Exhibiting total disregard for the needs of typhoon victims and a strong bias against the poor, the Philippine National Police in Compostela Valley filed cases against eight leaders of typhoon victims who staged a protest action against the lack of distribution of relief goods in their area and to demand for a stop to large-scale mining and illegal logging activities.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA –Is fighting for people’s rights and welfare a crime? The Aquino government and its Philippine National Police in Compostela Valley seem to think so. This is the message they are delivering when they filed a case against victims of typhoon Pablo who protested against the lack of distribution of relief goods in their area. The victims also demanded for a stop to large-scale mining and illegal logging activities.
According to Cherry Orendain, spokeswoman of Anakbayan-Southern Mindanao,Senior Inspector Duane Francis Ducducan, chief of Montevista police, said eight leaders of the protesters have been charged with unlawful appearance, public disturbance, and obstruction of traffic under the Revised Penal Code.
An article by Davao Today reported that Police Senior Superintendent CamiloCascolan, PNP Provincial Director in Compostella Valley, filed the case against Barog Katawhan’s (People Rise Up) leaders Grace Curso, Bello Timdasan and Carlos Trangia; Balsa-Mindanao’s Prof. Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa; environmental rights group Panalipdan’sJulandSuazo; BagongAlyansangMakabayan’s (Bayan) Sheena Duazo; peasant group KilusangMagbubukidngPilipinas’ Tony Salubre; and Leny Camino.
The said protest happened on Jan. 15. More than 5,000 victims of typhoon Pablo barricaded the national highway in Montevista town, Compostela Valley as an act of protest. The barricade resulted in 10 hours of traffic, stranding vehicles and commuters.
“We clearly see that those who are in power can wield ways to turn the tables against the marginalized people. What the barricaders demanded – food, genuine service, cancellation of mining and logging operations, a stop to militarization – are all just. But they filed cases against the leaders with the clear motivation of diverting the issue,” Orendain said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.com.
“Help the helpless, don’t victimize the victim,” said Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of Anakbayan said.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) president Benjie Valbuena, meanwhile, said the filing of public disorder charges against the victims of typhoon Pablo and their supporters is simply insane. Ancheta-Templa is ACT Teachers’ Partylist third nominee.
He added that the case filed against the leaders is a clear act of desperation of Aquino and his cohorts to cover-up the government’s inability to respond to disaster situations like typhoon Pablo and Habagat in recent times. “However, what we cannot fathom is why they should criminalize the acts of people who showed compassion by gathering assistance for and providing moral support to the victims of typhoon Pablo.”
‘Protecting mining and logging companies’
Crisostomo said President Benigno S. Aquino III is merely protecting mining and logging companies in Mindanao by shifting the blame on the people. He said the disaster would have been prevented had these irresponsible companies not been permitted to operate.
“These companies and the local government should be the ones charged, not the residents who hunger for relief,” he said.
Valbuena also said that to demand action from the government who cannot provide the necessities for survival in times of crisis is not a crime. “In the first place, the devastating effects of flooding in Compostela Valley was due to the government’s remiss in curbing exploitation of our natural resources in connivance with big business and their imperialist masters,” he said.
According to Barug Katawhan, the Aquino government policies such as the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA), Executive Order No. 23 (Log Ban), Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Executive Order No. 79 (Mining), and land-use conversion are to be blamed for the degradation of the environment.
Environmental rights group Panalipdan Southern Mindanao also mentioned the permits granted by the Aquino government covering 82,443.39 hectares to 16 logging companies such as the Matuguina Integrated Wood Products, Inc., Picop Resources, Inc., and La Fortuna Mahogany, Inc.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan said, “The Aquino government’s adamant refusal to heed their legitimate demand to put an end to the destructive mining and logging operations in Mindanao practically subjects then further to the dangers that environmental plunder poses to poor Mindanao communities.
She added that more than pity or relief, the victims of typhoon Pablo need justice. “They need comprehensive, well-rounded rehabilitation efforts that should include, at the very least, the temporary ban of all large scale mining and logging operations in the region.”
More help needed
Meanwhile, the groups also appealed for more donations for the typhoon victims.
Kabataan Partylist national president and lawyer Terry Ridon urged youths and students nationwide to contribute to the ‘Tulong Kabataan’ relief operation, which aims to send relief to those who still have not been reached by government operations.
“While it is the State, with its vast resources, which has the responsibility and ability to adequately address all the short-term and long-term needs of the typhoon victims, the youth can provide ‘first aid’ relief while we wait for President Aquino and his bumbling officials to get their act together,” Ridon said.
He said reports from Kabataan volunteers on-site indicate that relief operations have not reached typhoon victimsin Davao Oriental, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur and Davao del Norte.
Typhoon Pablo has destroyed around 216,000 houses. There are still families who are living in evacuation centers. The United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines said they will seek $10 million more in aid, which will go to the rehabilitation of two most devastated areas:Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.