BAKHAWAN backs Lakbayanis’ Manila protest against ‘Great Wall of Leyte’

PALO, LEYTE – Residents living along government-declared No Dwelling Zones (NDZs) under the banner of BAKHAWAN (Baskug han Katawhan ha mga Komunidad nga NDZ) expressed its strong support to the Lakbayanis who staged protest before the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Main office in Metro Manila against the implementation of the Tacloban-Palo-Tanauan Tide Embankment project or the so-called Great Wall of Leyte.

People Surge stage protest in front of DPWH Main Office in Metro Manila. Photo (c) April Porteria

Earlier today, BAKHAWAN members posted anti-Tide Embankment placards in their communities to vent out their opposition against the megaproject. BAKHAWAN Chapter Spokesperson in Barangay Cogon, Palo said their displacement from their communities is also their displacement from their sources of income and will mean worsening hunger and poverty.

The Tide Embankment project is a 7.9 billion-peso worth infrastructural project to be built on the pretext of protecting the people from storm surges. It is a 27.3 kilometer embankment from Barangay Diit in Tacloban to Barangay Cabuynan in Tanauan, Leyte and is set to displace approximately 10,000 households living in government-declared No Dwelling Zones (NDZs).

Brgy. Cogon, Palo, Leyte, a fishing community where 59 households are set to be displaced.

“We have been living in this area ever since we were born. We grew up in this barangay because it is close to the sea where we get food on the table. There is no sea in the interior barangay in Palo where they want to dump us,” Lina Escarlan of BAKHAWAN Cogon Chapter said.

Lina Escarlan, a fish vendor and member of Bakhawan in Palo. Bakhawan is an alliance established after typhoon Yolanda and was reorganized this year with convenors People Surge, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap and the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC). Photo (c) Barry Anthony Parrenas 

“What do they want to build here? Tourist spots, hotels and the like? For the rich, the bodies of water are for leisure but for us fisherfolks and fish vendors in Cogon, the sea is life, the sea is where we seek help for our daily survival,” she added.

BAKHAWAN also assailed DPWH’s pronouncements that the Tide Embankment project will first be implemented in Palo because residents are not resisting.

“No resistance or no consultation? We only came to know this project last October when DPWH employees assessed our houses, vandalized our homes and painted red numbers to indicate that we will be affected by the project,” Escarlan further said.

People Surge, one of the conveners of BAKHAWAN, said the project’s lack of democratic consultation is in contrast to Duterte’s pro-people pro-poor pronouncements. “They started asking people about the project when the fund has already been bankrolled to DPWH. They should have asked the residents prior to its implementation and we cannot but resist such project that is socially unacceptable,” Marissa Cabaljao, People Surge Secretary-General said.

Cabaljao also assailed the government taking opportunity of Yolanda as a means to evict people from their dwelling places. “For the past years, the poor have been blamed for their vulnerability. Whenever we assert for our right to stay in our dwelling places they dub as ‘danger zones’, the Yolanda card is thrown at us as if we had the luxury of choice to decide where to live. It is as if erecting our houses near the shorelines just so we can be closer to our sources of income is a choice, rather than a necessity, that we make for our daily survival.”

BAKHAWAN members said some of their neighbors keep coming back after being “relocated” to resettlement sites and brave recurrent threats of demolition in NDZs. While the Tide Embankment prepares for another gigantic storm in the future, the hurried eviction and displacement from our sources of income is actually another ‘Yolanda’ in the making.

The group is also skeptical as to those whose interest the project serves since big businesses along the coast will be escaped by the project while their houses will be evicted. “If big businesses will be escaped by the project, for whose interest is this so-called ‘great wall of Leyte’? For whose interest and at whose expense?” Cabaljao stressed.

BAKHAWAN stressed that if the government truly wants their safety, the 7.9 billion pesos should be realigned to the construction of climate resilient permanent evacuation centers and to the more pressing needs of the disaster survivors for land, livelihood and decent homes.

Bakhawan members in Palo. Photo (c) Barry Parrenas

“We challenge the Duterte administration and his newly-appointed Rehabilitation Czar Michael Dino of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV), to heed the call of the people and stop the implementation of the Tide Embankment Project. With stern warnings from scientists that the project may cause more harm than relief, the Duterte administration must stop and review such a billion-worth project inherited from the previous Aquino government. The core of Yolanda rehabilitation should be the poor and not use Yolanda as a capital to further oppress us and enrich the few whose interest this project very well serves,” Cabaljao ended.#


Lina Escarlan
Bakhawan Palo

Marissa Cabaljao
People Surge

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