“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.”– Connie Bragas- Regalado, Migrante, during a relief mission in Samar and Leyte November 23-24.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — 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.
“Certification of a coroner’s report is needed before a body is counted? “Do you know Mr. President that we don’t have coroners in the Philippines?” Fortun said in her Twitter account.
Earlier, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III had immediately reprimanded and reassigned the Tacloban City chief of police for coming out with an estimate of 10,000 when asked about the death toll in the city. Repeated stalling in updating the number of the dead had from then on marked the uptick in the death toll over the last three weeks since typhoon Yolanda hit.
In providing services to the typhoon victims including bringing in much-needed relief, government statements have been suggesting it has reached all areas and that it is now about to taper off relief operations as it is already moving on to another phase toward rehabilitation.
“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. They took part in BALSA (Bayan Alay sa Sambayanan) relief operation last week at underreported towns of Samar and Leyte provinces. The youths’ team reported that in Leyte and Samar, relief efforts are largely centralized in city and municipal centers, and survivors especially from far-flung mountain communities have to walk 10 to 30 kilometers just to receive food packs.
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.
With survivors desperate to help themselves, the Philippines’ labor department in cooperation with the International Labor Organization (with funding from the Japanese government) have begun implementing an emergency employment program at about the same time BALSA was in Leyte and Samar.
“Emergency employment essentially puts money in the hands of individuals affected. We know that 2.2 million were vulnerably employed – that’s equivalent to the city of Chicago – so we put cash in their hands right away,” said Lawrence Jeff Johnson, ILO Philippine Office Director, in a statement last week.
Johnson of ILO assured that those who enter the cash-for-work program “are not victims again” as they will also ensure “they have safe working conditions – gloves, protective materials, also good practices when they’re working.” He said they also “get access to social protection – health insurance, accident insurance while working.” [The ILO (International Labor Organization) is providing support and expertise to the government of the Philippines, which has placed emergency employment and early rebuilding of livelihoods at the forefront of its national disaster response strategy, it said in a statement.]
As BALSA traveled through Leyte with relief goods and services, Bragas-Regalado confirmed that the notable buzz of activities they saw there was “the long queue of typhoon survivors seeking jobs at the cleanup drive in Sto. Niño Church of Tacloban City.
“Everybody wants to work in the cleanup drive,” Bragas-Regalado said, but the cleanup is hampered by the fact that there are hardly any support equipment, let alone protective materials for the workers. Reports aired over AM radio also warned of injury and likely diseases for the temporary workers as most of them work with just their bare hands, when the debris being cleaned up are a dangerous mixture of sharp and heavy objects and decomposing flesh.
“We saw just one backhoe by the road along the sea near the Tacloban City convention center. There is no bulldozer or dump truck that could have hastened the clearing up,” Bragas-Regalado told Bulatlat.com.
The cash-for-work scheme jibed with the government’s efforts to “act as sales representatives of various companies in Yolanda-ravaged areas,” as former Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Rafael Mariano said in another statement.
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.”
ILO estimates that 5.6 million workers have either temporarily or permanently lost their livelihoods as a result of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Half of them, or 2.8 million, were working in the service sector. Over one third or 1.8 million were in agriculture and around 15 per cent are in the industry sector.
How to provide immediate and long-term relief?
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.
Toward providing immediate relief to fellow Filipinos in areas badly hit by the supertyphoon, the KMU suggests the following to the Aquino government:
– Immediate delivery of relief goods that can last for months.
– Reconstruction of houses through programs that employ the survivors.
– Immediate reconstruction and operation of government schools and hospitals.
– Provision of fishing boats to residents of coastal communities.
– Government purchase of the fishermen’s catch and its distribution to residents as part of relief goods.
The KMU also called on the Aquino government “to release the massive relief goods that it has gathered from Filipinos around the world and from the international community,” and to also release all disaster and pork funds for the rehabilitation of the areas badly affected by Yolanda.
“We are calling for some relief from the country’s huge foreign debt so that funds allocated to payments for it will be freed and spent for the rehabilitation of areas destroyed by the supertyphoon,” Labog said.
Saying the Aquino government is liable for its failure to launch a massive evacuation drive days before the typhoon, the labor center also demanded compensation for relatives of those who perished in the supertyphoon.
At the very least, they said all loans of the supertyphoon survivors should also be cancelled, and not only subjected to a moratorium.
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.
“When I joined the Lingap Gabriela relief and study mission in Samar and Leyte, we realized that one great need of the survivors to get back on their feet is to have new jobs and services. That, in turn, usually requires birth certificates, marriage licenses, school records, land titles, even death certificates of relatives who perished, NBI and police clearances,” De Jesus said. But as all these important documents were washed away in the Haiyan flood, she said the government can at least ease the typhoon victims’ burdens by removing the burden of having to pay fees, considering that they already carry great emotional and psychological pains.
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.