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Journalist Marya Salamat wrote this piece about the huge gap between the government’s rhetoric and its actual work in aiding the victims of typhoon Yolanda:
The Aquino government appointed former senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson as “rehabilitation czar” to take charge of the rehabilitation of typhoon-ravaged central Philippines as it secures more funding for it, on top of the millions of dollars in donations and loans pouring in. But for various groups already helping the victims of typhoon Yolanda, a huge gap exists between what are actually being done on the ground and what government announcements claim.
“We are outraged by the report of forensic expert Dr. Raquel Fortun that the death toll is being deliberately tinkered with by the national government to make it look as if the tragedy is less devastating than it really is,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.
Fortun – who spent five days in central Philippines to assist in identifying the dead but went back to Manila after reportedly having conflict with NBI officials – lashed out at the Aquino administration for supposedly requiring a “coroner’s certification” before adding a dead body to the official death toll.
“The government continues to boast about the supposed distribution of over a million relief packs, yet we still get reports from the ground that survivors in far-flung communities have barely felt or seen government relief efforts,” Ridon said in a statement late last week, referring to reports by their relief team Tulong Kabataan.
But even in the city and municipal centers where the government relief efforts had focused, the actual relief distributed seemed scant.
Connie Bragas- Regalado, chairperson of Migrante who joined a BALSA team that brought relief in some towns of Leyte in Nov 23 and 24, told Bulatlat.com how surprised they were of what they encountered in Leyte. Considering the local and international media coverage of the devastation in Tacloban City of Leyte, the Migrante leader admitted she had expected that the nexus of the government’s relief and rehabilitation efforts would be easily visible to anyone in the area. Instead, she saw people rushing to them begging for relief, crying out that they are very hungry.
“We had thought we’d see the government or the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) busy at work, but we didn’t see them. We didn’t see anyone rushing to do relief and rehab,” Bragas-Regalado said.
In Tacloban City itself, the BALSA teams were shocked that in at least two schools, which were turned into evacuation centers, evacuees told them that since they began staying there, the DSWD had given each family just two kilos of rice, and no more after that. Some have no roofs over their heads; some said the place also stank.
The Department of Trade and Industry has been going around in typhoon Yolanda-affected areas to sell discounted products of different consumer brands, under their so-called Diskwento Caravan. “Instead of helping survivor victims to get relief goods from the government, the DTI virtually became the trade representative of private business entities in disaster-wrecked areas,” said Anakpawis party-list National President Rafael Mariano.
Anakpawis slammed the government’s Diskwento Caravan, which, it said, revealed “their real intention to continue making profit out of the typhoon survivors’ miserable state, especially the ordinary masses who absorbed the full effect of typhoon Yolanda.”
The “cash-for-work” scheme being offered by the United Nations and the Aquino government to the survivors of supertyphoon Yolanda is not enough to provide immediate relief to the survivors and bring about long-term development in the affected areas, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) said in a statement. The labor center and affiliates are poised this week to do their share in BALSA relief operations.
The said “cash-for-work” scheme should provide living wages to volunteers and should not be the government’s only means of helping the survivors of Yolanda, said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU. The scheme is paying the minimum wages prevailing in the region, but these amounts have historically been denounced by workers’ groups including the KMU as “very far” from living wages.
Gabriela legislator, Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, meanwhile, criticized this week President Benigno Aquino III for pushing the idea of banning the poor settlers from their communities and livelihoods close to shore. Calling it a foolish and additional punishment on people already ravaged by typhoon, she said it would only “worsen the exodus of people who are already forced to abandon their lands and congest other urban centers where they will fight over almost non-existent jobs and services, and where they do not have lands to build houses on.”
“Yolanda showed that future storms will not discriminate between coastlines and the interiors, so no zoning will prevent massive flooding unless meaningful projects that allow people to stay in their places of livelihood like mangrove reforestation are implemented,” Ilagan explained.
Gabriela Women Partylist Rep. Emmi de Jesus said that to empower communities to build weather-proof residences, “meaningful livelihoods that will elevate them from poverty” are what is needed and not this “foolhardy notion” of using Yolanda to utterly demolish the people’s residences.
For the long-term development of the devastated areas, various peoples groups demanded “genuine land reform.” The KMU called for abolishing haciendas and distributing hacienda lands to farmers. It urged for the implementation of land reform in the Yolanda-affected areas, and prioritizing production of food crops over cash crops.