Groups slam Aquino government for blaming the poor for the floods

“The lack of disaster preparedness, wanton logging and mining activities, dam owners’ greed, failure to de-silt Laguna Bay and other waterways, and unplanned urban development – these are the main reasons for the heavy flooding,” – KMU

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) condemned the Aquino government’s plan of “blasting” structures along waterways to supposedly ease flooding in Metro Manila as just “a knee-jerk anti-poor reaction” that exposes more “a spoiled haciendero than a carefully studied move.”

“Stop blaming the poor for the crimes of the rich and the government,” the labor center told Aquino. At the same time, it warned Filipinos to consider the Aquino government announcements as “signal” for even more violent demolitions of urban and rural poor communities.

The supposed anti-flood project of the government was announced by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson last Saturday, after a Cabinet meeting presided by Pres. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. In the same meeting, they disclosed the need to build some estimated P352 billion ($ 8,38 billion) worth of infrastructure consisting of dikes and dams, in a bid to mitigate the seasonal flooding.

This would not be as fast as “instant noodles,” Aquino had reportedly quipped, since it would take at least 15 years to construct. It would also likely be funded by foreign loans. For the meantime, officials of the Aquino government have been blaming the poor for ‘squatting’ in waterways, and the people in general for contributing to garbage problems and ‘not cooperating’.

But according to the KMU and green groups, “The existence of so-called illegal structures is not one of the main reasons for flooding in Metro Manila.” The lack of disaster preparedness, wanton logging and mining activities, dam owners’ greed, failure to de-silt Laguna Bay and other waterways, and unplanned urban development – these are the main reasons for heavy flooding, said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of KMU.

Aquino covering up ineptness by further attacking the poor

Eleven days of continuous heavy rains have caused massive floods in Metro Manila and surrounding areas, from Southern Tagalog to Central Luzon to as far as Northern Luzon. Many of the victims are urban poor residents, peasants, workers and middle and lower-middle class communities whose homes and properties were swept away by the floods.

Hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless. Reports showed that many are forced to move to ill-equipped and ill-prepared evacuation centers. They remain in dire need of food, drinking water, clothing, and medicines.

In an appeal to international friends for help to Filipino flood victims, Luis G. Jalandoni, chief international representative of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, wrote that “people’s committees and mass organizations of the national democratic movement are carrying out rescue and evacuation efforts.”

In Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, for example, Jalandoni said, “units of the people’s army have been immediately mobilized to provide assistance to the flood victims, including post flood cleanup, repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged homes and properties.”

But even as he urged for more aid to flood victims, he also pointed to the Aquino government’s “failure to prioritize efforts to prevent and prepare for widespread disasters.”

The Aquino government is accountable for its failure to organize safe evacuation of the people, according to Jalandoni. He added that the Aquino government has also failed to carry out efforts for reforestation. Instead, it has given priority to attracting foreign companies to undertake mining operations in denuded mountainous areas.

“These are actually crimes not of the poor but of the rich, with the connivance of the Aquino government,” the progressive labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno said in another statement. As such, whenever government officials blamed the poor, they are actually blaming the victims of the government’s pro-rich policies, Labog of KMU said.

Aquino’s anti-flood infra projects ‘not an assurance vs floods’

It is true the Philippines is in dire need of infrastructures to combat floods, Clemente Bautista, secretary general of Kalikasan Partylist, told Bulatlat.com. The glaring lack of anti-flood infrastructure and equipment had been exposed again in the past few weeks, he said, as the few and extremely dilapidated pumping stations failed to function when needed. Bautista said its management had obviously been a problem, too.

There had been proposals before, not just from government but from various experts in urban planning and engineering, to build some honest-to-goodness anti-flood infrastructures and to clear the waterways.

But the Aquino government has continued to prevent, for example, the building of a spillway to the Manila Bay via Parañaque. It has stopped the de-silting, too, of Laguna de Bay, Jalandoni of NDFP said. He added that the Aquino government has also allowed the blocking of floodwaters in the seaside towns of Central Luzon and the lack of impounding lakes for excess water from the dams.

Now the Aquino government is drawing up proposals to build mega-dykes in Marikina, to double the sea wall in Roxas Blvd. and build walls in some major rivers. This early though, some observers fear that in a climate of corruption, lack of transparency and consultation, these may all end up like the earlier so-called flood prevention projects. Some costly megadykes in Pampanga, for example, easily got eroded and swept away.

The additional anti-flooding infrastructures being planned by the government are “no assurance against flooding,” Bautista of Kalikasan Partylist told bulatlat.com. Aside from the fact that previous experience with similar so-called anti-flood infrastructures had been negative because of corruption, substandard build and poor management, he explained that if the majority of Filipinos remained poor, they would be just as adversely affected by floods as before.

“People live in creeks, even if it’s a dangerous place to live in, because they have nowhere else to go to,” Bautista said. He explained that monsoon rains and its resulting floods were able to kill and endanger so many people only because many of these people are poor and there is very scarce disaster response. He also dared the government to resolve the garbage problem, saying the government on average collects only an estimated 80-percent of garbage, while the uncollected 20-percent go to pollute rivers, clog the sewage system, etc.

Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) is a huge example of government’s persistent failure at addressing the problem of floods, Bautista said. “It shows both the lack of infrastructure and, even in cases when there are supposed to be infrastructure and equipment, the corruption is so bad that these infrastructures and equipment are rendered ineffective,” Bautista told Bulatlat.com in an interview.

Worse, if the Aquino government finally did go ahead with its multi-billion infrastructure projects, the same “pro-rich policies” that made Filipinos poor and vulnerable may be intensified. Officials of the Aquino government have said they would likely finance the projects through more foreign debts, which always come with interests and conditionalities. The International Monetary Fund, for example, has already given the Aquino government policy recommendations on how it could invite more foreign investments in mining.

Disaster preparedness, too little too late

The labor center KMU also slammed the Aquino government’s belated implementation of disaster preparedness projects, citing Singson’s announcement last Monday that P5 billion is being allotted to the immediate repair and upgrading of several dikes in Metro Manila.

“What a shame. The Aquino government took disaster preparedness seriously only after a national disaster and the death of many of our kababayans,” Labog said.

“It took the Aquino government two years to pick up where it left off with the cancellation of flood control projects worth P1.9 billion in July 2010. Perhaps it has now rechanneled kickbacks to its allies’ pockets,” he added.

Since Aquino became president, he has ignored disaster preparedness, the Kalikasan Partylist said in its two-year appraisal of the Aquino government. The group cited the Aquino government’s veto of the proposed P5-billion (US$119-m) calamity preparedness fund from the 2011 budget. On top of that, the Department of Budget released only 11-percent of the Department of Interior and Local Government’s barangay disaster preparedness funds, Kalikasan said.

“To cover up for its refusal to take disaster preparedness seriously, the Aquino government is now blaming the poor for the heavy flooding,” Labog said, adding that “The president and his class should look in the mirror and see who the real culprits are for this national disaster.” ()

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  1. These informal settlers shouldn’t be there, in the first place, as they are blocking waterways which cause flood.

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