‘Tacloban 5’ imprisoned for still demanding justice 6 years after Typhoon Yolanda

Marissa Cabaljao, spokesperson of People Surge, distributes relief to victims of typhoon. (Photo courtesy of People Surge)

The plight of the Tacloban 5 is but the latest case in a deepening human rights crisis faced by people working to protect their lands, the environment, and our climate. The Philippines was declared the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders in 2019.

By LEON DULCE

Six years after Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the world’s deadliest typhoons in history, reduced the Eastern Visayas region to rubble, the public seems to have already forgotten the deaths of thousands and the catastrophic damages running in the billions that the disaster has wrought.

The ‘Tacloban 5’ never did. And for persistently crying for justice from a government that continued to neglect them, they were imprisoned last February 7, 2020, in treacherous raids and arrests in the dead of zero-dark hundred.

Marissa Cabaljao, a diminutive peasant woman who serves as secretary general of disaster survivors alliance People Surge, was arrested along with her one-year-old baby. Marissa, whose family lost an entire year’s harvest to the super typhoon, has long been the face and voice of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors who came together in the afermath of ‘Yolanda’ to demand justice over government negligence.

Like Marissa, all four other detainees were victims-turned-justice seekers in People Surge. But all four came from the University of the Philippines Tacloban campus, a bastion of youth activism in Yolanda ground zero like its Diliman counterpart.

Dr. Efleda Bautista, a retired educator who is currently president of People Surge, recalls how Mira Legion, a student leader in UP Tacloban who is now a staff member of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Eastern Visayas, worked hard with her to secure the long-delayed emergency shelter assistance for the teachers who lost their homes to ‘Yolanda.’

Frenchie Mae Cumpio, alternative media practitioner in Eastern Vista and radio program Lingganay Han Kamatuoran, and Marielle Domequil, staffer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – Eastern Visayas, were both former officers of People Surge who led their various relief missions and researches.

Marissa Cabaljao (first on the left, first row) and Frenchie Mae Cumpio (third from the left) participate in a community worksop for emergency mobile radio. (Photo courtesy of People Surge)

Frenchie is a familiar voice to many Taclobanons as the anchor of Lingganay, where she gave disaster survivors all the air time they need to discuss their multitude of problems ranging from floods to crop failures.

Marielle Domequil (front) and Mira Legion (back) participate in relief mission in 2018. (Photo courtesy of People Surge)

Marielle, meanwhile, has taken the path of prophetic mission as a lay worker in RMP to bring relief and rehabilitation programs to underserved communities.

Alexander Philip Abinguna, ‘Chakoy’ to his close friends and colleagues, served People Surge’s members who confront reprisals from police and military as a human rights worker under Katungod, the local chapter of Karapatan.

We recall how it was only in 2018 when People Surge was recognized in the 5th Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (Environmental Heroes Award) precisely for winning their battles for disaster assistance and government accountability in the face of climate disruption—the very gains that Marissa, Mira, Frenchie, Marielle, and Chakoy continued to work for up to the moment of their arrests.

Alexander Abinguna denouces the militarization of peasant communities in a protest action in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Katungod-Sinirangang Bisaya)

The plight of the Tacloban 5 is but the latest case in a deepening human rights crisis faced by people working to protect their lands, the environment, and our climate. The Philippines was declared the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders in 2019.

We thus join the mounting calls for the immediate release of the Tacloban 5. Let us call on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to end the climate of impunity amid this era of climate emergency. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Kalibutan is a group blog of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. For comments, email secretariat@kalikasan.net.

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