized action from national government is what drove the Yolanda victims, who organized themselves into People Surge, to storm Malacanang, to no avail,” Ilagan said.
Zarate said President Aquino should be held accountable for criminal negligence.
“The whole relief effort from national is not only slow, but also mismanaged,” Ilagan added.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz, member of the House independent minority bloc, said he was disappointed by the President’s statement.
“It would have been utterly senseless and insensitive for government to insist it was doing a great job in responding to the needs of our people in the calamity areas. It was untrue and un-Christian,” De la Cruz said.
But Belmonte said there was a positive side to Aquino’s admission, saying this was added impetus for Lacson to identify the choke points in the government effort to speed up rehabilitation activities.
1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III, a member of the House minority bloc, said President Aquino was ‘humble’ enough to admit his lapses.
“His candidness is admirable. His Cabinet members, especially his spokesmen, should follow his example,” said Bello.
Tugna said the President’s apology was “a sign of personal strength and character” to own up to his mistakes.
“The President’s admission is a recognition on his part that there should be an improvement in the rehabilitation efforts,” Tugna said.