“We feel that the Aquino government has let the people down. There are many who continue to suffer five months after the calamity, and the government’s reconstruction is inherently anti-poor.” – Sr. Edita Eslopor, spokesperson of People Surge.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Survivors of super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) held their biggest rally in Metro Manila to date last Tuesday (April 8), the fifth month since Yolanda made landfall and ravaged the region of Eastern Visayas most heavily. In Tacloban City, another protest was held on the same day. By now, a forensic expert has estimated the death toll to be more than 18,000. Even as the Aquino government maintains the official death toll is somewhere in the region of 6,200, more bodies of the dead continue to be unearthed in various places in the region to this day.
With relatives, friends, and other progressive groups, the Yolanda survivors held a Lenten-inspired protest march to Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang to mark what they called as five months of injustice. Before marching, they called on the Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle to seek the support of Catholic Church for their struggle for justice, as they attended a mass offered for them at Quiapo Church.
“We feel that the Aquino government has let the people down. There are many who continue to suffer five months after the calamity, and the government’s reconstruction is inherently anti-poor,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor, spokesperson of People Surge.
As far as the Aquino government is concerned, based on claims of Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, they have been doing their best. They questioned the protesters and called them “leftists,” as reports from the ground revealed that state soldiers have begun hunting for those who signed the People Surge’s petition.
Wanted: A Christian response?
The church and the religious sector have been assisting Yolanda victims right from the start, gathering relief goods, going to the devastated area themselves, and urging the people to continue helping the victims and the survivors of Yolanda, said Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez. The bishop prayed, during a mass he led for the Yolanda victims, that the Church and the rest of the faithful would find, especially this season of Lent, greater understanding and support for the victims of typhoon Yolanda.
With church leaders and at least 10 clergy from the capital, the bishop went out to Plaza Miranda after the mass to join the storm survivors in a “solidarity lunch” of sweet potatoes.
On lean months such as this month, people from the Visayas islands usually eat root crops such as sweet potatoes to get by. But after Yolanda, they said, these lean months have gotten even leaner, such that they often have to go hungry. Yolanda destroyed not only their main crops but also their root crops, hence their demand for continued relief until such time they have recovered their livelihood.
At Plaza Miranda, the survivors held a brief program to share with the crowd and the faithful why some members of People Surge have been in Manila for two months now. They said that shortly before the 100th day after Yolanda, they came here to speak about “the true condition of the people in Eastern Visayas,” and to press for the rightful demands of Yolanda survivors.
They tried to deliver to President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III the petition containing these demands, signed by nearly 18,000 from Eastern Visayas. The demands include aid in rehabilitating their agriculture and sources of livelihood; at least P40,000 cash relief; and an end to the No Build Zone policy, which, they said, evicts the poor for the interest of big businesses. But even after five months since Yolanda, with two months of it spent on approaching and practically “begging” for aid from government agencies, not one of these demands were met.
“It has been five months of Calvary,” said Sr. Edita Eslopor.
“President Aquino told the people that they are his boss, but it turned out that he meant the people are his ‘busabos’ (oppressed lot),” Joel Abaño, a member of People Surge and one of those affected by the No Build Zone, said at Plaza Miranda and later at Mendiola.
Senakulo symbolizing the storm victims
While they were in Plaza Miranda, the Yolanda survivors and supporters had unveiled a larger than life puppet depicting President Aquino. The puppet attracted attention and laughter from the crowd, including children, in Plaza Miranda.
At the “Senakulo procession,” this puppet Aquino walked with his “gang,” flogging and kicking a representative of Yolanda victim bearing a huge, blood-stained yellow cross.
“This dramatizes the sufferings of the Yolanda survivors under the Aquino administration and the ‘Gang of Five,’” Eslopor said. The ‘Gang of Five’ is President Aquino and his officials: Interior Sec. Manuel Roxas, Social Welfare Sec. Corazon Soliman, Reconstruction Sec. Panfilo Lacson and Energy Sec. Jericho Petilla.
The Senakulo procession proceeded at the head of the protest march to Mendiola from Quiapo Church. The bearer of the yellow cross is a 58-year old farmer from Samar.
According to People Surge, this cross represents the burden being suffered by the Yolanda survivors, and that burden is the Aquino government and its anti-poor policies.
Hundreds of protesters also carried small white crucifixes bearing names of some of the dead due to Yolanda. These crucifixes should “remind Pres. Aquino of his criminal negligence to the Yolanda victims,” said Sr. Eslopor.
Aside from People Surge, another progressive group held their own trip to Calvary, except that their suffering Jesus Christ is someone from the urban poor who decries the chronic problem of joblessness, low wages, high prices and political repression. Their suffering Christ is depicted as being flogged not just by President Aquino but also by a representative of US imperialism.
Bishop Iñiguez has likened the storm survivors to the tribes of Israel (from Old Testament) who suffered untold sufferings while wandering in the wilderness as they searched for the Promised Land. The bishop asked the public to give something of themselves to those in need (he calls it Alay-Kapwa), or the likes of the Yolanda survivors.
In having conducted a Lenten-inspired protest, Sr. Eslopor expressed hope that it could help enlighten the Catholic Church and the public about the continuing struggle of the Yolanda survivors. They hope also that the Aquino government “will wake up to its immorality and unjustness toward the Yolanda survivors.”