“Seeing and living with Yolanda survivors first-hand tells us two things: one is that the Yolanda survivors have been doing their best to live and survive and face the aftermath of Yolanda. Two, is that the Aquino government and the ruling local elite are themselves like storm surges that devastate the people more by their neglect and shameless profiteering.” National Union of Students in the Philippines
By MARYA SALAMAT
TACLOBAN City – Some 20,000 survivors gathered in Tacloban City are set today to mark the first year of Yolanda and demand justice for the “criminal negligence” of Aquino government.
As expected, the occasion has drawn contrasting claims with the Aquino government and even some international donors praising “recovery” and the survivors accusing the government of being “waray pulos” (inutile) and worst, repressive and deceptive.
Thousands of survivors and supporters gathered amid heavy deployment of soldiers in the communities they came from, and threats they would be “blacklisted” and denied whatever little help they are getting from government or non-government donor agencies.
In Guian, Samar, Aquino mouthed statistics of the best his government has done for the survivors, except the number of battalions of soldiers he deployed and the go-signal he gave to mining companies, as well as big businesses to help rebuild the devastated areas in accordance with their interests.
International League of Peoples Struggles-Philippines Chairman Elmer Labog, who arrived in Tacloban City to join protests, denounced the Aquino government for its massive corruption in the relief and rehabilitation efforts. He also reacted to a United Nation’s comment on Yolanda efforts.
“It is not just a matter of slow or fast recovery. In the Philippine context, the United Nations’ praise for the fast recovery only means a faster rate of corrupting relief and rehabilitation funds from international and local donors. Other governments in the upcoming APEC Summit in Beijing should look into this,” Labog said.
Evidences of the destruction still remain in these parts. Driving on the highway to Eastern Samar from Tacloban City, for example, the part of the region which Aquino chose to go to rather than face protesters, little to none of his touted recovery is immediately evident. With the sea on your right and the mountain on your left, see the thick slabs of concrete that used to be parts of the highway peeled off by strong surges generated by super-typhoon Yolanda last year, and hauled against the mountain sides by the same surges that killed an estimated 18,000. Some of these slabs remain lying in the same place, even if the roads are indeed undergoing construction.
Nearing Eastern Samar, the rolling hills that used to be green with coconut trees remain a disconsolate grey after Haiyan. Thousands upon thousands of dead coconut trees, from which thousands more of the population depend for livelihood, have all but disappeared. A few coconut trees remain standing, but these look dead or dying. Meanwhile, What used to be a wide verdant green area of mangrove that had been full of sound of birds chirping is now a sad dark place with hardly a sign of life.
Along the road approaching Guian, Eastern Samar, some fallen trees, which, by the girth of its trunk may have already been a hundred years old when it fell, still remain lying along the national road.
While in Guian yesterday, President Aquino was quoted in reports as lashing at his critics. His administration has been receiving flak for its prioritization of military deployment over relief after the typhoon struck, and for its too late and too scanty distribution of relief, reliance on big business groups and NGOs for providing aid, and imposition of so-called No-Build or No-Dwelling Zones that virtually drives away the people from their sources of livelihood and residences. Aquino said in his speech in Samar the government did all it could to address the needs of Yolanda-hit areas.
But as a Bohol earthquake survivor had said in Tacloban during a conference of survivors of disasters this week, “figures don’t lie.”
President Aquino only finalized the P160 billion ($3.55 billion) reconstruction master plan last week, or a week before the first year anniversary of Yolanda’s devastating landfall. “That is simply a year of negligence, lack of urgency and a blatant display of irresponsibility,” exclaimed Sarah Elago, president of National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). Their members lived for a while with Yolanda survivors to determine their situation first-hand.
The truth, said the survivors of disasters not just of Yolanda but of Pablo, Sendong and Agaton typhoons, the Bohol earthquake and even the Zamboanga siege, “it is the people themselves and non-government groups who provided help.”
Aquino claimed that the government distributed up to 12.2 million family foodpacks. But who is checking its contents or where it really went? asked the delegates of the Women’s International Solidarity Mission.
For the 22,000 survivors gathered in Tacloban City on the first anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), it is the peoples’ organizations, well-meaning citizens and some NGOs who provided most of the needed help.
Others said relief from government reached them only weeks later, but these contained less than the announced kilos of rice. In Western Samar, peasant women told Bulatlat.com as they prepared to cross San Juanico Bridge yesterday to join today’s gathering, taht they got word the foodpacks distributed in 2014 supposedly contained 25 kilos of rice, but they received only five kilos.
Contingents from Samar have consistently talked about how they helped each other by rebuilding the destroyed houses in their communities together. The relief goods they got came from peoples organizations in Caraga.
This is similar to statements of women from various communities of Leyte, including here in Tacloban.
Ely Carbon, secretary general of NUSP, said seeing and living with Yolanda survivors first-hand tells them two things. One is that the Yolanda survivors have been doing their best to live and survive and face the aftermath of Yolanda. Two, “the Aquino government and the ruling local elite are themselves like storm surges that devastate the people more by their neglect and shameless profiteering.”