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More than 7,000 peasants, workers, and indigenous people from Compostella Valley and Davao Oriental blockaded the highway in Compostella Valley over the unfair and uneven distribution of aid to the typhoon Pablo victims in Southern Mindanao. Residents have said that they are being targeted by the Aquino administration because their region (while being the hardest hit by the storm) also happens to have a strong presence of New People’s Army troops and aid projects as well as a strong presence of progressive national democratic organizations, unions, and groups.
Karlos Manlupig wrote about the latest developments for the Daily Inquirer:
Hundreds of residents complaining of the uneven distribution of relief goods ended their occupation of a highway here that blocked vehicular traffic for a few hours on Tuesday.
At least 7,000 residents of this province and Davao Oriental occupied part of the highway before noon on Tuesday complaining of the uneven distribution of relief goods to storm survivors.
They agreed to move out of the highway after government officials agreed to distribute relief goods more fairly.
The protest action rendered the highway impassable for a few hours and leaving hundreds of commuters stranded.
The residents had been demanding the release of at least 10,000 sacks of rice.
Led by Barug Katawhan, an organization of Typhoon “Pablo” survivors, the residents decried “poor and selective” government relief services.
Barug Katawhan said only residents with family cards are given access to government services.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy had tried to negotiate with the protesters.
“My only appeal is for you to let the vehicles pass through. If you want justice, okay we will talk about that,” said Soliman.
“But please also give justice to those who are stranded. They are already hungry,” she said, shouting for her to be heard by the protesters.
A protester shot back: “This is the message we are trying to deliver: We are starving!”
“If the people stranded are hungry, then we, the residents, are already dying,” said the protester.
The residents also demanded the cancellation of all Integrated Forestry Management Agreements (Ifma or logging permits) in the region devastated by Pablo.
The national democratic youth grassroots organization, Anakbayan, also had this to say about the road blockade:
“Why are tons of rice rotting in a local NFA warehouse while literally thousands of people are starving to death? Are they simply storing it so that Noynoy’s senatoriable candidates can use it in their campaign sorties? The insensitivity of the Aquino administration is beyond belief” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan.
He was reacting to initial reports from local community leaders who said that several months worth of rice was stored away at a National Food Authority warehouse in the province.
“While Noynoy and (Dept. of Social Welfare and Development) Secretary Dinky Soliman can spend billions on a clearly-ineffective program like the Conditional Cash Transfers, they can’t even send enough food for the millions of people in Mindanao who lost all their sources of livelihood during ‘Pablo’” said the youth leader.
Crisostomo challenged President Aquino to ‘give real solutions, not just cheap gimmicks’, including the cancellation of permits for all large-scale mining and logging operations.
“Predictably, Noynoy will again blame small-time loggers and miners but ignore those who are responsible for most of the deforestation: the mining and logging operations of foreign and other big corporations. He will try to create the impression he is doing something while still protecting the interests of corrupt politicians profiting from destruction of forests” said the youth leader.