‘Dear Pope: don’t let Aquino demolish our homes in your name’

“Various people’s movements and humanitarian organizations have been hard at work for almost a year in various bayanihan (mutual aid) efforts for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the Aquino government continues to hide behind these initiatives in a clear attempt to abandon its mandate to ensure the people’s right to housing and other social services.”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors held a protest action at their bunkhouses in Candahug Village in Palo, Leyte on Nov. 3 sending a message to Pope Francis: “Don’t let the government of Pres. Noynoy Aquino demolish our bunkhouses in your name.”

Their protest is billed as part of the week-long protest countdown leading to a planned giant rally in Tacloban City on November 7 and 8 during the first year commemoration of Yolanda.

In a statement, Gina De Veyra, spokesperson of Gabriela – Eastern Visayas, decried the Aquino government’s “beautification frenzy” in time to welcome the visit of Pope Francis here in Tacloban, which the group blames for having launched a “demolition spree” threatening another displacement of thousands of families.

Survivors, mostly women and children, still live in bunkhouses a year after Yolanda destroyed their homes. They faced the threat of being demolished again or driven away. “It is as if we are like mere trash to be cleared out of sight and out of mind for an arriving VIP,” said De Veyra.

Raquel Meniable, 28, talks about being relocated yet again. (Photo by Max Santiago)
Raquel Meniable, 28, talks about being relocated yet again. (Photo by Max Santiago)

Aside from those in bunkhouses, survivors being asked to leave these houses in exchange for another relocation worry about the temporariness of where they would be moved to. In a group discussion with them Nov. 4, the delegation of Women’s International Solidarity Mission, which was hosted by Gabriela, learned that the survivors would on record be considered to have availed of housing aid. But the house would be located on other public lands, which, based on experience, the government may find another use for in a few years. Thus, the Aquino government and its supporters may cite records of having given help to the storm survivors, but the survivors essentially stayed insecure in their homes.

Even those who rebuilt their destroyed homes from a hodge-podge of materials salvaged from debris said they are being asked by their sponsoring NGOs to replace it. Elena Escarlan, 51, resident of Cogon village in Palo, Leyte, said an NGO that supported their housing “have standards but they’re not paying for the cost of what they want us to demolish” for these standards.

Too little, too lacking in people’s participation

One year after Typhoon Yolanda, housing remains a big problem for the survivors, worsened by the fact that they still have to get appropriate livelihood rehabilitation and support.

Gabriela cited international reports estimating that up to 80 percent of Yolanda victims are women and children. Some 1.2 million houses were damaged or destroyed during the onslaught of Yolanda, of which half a million were completely destroyed. But in a report of humanitarian organization OXFAM, only one percent of all target shelter beneficiaries have actually received permanent shelter aid.

According to a recent report of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR), only 364 housing units have been completed by the government in Tacloban and Tanauan, Leyte. Records of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Eastern Visayas (DSWD-8) revealed that 20,570 individuals still live in temporary bunkhouses in Samar, Leyte, and Eastern Samar provinces.

“Various people’s movements and humanitarian organizations have been hard at work for almost a year in various bayanihan (mutual aid) efforts for rehabilitation and reconstruction. Meanwhile, the Aquino government continues to hide behind these initiatives in a clear attempt to abandon its mandate to ensure the people’s right to housing and other social services,” noted De Veyra.

The local woman leader worries that despite the women’s efforts to cope, if their homes were to be demolished, more may also fall prey to prostitution and human trafficking.

Gabriela – Eastern Visayas appealed to the Pope to intervene with a public message calling for a stop to all demolition operations especially in Yolanda-affected communities, and to challenge the Aquino government to fasttrack the provision of free and adequate housing for all victims displaced by Yolanda.

With Gabriela are women from six countries including the Philippines, USA, Netherlands, Singapore, Belgium and Vietnam who arrived in Tacloban City for the Women’s International Solidarity Mission up to November 8. They are investigating various issues being faced by women and children victims of Yolanda. They hope to gather enough information about the situation of the victims to bring to the attention of the international community, including the Vatican.

“Dear Pope Francis, we women and children Yolanda survivors are praying for your solidarity as we continue to be deprived of a place we can call home. We appeal to your professed preferential treatment for the poor and most vulnerable for intervention to end the Aquino government’s cruel demolition campaign. We hope you can enjoin our church leaders to stand with us as we continue our daily struggle to rebuild our lives and righteously demand justice from a matapobre (elitist) government that has left us to suffer the worsening crises of disasters and climate crisis on our own,” said De Veyra. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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