Contemplating death: Who owns the blood debt?*
Storm or no storm, death occurs. But when deaths are unnecessary and unjust, accountability becomes a must.
Two years ago, November 8, 2013, death became a common sight in the apocalyptic crisis situation brought by Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). Thousands were killed and missing.
The tragedy calls for accountability. But from whom?
Many succumbed to the idea that it was plainly nature’s fury, the storm surge, which killed our loved ones; that it was inevitable because we face the Pacific Ocean; that it was a horrible misfortune nobody even wanted to begin with. We cannot prosecute nature, anyway.
But times have changed and no “natural hazard” is now purely natural. Climate change, a phenomenon exacerbated by the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from mostly developed countries, has magnified typhoons to extreme levels. Hence, supertyphoon Yolanda is not just natural but also man-made.
While we cannot seek justice from nature, we sure can do something to account the world’s top corporate giants and developed countries that amass profit by unbridledly polluting the environment.
From the ground zero of typhoon Yolanda, we unite in action with the people’s protest in time for the APEC Summit in Manila.
We unite with all climate activists and front-line community leaders worldwide who are in Paris from November to December to complement with mass actions the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) that must come up with legally binding agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions caused largely by rich countries using carbon and fossil fuels.
Climate change, coupled with an utter lack of preparedness from the government, has turned the hazard into one horrible disaster.
RA 10121, the law on disaster preparedness, has been existent since 2010. But the government, headed by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, has not been serious enough in preparing communities in times of disasters even if Philippines suffer an average of 20 storms annually.
Aquino’s discretionary calamity fund was not maximized for disaster preparedness. Early warning system was inefficient as the people were warned of jargons like “storm surge” which was not understandable back then. Coordination between political foes Aquino and Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez failed in so many levels.
We cite hurricane Patricia which struck Mexico last month, the gravity of which was comparable with the Yolanda storm surge, but no casualty was recorded. This goes to prove that, had the government been politically willful in strongly implementing community-based disaster preparedness program, many lives could have been spared from Yolanda’s wrath.
Aquino, the head of state, carries with him the blood debt for the thousands of deaths caused by his regime’s criminal negligence.
As if the thousands of Yolanda victims are not enough, Aquino regime’s ineptness caused more deaths among those who survived. Either survivors die due to lack of decent shelter and basic social services, or become victims of state fascism.
Gina Supang who lost her eight-month baby due to poor condition in the bunkhouse is a case in point. Thousands of internally displaced persons still live in small and cramped bunkhouses and temporary shelters.
Based on the data from the National Housing Authority (NHA), only 534 permanent houses out of the targeted 13,801 houses have been built as of September this year. At the rate that permanent shelters are built, the government seems to slowly kill the survivors because of its snail-paced rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, at least 13 disaster survivors and community leaders were killed by alleged military elements since Yolanda as documented by Katungod-Sinirangan Bisayas, a local human rights organization. It is worth noting that Aquino, AFP’s commander-in-chief, has long been vindictive of us disaster survivors because of our staunch criticisms and for campaigning for his ouster.
A salient case is Jefferson Custodio, a 25-year old volunteer of People Surge, who was killed while delivering farm tools to farmers in an upland village in Carigara, Leyte August 22 of last year. His uncle was killed months after his death.
These deaths are systemic.
Custodio’s death speaks of the many others who were killed under Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan, a counter-insurgency measure which aims to silence dissent from his critics.
The death of Gina Supang’s child speaks of the slow, inefficient and corruption-riddled rehabilitation program of the Aquino government.
Meanwhile, the thousands upon thousand deaths from the onslaught of Yolanda speaks of the global capitalist system which facilitates the exploitation of the environment in the altar of profit at the expense of vulnerable countries like the Philippines. Such a system is being perpetuated by no less than Aquino by his neoliberal policies which open our country for imperialist plunder. Aquino has also been actively supporting the installation of coal power plants in the country that adds pollution to our already polluted world.
The blood debt, thus, should burden Aquino—the figurehead of disaster capitalism and state fascism in the country. It is right time that we call for accountability, harness our strength from collective action and ultimately change this system which brings death to us children of the storm.
*Position Paper Presented by People Surge
for the Accountability Forum on Post-Haiyan Rehabilitation
University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College