Three years after Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Eastern Visayas region, the demands for justice for the persisting crises and accountability over the criminal neglect remain elusive for disaster survivors.
Hunger and poverty have only worsened for the people. Leaving no chance for full recovery, the islands of Leyte and Samar subsequently faced several more disasters over the succeeding years after Yolanda, which further mired our people in suffering.
Many have only seen ‘Ground Zero’ in Tacloban City, but rural communities, especially in the interior villages, have been equally hit hard by the far-reaching impacts of consecutive typhoon disasters. Government estimates on agricultural damages were pegged at P55 billion with the bulk affecting the coconut industry, one of the main economic activities of the region.
It takes seven years before damaged coconut trees can fully recover and be productive again, leaving hundreds of thousands of peasant coconut farmers without any livelihood. No response, aid or any form of assistance was given by the government to the agriculture sector.
Different kinds of crop infestations have magnified the problems in agricultural communities, damaging what was left of their produce. Abaca plantations have almost been wiped out by the bunchy top virus in the northern part of the region, while rice grains are constantly under attack by black bugs and stem borers. The drastic drop in agricultural productivity is making bigger and bigger holes in the money pockets of our peasant brothers and sisters.
It is the height of callousness that peasant farmers who feed our nation are rendered unable to feed themselves, as the extreme conditions are forcing them to eat only once a day. Yet the previous government continues to turn a blind eye to the millions of tillers, perpetuating the long-standing landlessness of the majority of the peasantry in Eastern Visayas and exacerbated by recent calamities.
Housing is a basic need, but homelessness has been a chronic problem for survivors. The emergency needs of survivors particularly for shelters have yet to be addressed. Alarmingly, DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo exposes that over 200,000 disaster victims did not receive Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) because of discriminatory department policies during the previous administration.
Families living in areas declared by the national government as no-dwelling zones were stricken off the list of beneficiaries. Even government employees whose homes were reduced to rubble were also removed from the list for the reason supposedly because they already have a P15,000 monthly income monthly.
As with Sec. Taguiwalo’s findings, reports of mishandling of funds and politicking have been widespread, with some LGUs not providing the full amount of the ESA or opted to give shelter materials instead of the full amount. The corruption of shelter assistance funds is an open secret, with local government officials and loan sharks finding an opportunity to cash in on the suffering of the people.
The previous administration failed to give access to free, safe, decent and adequate shelters for many survivors. Even the National Economic Development Authority recognizes their shortcomings as their data show that only 28% of the P40 billion allocated to resettlement have been used.
In the Ridgeview relocation site, there were 2,000 shelter units initially allotted, but only 800 are presently occupied since a large number of those have not been completed. Residents complain of weak infrastructure, lack of basic utilities like water and electricity, inaccessibility of livelihood, and generally insufferable conditions in the permanent shelters.
Survivors residing in the no-dwelling zones and along the entire eastern coast of Leyte are threatened to be displaced by demolition to pave the way for multi-billion peso big businesses and mega-infrastructure, including the mega-infrastructure Leyte Tide Embankment Project. Ironically, these measures supposedly reduce the risks of communities but actually present flooding, socio-economic, and ecological risks because they are designed haphazardly.
Billions of dollars in foreign aid came pouring in, which have been insidiously used to leverage for policies and programs beneficial for them. The United States mobilized their military and other agencies to deliver Yolanda aid, and have been used to justify their longstanding military occupation of the country.
When our economic and military ties with the United States were recently questioned and threatened with severance under the new Duterte administration, the US government arrogantly reminded us of the aid efforts of their military forces, as if humanitarian aid is contingent on their military presence.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency, meanwhile, is backing the P7.9-billion Leyte Tide Embankment Project despite the various risks presented by the mega-infrastructure. It has also been widely reported that majority of rehabilitation projects are driven by private companies, implementing only where they can profit.
Yolanda is far from the climate norm that the people of Eastern Visayas have grown accustomed to over the past century. There is growing evidence that the most powerful typhoon ever to make landfall in world history is linked to the alarming rate of global warming and climate change. We can expect more typhoons like Yolanda over the next decades.
The past century has also been a history of poverty, landlessness, environmental destruction, and militarization at the hands of the United States government. This has rendered our communities extremely vulnerable to disasters like Yolanda, incapable of overcoming the worsening impacts of a changed climate.
Not surprisingly, the US and other industrialized nations is also one of the leading opponents of vulnerable countries demanding compensation for the super typhoons and other climate impacts that we are already experiencing. Instead, we receive minuscule bread crumbs of aid and assistance.
The Yolanda Challenge
We disaster survivors have diligently worked together to rebuild our lives. We have also come together in recognizing that we are being denied of our rights to life, livelihood, and a safe future, and have united in a continuing struggle to demand justice and accountability.
We now have before us a new government under Pres. Rodrigo Duterte who won the national elections on the promise of radical change. The removal of the criminally negligent government of Noynoy Aquino had the collective anger and indignation of disaster survivors as one of its driving forces.
It is time to put that promise of change to a test. With the prospect of a Duterte administration that promises to listen and respond to the plight of Yolanda and other disaster survivors, we unite to present the ‘Yolanda Challenge’ to Pres. Duterte with the following demands:
- The government must acknowledge the worsening hunger in Eastern Visayas by providing emergency and food assistance to the agricultural sector, being the most vulnerable and hardest to recover in times of disasters. An efficient system must also be put into place to avoid using the assistance for corruption and politicking.
- For the agriculture and fisheries sectors:
- Provide immediate and environment-friendly technical assistance to solve the pest problem in coconut and rice. Stop the use of chemicals to cure the bunchy top virus in abaca, and provide alternative technical assistance.
- Provide motorized boats and fishing equipment to fishermen
- Give a two-year moratorium on irrigation fees.
- Release the full amount of ESA without discrimination to all those who haven’t received the assistance and/or was shortchanged.
- Investigate the implementation and distribution of ESA and the whole Yolanda rehabilitation fund.
- Provide free housing without any conditions in permanent resettlement areas.
- Give immediate attention and provide free social services and utilities like water, electricity, etc in permanent resettlement areas
- Junk the No Build Zone/No Dwelling Zone Policies.
- Stop the Tide Embankment Project.
- Stop militarization and pull out the military from the barrios. Remove the participation of the military in relief and rehabilitation efforts in times of disasters.
In the medium term:
- Immediate response and rehabilitation for the agriculture sector (both farming and fishing) thru the following:
- Provide free organic farm inputs like native varieties, vegetable seeds, abaca seeds, organic fertilizer, etc.
- Provide comprehensive technical and material support for sustainable agriculture to solve the problem of food security, i.e trainings, provision for farm implements to develop production and farming.
- Provide livelihood assistance to farmers and fishermen until they have fully recovered from the effects of the disasters.
- Distribute the coco levy fund to coconut farmers.
- Conservation and rehabilitation of marine resources.
- Allot additional budget for State Universities and Colleges (SUCS) and subsidy for poor students and victims of calamities. Implement a moratorium on tuition and other school fees increase in Eastern Visayas.
- Provide enough financial support for the families of those killed during the typhoon.
- Investigate and prosecute all officials responsible for the criminal neglect of the victims of typhoon Yolanda.
- Call on the Philippine government to demand reparation to the victims and those affected by climate change from the industrialized countries.
Long Term Demands:
- Implement genuine agrarian reform. Pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.
- Implement national industrialization.
- Stop contractualization.
- Provide decent and living wage to workers.
- Create a comprehensive and pro-people program for disaster resilience especially to the most vulnerable sectors of the society.
- Junk anti-environment and anti-people policies such as Mining Act of 1995, Fisheries Code of the Philippines etc.
- Junk all neoliberal policies which causes hardships among the people.
The promise of genuine change—the end of hunger, poverty, and militarization perpetuated in survivors’ communities, and the accountability of the criminal Aquino administration—can only be achieved if we never falter in our unity, hope, and aspiration for genuine justice. Brothers and sisters, fellow children of the storm, let us carry on the struggle!#