October 14, 2017
Another year has gone by and the state of Yolanda survivors across the country has yet to improve as the government’s criminal neglect over the plight of Yolanda-struck communities continue to take a toll on the welfare and safety of survivors. In the span of four years, there has been no significant reduction in regional poverty-incidence rates and the lack of livelihood opportunities and government action on issues like crop infestation indicates a dim future for one of the poorest regions in the country. In the 2016 elections, then-Interior secretary Mar Roxas boasted of a 93-percent completion rate in the post-Yolanda rehabilitation effort. What Secretary Roxas failed to mention however was that the 93 percent completion rate he mentioned only referred to the first phase in a three-phase rehabilitation process. Having taken that long to accomplish basic government responses needed in meeting the people’s immediate needs, the state of Yolanda-hit communities are further exasperated into utter desperation.
Poverty and Hunger Region wide
Poverty was not a peculiarity even prior to the onslaught of super typhoon Yolanda back in 2013 but since then, the people of Eastern Visayas have been deeply mired in poverty caused by crippling real wage rates nailed at 170 pesos far below the nominal wage rate of the region pegged at 260 pesos in a day. Livelihood continues to be a major consideration among resettled families who keep on returning to their original settlements due to the lack of jobs in the permanent housing communities. As of the second quarter in 2017, over 2.55 billion pesos have been disbursed for the livelihood cluster with the objective of providing sustainable and appropriate livelihood opportunities for typhoon victims. Meanwhile over 113.55 million pesos has been disbursed for the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) Kabuhayan Program or the DOLE Integrated Livelihood Program (DILP), a project intended to give capital for willing individuals who want to venture into entrepreneurship and small-scale businesses. Yet despite having reportedly reached 11,000 beneficiaries employment rate in the region is still considerably high with over 36 percent of the working age population categorized under ‘unemployed’. In addition, livelihood programs meant to encourage small-scale enterprises from rising across the region instead of subsidizing economic activity under the agriculture sector to spur production is causing a rise in the contribution of other sectors in the local economy while the contribution of the agri sector to the regional gross domestic product is ever decreasing at a steady rate after Yolanda. Because of the Kabuhayan framework introduced by DOLE, former fisherfolk are left with no other choice but to abandon their former way of life and conform with the government’s livelihood package. Local programs like Cristina’s Learn and Earn Program (CLEP) is also being heavily funded by the LGU of Tacloban but are transforming urban poor fisherfolk into hair stylists, manicurists among others.
Since Yolanda, agricultural production has been down by 85.90 percent: There’s been a decrease in rice production by 90 percent, a decrease in coconut production by 75-90 percent and a decrease in abaca production by 60-70 percent. Eastern Visayas relies heavily on the aforementioned crops especially that it’s one of the leading producers of coconut, second only to Davao, and one of the top producers of abaca. With production down, many farmers and farm workers in the region are suffering from low income, hunger and economic insecurity.
Issues in Yolanda Housing
When Duterte paid a visit to Tacloban City in November 2016, he ordered the National Housing Authority to fast track the construction of permanent housing units and committed to return in December to check whether or not the NHA had met with quotas set by the administration. True enough, the NHA was able to successfully fast track the construction of over 59,679 additional units on top of the 19,330 built by the previous administration in over 2 years. However, in Tacloban City alone, the Local Government Unit admits that approximately 6000 people have yet to be relocated into permanent housing units as of August. The Department of Public Works and Highways have reported meanwhile that it has met its target of 181 water tank installations yet several relocation sites suffer from lack of clean water.
In lieu of providing suitable areas for construction, Duterte has directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to hasten its land conversion process to accommodate thousands of new units at the expense of lands intended for agricultural use in a region where a supermajority of its population (70 percent) rely on livelihood based on the agriculture sector.
The recently conducted congressional probe on the post-calamity situation in Tacloban city has revealed that the appropriated funding for infrastructure has practically been spent with a target of 205,128 housing units but as of September 2017 only 42,599 units have been completed. Worse, of the 42,599 units finished only 11,451 units are currently occupied due to the absence of livelihood opportunities in the relocation sites. It was also revealed that undocumented subcontracting which took place in the process of construction became a major source of inefficiency and corruption. According to a testimony made by the National Housing Authority before the House committee on Housing, there were no subcontractors taking part in the construction of Yolanda resettlement sites but contrary to this, the committee was able to produce one of the subcontractors, an Engr. Camillo Salazar, involved in a housing project for Balangiga, Eastern Samar who exposed rampant corruption in the procurement of building materials that made the finished units substandard. The main contractor, JC Tayag Builders, was able to earn an estimated 800 million pesos from all the contracts he was awarded by the NHA covering more than 2,000 units.
Privatized Rehabilitation amid Glaring Poverty
As if on cue, the rehabilitation scene after Yolanda seems to have involved the strong cooperation of private groups and business firms in the form of funding and operating post-Yolanda structures and the like. The Tide Embankment Project, which is now in full speed implementation, is a gleaming example of privatized rehabilitation firstly because it is expected to have 6.4 billion pesos in economic returns. The question that remains however is how a 27.3 kilometer wall can exact 6.4 billion pesos in profit, the answer can be found in a statement from the Department of Public Works and Highways-Regional Office in Palo stating that there are already hotels and restaurants that have requested access to the design of the wall to be constructed so that they can pattern their branches’ designs from it. Meanwhile, there are already communities in Baras, Palo that are experiencing the adverse effects of Tide Embankment which include massive displacement of communities that are beyond the indicated No-Build Zones and the destruction of sources of livelihood such as coconut trees that were cut down for the wall. For the sake of the project, local government units are fast tracking relocation at the expense of barangays and coastal communities that are not being duly consulted or informed.
The construction of public works such as roads and bridges have also been undertaken but data collected from Ormoc, Leyte and Borongan, Eastern Samar have shown that the construction of roads and bridges are in connection to the opening of new Malls by business magnates instead of bettering the conditions of Yolanda-hit communities. In Catbalogan City, the Sky City Mega Project is being undertaken by its local government unit which aims to construct a 440-hectare commercial zone that will accommodate an Information and Technology Center along with other commercial residential areas and a new center of commerce in the capital city of Western Samar. This project, which is estimated to cost a walloping 4 billion pesos and has walk-in investments coming from San Miguel Corporation, Robinsons Malls and Robinsons Lands Corporation, DSG Sons Group, SM Holdings, the LKY Group, PureGold among many others, and will be done in the midst of extreme poverty still being borne by the peasants of Western Samar who are suffering from poor irrigation (60 percent of Western Samar have no irrigation) crop infestation and landlessness after the onslaught of Yolanda. In addition to these basic agrarian issues, the National Greening Program (NGP) is also taking a toll on the degree of landlessness among peasants in the region. Northern Samar peasants under the Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) have released reports indicating cases where their lands are being taken from them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the mass reforestation of bamboo shoots across the province particularly in Las Navas and Catubig. Despite strong resistance from the local peasants, hundreds of hectares are being claimed by the NGP. One of the principle objectives of the said program is to help reduce poverty and provide alternative livelihood to farmers in upland areas but ironically operates in favor of landlessness, debilitating farm production and stealing peasant livelihood.
Militarization and Killings
In addition to privatized construction at the expense of Yolanda survivors, the trend of militarizing communities across Eastern Visayas has recently emerged with multiple cases of forced evacuation from Calbiga and Matuginao, harassment of locals in Southern Leyte, aerial bombings in the northern part of Western Samar and the killing of farmers like that of Jason Montalla, a 33-year-old peasant killed by state elements in October. As if the suffering wrought on by natural calamities and their aftermath were not enough, agencies like the Armed Forces of the Philippines have overstepped their role in protecting the Filipino people by persecuting them based on false-charges and baseless accusations of rebellion and criminal behavior.
Under Duterte’s OPLAN Kapayapaan, the Armed Forces of the Philippines are freely deploying thousands of troops across the provinces of Eastern Visayas under the guise of humanitarian relief. Recently in Ormoc City and Northern Samar, AFP battalions are conducting Community Support Programs or CSPs which aim to provide dental services, relief distribution, livelihood trainings etc. to legitimize their presence in far-off communities without violating international humanitarian law. In the process, Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas has documented cases where soldiers are collecting tributes from local villagers in the form of food, clothing and even forcing them to provide shelter. Similar cases have been confirmed in the militarization of Calbiga, Samar where Lieutenant Colonel Arnel Floresca admitted of forcefully entering houses so they could sleep on dry beds. Humanitarian relief has been used as a scapegoat by the administration to harass and pursue counter-insurgency in the Philippines, as an effect three farmers have already been killed in post-Yolanda communities since 2016.
Lack of Access to Public Utilities
Another common and persistent complaint among resettled families in permanent housing communities is the lack of electricity and access to clean water. In the case of Tacloban, the Local Government Unit admits that it would be difficult to provide good pipelines that will give water to the communities in the Northern Barangays because of the Leyte Metropolitan Water Districts’ “one subdivision-one meter” policy that practically makes it impossible for clean water to be accessed in the resettlement areas. So far, the best development on the water situation of Yolanda rehabilitation sites is on the awarding of water trucks last July, 2017 but no clear cut solution has yet to be implemented.
The promise of providing electricity has also been elusive over the years as the promise of energizing resettlement areas have been repetitively made every year since 2013 but to this day resettled households are experiencing problems with energy supply. In the case of Ridgeview in Tacloban City, there are only some houses with access to electricity. Meanwhile scattered reports from different resettlement communities in GMA Village and UN Habitat in Tacloban City are also indicating that the electricity lines previously given to them are set to be cut down due to high energy consumption, the burden of payment is said to be transferred to the victims who have taken up residence in the permanent housing units.
Financial Assistance Programs and Realignment
The Emergency Shelter Assistance of DSWD has already exceeded the original target of 425,000 families for both the totally/partially damaged houses. However, ESA is still being implemented based on the request of selected LGUs for additional assistance for their respective municipalities amid conflicting reports from DSWD clients that they were told of how the ESA program no longer had funding. As of 2017, DSWD reports that there are still 705 families in Eastern Visayas categorized under ‘totally damaged housing’ that have not received their financial assistance. Meanwhile, in the same report it is said that all families categorized under ‘partially damaged housing’ have received their part of the ESA but community based information from People Surge indicates otherwise.
As for the Presidential Financial Assistance program under Duterte, 5 thousand pesos were allotted for beneficiaries across the region, the number of beneficiaries are distributed as follows:
||Total no. of beneficiaries
||Total no. accomplished
As shown above, DSWD region 8 was unable to provide and distribute the PFA to all targeted beneficiaries per province because of validation issues or that the targeted beneficiaries weren’t considered eligible for the program. In addition, the Commission on Higher Education has also promised a one-time 5 thousand-peso assistance program for Yolanda victims who had directly experienced super typhoon Yolanda. It was found out that the cash assistance was withheld from public knowledge for over a year because CHED was unable to distribute the cash assistance in 2016. The Commission earned the ire of many students nationwide for its complacency and neglect in providing assistance to the youth and student sector who were gravely affected by the storm. Commissioner Prospero De Vera even added that the aid was “long overdue” and that the fund should have been distributed since 2013. The money that was used to fund the assistance will come from a 540-million-peso residual fund for Yolanda-related aid but was heavily criticized for having “residual funding” while the post-Yolanda scene experienced numerous other problem areas especially under funding. Moreover, a similar case can be found in the realignment of over 5 billion pesos of Yolanda funding for the rehabilitation in Marawi City. The lone Islamic city in the Country was recently attacked by government forces and terrorist-organization Maute Group facing massive destruction of both public and private property.
We have long reiterated the necessity behind holding those involved in corruption and criminal negligence in the previous administration accountable. Specifically, an investigation must be launched over missing Yolanda funds and relief goods under the governance of the Gang of Five: President Noynoy Aquino, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, Rehab tsar Ping Lacson, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and DOE secretary Jericho Petilla. Permanent Housing must be made accessible and free for all Yolanda survivors with no pre-conditions or amortization schemes, basic social services must be provided by way of subsidizing access to water, energizing relocation sites and Yolanda-hit communities and ensuring public transportation for victims. Livelihood programs must not only be made available to the public, it must also be sustainable and appropriate to the needs and way of life of the victims being provided for. Militarization must end on all fronts in Eastern Visayas, all troops under the 8th Infantry Division must be pulled out from the provinces of Eastern Visayas and the perpetrators to extra-judicial killings of farmers and mass activists must be held accountable by the current administration.
In the end, Duterte must ensure that a review be conducted to determine the applicability and efficacy of existing Yolanda rehabilitation programs and plans and must give premium to the principle of pro-people rehabilitation to expeditiously ensure recovery for all.
Unite and Surge Forward
Now, more than ever, unity is of paramount importance as the direction of line agencies like the Department of Public Works and Highways, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Social Welfare and Development have shifted in recent months to forgo the interest and clamor of calamity
victims to pursue the narrow economic and social agenda of the Duterte administration such as agri-liberalization and massive infrastructure that do not resolve the immediate, intermediate and long-term demands of the Eastern Visayas people and instead benefits private firms, individuals and prominent government officials and bureaucrats.
A series of activities and initiatives will be launched on multiple fronts as part of the month long build-up and actual campaign peak for the upcoming Yolanda anniversary starting October 15. People Surge is eyeing partnerships with varied groups and organizations to maximize the scope and range of engagements intended to (1) spark greater awareness on the situation of Yolanda survivors, (2) generate material and morale support for disaster-struck communities in Eastern Visayas by revitalizing our call for justice.
Yolanda survivors and disaster survivors in general should never have to experience the same calamity twice yet it appears that the current Duterte administration is keen on following the steps of its predecessor in managing the post-disaster scene of the world’s most powerful typhoon in recorded history. Rising cases of fascism and persistent widespread hunger and poverty is pushing more people into action against criminal neglect and deprivation of basic human rights.
Yolanda survivors should look back at the many triumphant mobilizations and mass demonstrations conducted by People Surge Philippines and remember the concrete victories we have achieved as a united people hit by calamities but inspired in the vision of justice and the restoration of economic security in the region. In the past, we have succeeded in bringing the issue of climate justice and government inaction to the international stage, we have prompted the cooperation of international and local organizations to support our calls in demanding for relief and accountability, we have ensured the defense of Yolanda-victims’ rights who are consistently struck by man-made calamities such as militarization and harassment. As we pick up lessons from the past, may we develop ways in reinvigorating our campaign aimed at emboldening the people of Eastern Visayas against hunger, poverty and fascism! Take justice!
Join the November 8 anniversary mob!
Rabunos Eastern Visayas!