Yolanda survivors initially barred from submitting petition to Malacañang

“Why is it that President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III could personally welcome (there) an accused person like Janet Lim Napoles, but not the representatives of Yolanda victims who only tried to bring a petition signed by 17,585 survivors of Yolanda?”

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – “Are the victims of Yolanda criminals? We were treated like that in Malacañang. Why is it that President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III could personally welcome (there) an accused person like Janet Lim Napoles, but not the representatives of Yolanda victims who only tried to bring a petition signed by 17,585 survivors of Yolanda?” These were the questions of Benedictine nun Edita Eslopor as she spent more than an hour convincing the guards of Malacañang to let them in and receive the signed petition of her fellow Yolanda survivors. She and some members of Typhoon Yolanda survivors’ alliance People Surge are in the capital for a few days to bring to the attention of the government their real plight in Eastern Visayas.

Sr. Edita Eslopor shows the Malacañang-received copy of their petition, signed by 17,585 Yolanda survivors. (Photo  by M. Salamat / )
Sr. Edita Eslopor shows the Malacañang-received copy of their petition, signed by 17,585 Yolanda survivors. (Photo by M. Salamat / )

They and the more that 17 thousand who signed the petition are telling the government that majority of the typhoon victims do not feel the relief, which the national government claims have reached them, nor the rehabilitation which, again, the national government claimed they started implementing since January.

With Sr. Eslopor are some Yolanda survivors, former Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino, and singer-actress Monique Wilson.

By the time their petition was finally marked as “received,” and they walked out of Malacañang to join the protesters at the Mendiola Bridge, Monique Wilson was furious at how they were treated.

“Is this democracy?” Wilson asked as she recounted how they were taunted and waylaid at two different gates of Malacañang. She said she cannot understand why the palace has no problem welcoming her when she comes there to sing, but not when she comes there to help bring the petition of Typhoon Yolanda survivors.

The guards told them that they are not being allowed to enter Malacañang because they might be wearing protest shirts or might do die-ins or protest dances (such as of One Billion Rising).

FURIOUS MONIQUE "Is this democracy?"
FURIOUS MONIQUE “Is this democracy?”

“I am so angry. This is the first time I experienced this,” Wilson said.

Sr. Eslopor told Bulatlat.com that finally, three of them were allowed to enter the palace grounds to submit their petition to an appropriate office inside, “but we were escorted as if we were criminals.”

The Yolanda survivors are petitioning the Aquino government to:

(1) “Provide P40,000 ($891) immediate financial relief to every affected family, based on the framework that relief distribution has been insufficient.” The survivors said this amount could barely cover at least two months of food and non-food needs of a family of six in Eastern Visayas prior to the typhoon. Its real value now is substantially diminished due to continuous increases in prices.

(2) Scrap the ‘no-build zone’ policy, which, they said, reinforces outright landgrabbing.

(3) “Sustain the distribution of relief assistance of food and water to victims both in the urban and rural

‘Aquino govt claims re: Yolanda efforts untrue’

Speaking at a program in Mendiola (now Chino Roces) Bridge, survivors of Yolanda expressed their gratitude for all the support and relief being given by Filipinos and international donors. But as Jessica Darantinao, 25, said: “We hope you’ll support us also in trying to make your aid reach us.”

Contrary to what Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said that the government has been implementing cash for work and food for work programs to help the survivors get back on their feet, Darantinao said they do not experience or see any of that. “It is not reaching us.”

In a TV interview Tuesday night after the survivors of Yolanda trooped to Malacañang, Soliman responded to questions about missing relief goods with a statement that they had focused their relief “saturation”on Leyte and Eastern Samar, saying the extent of the damage wreaked by Yolanda is worst there than in Western Samar.

But Darantinao, for one, hails from Carigara, Leyte. And with other Yolanda survivors who came to Manila to tell about their real situation, she said they got some relief not from the government but from others.

She said even the local government has not been of help to them, adding that the “color-coding” or political affiliation of those in position from local to national has meant that the relief goods are being shared only with Aquino’s allies.

Even before Yolanda, Darantinao told Bulatlat.com, they were already poor. How much are they worse off now, after Yolanda, she said. Her family lost all their coconut trees, which had been their main source of livelihood. To have something to eat after Typhoon Yolanda struck, she said they prepared as vegetable the innermost core (ubod) of their fallen coconut trees. They even resorted to eating very young or unripe bananas that, before Yolanda, they would not have touched that early. It took a week before relief came, she said, and it was not from the government.

Today, she and her family are making do with whatever relief they could find. While thankful for it, they hope to be able to get by until they can continue their independence and regain their livelihood.

In response to the reported complaints of Yolanda survivors, Soliman claimed that “74% of those interviewed by Social Weather Station (SWS) have “approved what government does… and they are the typhoon victims.”

Soliman based it on the latest SWS survey, conducted from December 11 to 16 last year. But this survey had interviewed only 1,550 adults, of which, only 650 came from the Visayas.

When People Surge was formed on Jan. 24, as much as 12,000 came to participate. The petition their leaders tried to hand to President Aquino himself this Tuesday Feb 17 was signed by 17, 585 Yolanda survivors.

Joel Abaño, 72, said they don’t believe the claims of the Aquino government that it did its best but it wasn’t enough. “What have they done? It was the people from here and other countries who helped us,” he said.

Joel Abaño from Leyte describes the 'No-Build Zone' policy of the Aquino govt as 'landgrabbing' for Aquino cronies. (Photo by M. Salamat / )
Joel Abaño from Leyte condemns the ‘No-Build Zone’ policy of the Aquino govt as ‘landgrabbing’ for Aquino cronies. (Photo by M. Salamat / )

Abaño is one of the Tacloban City residents to be dislocated by the No-Build Zone policy. It will not only deprive him of his place of residence for the last 45 years, it would also deprive him of a job as he used to operate a food stall in his house.

Most leaders of progressive organizations who supported People Surge also condemned Aquino’s deployment of military troops in devastated areas, which preceded even Aquino’s relief distribution. “The government sent soldiers first — can we eat them?” asked Nancy Guerrero, a native of Samar in Eastern Visayas and now a member of Samakana Gabriela based in Quezon City.

The survivors of Yolanda said they are mulling over the possibility of filing cases against the Aquino government for its criminal negligence. ()

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