“This government is a disaster. We are rising from the ground to take charge and end this disaster.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Jesusa Hiponia, Meriam Rosario, Toto Cajes and Janine Dizor are survivors of the strongest typhoon ever recorded in recent history. They came from various areas hit by Typhoon Yolanda: Samar, Leyte, Panay. They did not know each other until they went to Manila for the commemoration of the first year of Yolanda (Haiyan). Yet they talk, exchange jokes and laugh like long time friends.
Asked what bonded them together, Rosario, 28, a resident of Estancia in Iloilo, told Bulatlat.com: “We are all victims of a typhoon. We are victims of this government.”
All four of them went to Manila to join a protest action on Nov. 7 organized by progressive groups to commemorate the first year since Typhoon Yolandawrought havoc in the Eastern and Central Visayas regions.
Though a year has passed, they said, life has not returned to normal. They stressed that government has failed to respond to the needs and clamor of the survivors of the typhoon.
During the protest, activists poured and smudged mud on themselves and on their clothes while President Aquino’s pronouncements on the supposed actions being taken by the government was being broadcasted.
“This signifies something that we all believe to be true, that Yolanda survivors continue to greatly suffer and that a year of negligence is beyond criminal. A year of negligence is sadistic. This mud protest shows that we can rise from the sadistic hardships brought upon by a lack of concrete plan and a mockery of rehabilitation,” Jay del Rosario, spokesperson of the cultural group Karatula, said.
Help came from NGOs
Yolanda survivors recalled the horrors of the typhoon as if it was only yesterday – Cajes, 38, most especially, who lost his wife Meite and three of his five children to the typhoon.
Cajes, a resident of Basey, Samar, recalled how poorly informed they were days before the typhoon struck. A village official, he said, made rounds in their community warning that a strong typhoon was coming.
Heeding the precaution, their family sought refuge in his aunt’s concrete house. But the bungalow house did not stand a chance. When the door was smashed open by the raging typhoon, the water was instantly up to his neck. His family climbed into the ceiling but that, too, was submerged by flood.
Cajes was so inconsolable that he contemplated suicide. But thinking about his two surviving children stopped him. They are now his source of strength, he said.
As soon as the flood subsided, they had to face harsher realities, including hunger and thirst.
For the next few days, they relied on coconuts and rootcrops for food. They cooked rice even if it smelled rotten after being submerged in flood.
Help and relief goods only came in after at least a week. Most of it, they added, came from private groups and not from the government.
Hiponia, 33, a resident of Estancia, Panay said survivors were spun around like toy tops, being made to run in circles by government officials to where there is relief distibution or any form of assistance.
“It took them so long to give us the rice they promised that by that time, it was already mature for planting,” Hiponia said.
In a press conference, the Philippine Red Cross shared that they have provided $220 cash grants to at least 30,000 households. There were also 6,100 houses that have been rebuilt and that at least 40,000 more families are expected to receive “safer homes” in the next 15 months.
The PRC also had 192 classrooms repaired.
The National Council of Churches of the Philippines, and the ACT Alliance also extended assistance to the survivors in Leyte, Samar and Iloilo.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery said in its report that only 213 classrooms out of the 19,648 were repaired and only 64 out of the 431 kilometers of roads.
While NGOs gave commendable contributions in the rebuilding efforts, it is the strength and resourcefulness of survivors in claiming their rights that is amazing, said Rev. Rex Reyes, secretary general of the NCCP.
Rev. Reyes said that much more has to be done. He said that the UN Humanitarian Shelter Working Group estimates that at least 300,000 of the 500,000 families whose homes were destroyed by the typhoon have either been housed or been promised to receive a house by shelter agencies or NGOs.
The government’s blueprint of its comprehensive housing and resettlement, Fr. Reyes added, was only approved last week, a year after the typhoon struck.
“Until now, Yolanda suvivors are starving. They are given meagre, rotten relief goods or even none at all. The bunkhouses provided to them are substandard, and could easily be destroyed should another typhoon come,” Marc Lino Abila, president of College Editors Guild of the Philippines, said.
“Where is the government in all these?” he added.
Roger Soluta, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, said, no amount of lies could hide the continuing misery being experienced by communities affected by the typhoon.
Hiponia said the government, instead of providing assistance, took advantage of the despair of the people by “hiring” them to clean the oil spill from a bunker ship owned by the National Power Corporation.
Residents who were hired, she said, were given no protection from the possible effects of their direct exposure to the oil spill. As a result, Hiponia said, they have received reports that four workers died, while two others died after swimming in the oil-slick sea.
From the P200 daily salary, Hiponia said, the government was forced to increase it to P500 per day, as there were no takers.
Typhoon Yolanda survivors agreed that not only did the government respond too slowly to their needs but even hindered some of the aid they were supposed to receive, especially from the private sector.
There were communities, Cajes said, that did not receive assistance from their local government because their village officials are not political allies of Aquino.
Dizor, 21, a resident of Tacloban City and was among those who flew to Manila via the military’s C130, said they were lured back to their province by promises that they would be given assistance by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
When they reached Tacloban, Dizor said their family was not part of the government’s “masterlist,” and not eligible to receive assistance.
During the protest action, Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said typhoon survivors who are members of progressive groups such as Gabriela or Bayan Muna are being denied government assistance.
When women survivors of the typhoon formed Hugpong Kababaihan to collectively demand for their rights, Del Rosario said, local officials of the Department of Social Welfare and Development accused their group of being connected to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
Mothers, she said, who are beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer of the government, were warned that they would no longer be part of the program if they join the women’s group.
Despite the red tagging, Del Rosario said, they formed Hugpong Kababaihan chapters in 20 out of the 25 villages in Iloilo.
Ilagan said Aquino government has failed all three stages of recovery, from relief distribution to rehabilitation to rebuilding.
Dizor said recovery efforts has still a long way to go.
Residents, she said, still have to deal with with the government’s supposed “No Build Zone Policy” and the lack of a sustainable source of income. Dizor added that residents are still so traumatized by the typhoon that a mere drizzle would cause panic.
“This government should do away with promises and should, instead, just do their job. Our children would all be grown up and we’re still stuck with these promises,” Del Rosario said.
Abila said Aquino should be held accountable for his negligence to the people.
Norma Dollaga, co-coordinator of Dambana, said they will not “let go of this mourning” as it would be immoral to turn their backs on those who were abandoned by the government.