“This is a scandalous squandering of an important commodity and need at a time when the region has been officially proclaimed by the national government as the poorest in the country.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Reacting to reports last Nov. 30 that sacks of rotten, smelly rice were discovered dumped into an open pit in barangay Macaalang, Dagami, Leyte, a non-governmental organization immediately called for an investigation.
Residents who saw the dumped rice said the sacks were marked with NFA [National Food Authority] and DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development]. After reports broke out, the said sacks disappeared from the pit. This was followed by reports that some locals no longer wish to elaborate on the matter out of fear of reprisal.
Dagami, Leyte is one of the most heavily devastated areas by the monster typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in November 2013. Until now, two years later, poor peasant families in the area and in the whole region have yet to recover from the disaster that had killed an estimated 18,000 people, not to mention their livestock and coconut trees, and some endangered species such as birds.
The storm survivors had been in dire need of immediate aid and relief especially after the typhoon, as their houses and all their belongings like food and clothing were swept away or damaged in the storm surge and flooding. Subsequent reports from people on the ground complained also of insufficient to no aid and relief coming from the government.
As such, the discovery of sacks of rotten rice, which came from the warehouses of the government angered the survivors. Whether the said sacks of rice were intended or not for Yolanda victims, the fact that these were simply left to rot amid a time of great need was “a scandalous squandering of an important commodity and need at a time when the region has been officially proclaimed by the national government as the poorest in the country”, said Raul Repulda, executive director of Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program, Inc. (Evrap), a 29-year old NGO based in Eastern Visayas focusing and working on food security in the region.
It is not the first time that an incident on dumped rice was uncovered in the region. Some 900 sacks of rotten rice were also discovered in January this year in the compound of the Yolanda-damaged office of the Bureau of Customs Regional Office 8 in Tacloban City.
“We are aware of the persistent clamor for much-needed assistance and rehabilitation from the people especially in the far-flung areas in the region, be they affected by super typhoon Yolanda or not. It worries us that the people are looking for organizations such as the NGOs and International NGOs and not our government for this,” Repulda said.
Early in November as Eastern Visayans marked the second year of Yolanda, the survivors’ alliance People Surge spearheaded a regional conference of disaster victims, where the participants reported various cases of “criminal neglect” of the Aquino government in withholding much-needed relief and rehabilitation services and funds to the survivors.
A few days after that, Marissa Cabaljao, secretary general of People Surge, reported that her sibling was accosted by soldiers who threatened their community in Pinabacdao, Samar. The soldiers reportedly warned them against speaking out about government negligence of typhoon survivors, or they will bomb their village.
Last November 30, Cabaljao spoke at Mendiola Bridge near Malacañang during the Bonifacio Day commemoration of progressive groups. She said that until now, they have yet to see justice for government negligence, and on top of that, justice for the fact that, “the Aquino government has been allowing foreign corporations to extract precious, irreplaceable resources from the Philippines, including Eastern Visayas.” She blames this for the far more destructive and fatal storms affecting the country.