Progressive groups hold solidarity gatherings for typhoon victims, slam slow gov’t response

“We are disheartened as we see images of our people in Eastern Visayas – thousands of dead bodies, missing loved ones, destroyed homes. We are enraged that days since Yolanda devastated the region, government support is wanting. Where are the billions of pesos in calamity funds? The survivors are resorting to looting in order to survive.” Ferdinand Gaite, Courage

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Various groups held assemblies in different areas in Manila to help raise resources for the victims of typhoon Yolanda on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

Dubbed as the International Day of Solidarity and Action for Victims of Typhoon Yolanda, different groups across the country also held their assemblies and gathered donations for the victims of the typhoon. Groups abroad are also conducting fund-raising drives for their fellow countrymen affected by the typhoon in the Visayas. They also pressed the government to speed up its relief operations and rehabilitation efforts for Filipinos suffering from hunger and desperation in the Visayas islands.

The groups slammed President Benigno S. Aquino III’s statements in the media that the situation in the Visayas islands is under the control. Progressive youth group Anakbayan said Aquino “seems to be more concerned with saving face than saving lives.”

Vencer Crisostomo, national chairman of youth group Anakbayan said they are disappointed and outraged that Aquino seems more concerned with downplaying the number of dead and politicking. In his interview with CNN’s Amanpour, Aquino said the estimate of Leyte officials on the number of deaths is “too much” and said that death toll is only around 2,000 to 2,500.

Women's group Gabriela light candles along Araneta, Quezon City (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil/Bulatlat.com)
Women’s group Gabriela light candles along Araneta, Quezon City (Photo by Anne Marxze D. Umil/Bulatlat.com)

Local officials in Leyte estimate that the death toll may reach 10,000. In Samar, a report said 2,000 people are still missing.

Crisostomo reiterated, “What is important now is that we ensure that no more Yolanda victims succumb to hunger, thirst, exposure, and disease. We call on the government to act swiftly and immediately deliver relief goods to our kababayans.”

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that the death toll has reached 2,357 with 77 more missing and 3,853 people injured. Total damage to infrastructure, agriculture and civilian properties already amounted to P4 million ($91,581.61).

“We are disheartened as we see images of our people in Eastern Visayas – thousands of dead bodies, missing loved ones, destroyed homes. We are enraged that days since Yolanda devastated the region, government support is wanting. Where are the billions of pesos in calamity funds? The survivors are resorting to looting in order to survive,” Ferdinand Gaite, national president of COURAGE (Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees) said. Government employees led by COURAGE also joined the International Day of Solidarity and Action for Victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

‘Where’s the relief?’

“We survived the typhoon but we will die here of hunger.” This is often said by the survivors of the typhoon. The government claims that relief is on the way. However one email that Bulatlat.com received from a certain Doreen Claire Lagado Superable who sent the message for a friend who went to Tacloban, Leyte to look for relatives said that there is no relief distribution in many towns of Leyte.

Candle lighting at UP-Los Banos (Photo from Anakbayan's Facebook/Bulatlat.com)
Candle lighting at UP-Los Banos (Photo from Anakbayan’s Facebook/Bulatlat.com)

“Relief goods are not being well distributed. No rescue team. Soldiers could not be found. If there are, they are at the airport doing nothing. Hence, still no food, water, gas and basic necessities here. That is the reason why looting is rampant here,” the email read. She also added that there are cases of bottled water stored at the Tacloban city hall but have not yet been distributed. “The roads are already passable. I cannot understand why relief is not being distributed.”

The email further read, “Government officials, stop bragging that there are more than enough relief goods and rescue teams! That is BS!”

Even international media correspondents also expressed frustration and dismay over the government’s ineptitude. In a report, CNN journalist Anderson Cooper who has been in Tacloban to report about the aftermath of Yolanda said, “There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief.”

“The devastation from the storm appears to be far greater than what the national government is officially reporting. Looting is being highlighted while acute shortage of supplies, widespread hunger and the government’s failure to deliver relief goods to the victims are being downplayed. The claim of the national government during Aquino’s November 7 televised speech that relief goods are already prepositioned and that air and naval assets are on standby now appears untrue” said Bagong Alaynansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate also said, “The government never learned lessons from the recent past, like the massive devastation brought by typhoon Pablo in 2012. It appeared that the government is either horribly clueless, badly inefficient or even criminally disorganized.”

He said the government is incompetent “that it even allowed the conduct of relief, rescue operations to be undertaken by foreign troops.”

Candle lighting at Davao City (Photo from Anakbayan's Facebook/Bulatlat.com)
Candle lighting at Davao City (Photo from Anakbayan’s Facebook/Bulatlat.com)

“No, it’s not God who was absent or was somewhere else when Yolanda struck; it is the Aquino administration that was and still is not being felt, nowhere to be found or seen by our hapless kababayans. Till now there is no clear plan for retrieval of the dead, for the evacuation of the victims or setting up of camps,” the progressive solon stressed.

‘Aid should not be in the hands of Aquino’

“The Aquino administration has no credibility in implementing the proper allocation of foreign aid for the typhoon victims,” Carlito Badion, national secretary general Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday noted that the total international aid to support relief and rehabilitation efforts has reached P2.585 billion ($59,184,615).

“Its past relief efforts for the victims of typhoon Pablo and Sendong in the Southern Philippines show that the Aquino administration is incapable of ensuring that the foreign and local aid will go to the right people.”

Badion cited the relief operations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) last year for the Pablo victims in Mindanao, which had been riddled with several charges of misuse and corruption, as packs of donated goods failed to reach its intended recipients and rotted in warehouses.

Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus also called for vigilance in monitoring the donations that ar pouring in for victims of the typhoon. De Jesus said she shares the worries verbalized by donors around the world that the donations for Yolanda victims might end up in the pockets of government officials.

“We should watch closely where the official aid coming from different parts of the world are being spent. This could be included once again in the Disbursement Acceleration Program or in the pork barrel of the Palace.”

“Do not use it for political patronage,” De Jesus said.

Scrap pork, spend funds for Yolanda victims

Progressive groups reiterated their call to scrap all forms of pork barrel funds and now utilize it for rehabilitation of the affected provinces.

Badion also urged Aquino to give up his pork barrel funds worth P1.4 trillion ($32.053 billion) and reallocate it for the victims of the typhoon.

“The people of Eastern Visayas are victims three times over now. First, from poverty and underdevelopment brought about by unequal socio-economic relations. Second, from the systematic looting of public funds by politicians as shown in the pork barrel scam. And third, from the devastating effects of Yolanda aggravated by slow and grossly inadequate government response,” said Reyes.

Bayan reiterated its call for the suspension of foreign debt payments and for the rechanneling of pork barrel funds toward relief operations and rehabilitation efforts for typhoon affected areas. The group also demanded that the realigned and rebranded PDAF or the Priority Development Assistance Funds in the 2014 budget be taken out of the hands of the politicians and the General Appropriations funds.
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