Tacloban City – Three thousand-strong disaster survivors from Eastern Visayas converged in a mobilization last November 8, Wednesday, to demand justice, accountability, and an end to hunger, poverty, and rising fascism in the region. Simultaneous mass actions were held in the region’s capital, Catbalogan, and Catarman of Western and Northern Samar respectively mobilizing almost nine thousand Yolanda victims in the whole region.
A day before the fourth Yolanda anniversary, survivors hurled red paints to the walls of the National Housing Authority (NHA) regional office to show outrage over the substandard and uncompleted housing projects in Eastern Visayas. Victims of disaster decried anti-people rehabilitation still being implemented by the Duterte administration.
EV seeks accountability over unfulfilled promises
Alliance for disaster survivors People Surge denounced the present administration for being ‘inutile’ in terms of implementing the 13-point disaster survivors’ agenda presented last year. The said demands were approved by President Duterte himself when he visited Tacloban City during the third Yolanda anniversary.
In a speech Duterte made last year, he mandated the National Housing Authority (NHA) to hasten the construction of permanent housing units. NHA data, however, reveals that approximately six thousand people have yet to be relocated to permanent shelters in Tacloban City alone. People Surge lambasted many times the government’s criminal neglect over the inaccessible utilities, social services and livelihood in most of the relocation sites.
In September this year, solons have confirmed anomalies over Yolanda housing construction during the public hearing conducted by the Housing committee on housing and urban development in Tacloban City. NHA is now facing allegations on undocumented subcontracting in permanent shelters in Eastern Visayas.
“We will not stand by as the funding for our houses are taken from us, as we are reduced to beggars and eyesores, as our dignity is stripped away and our rights were forgotten”, said People Surge Secretary General Marissa Cabaljao.
Former congressman Neri Colmenares, also present during the protest, tagged the government “negligent” and “corrupt”.
Meanwhile, thousands of Yolanda survivors still seek for the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) and 5,000 pesos Presidential Financial Assistance (PFA) which have not yet been fully distributed despite series of dialogues held between disaster survivors and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Groups condemn intensifying militarization
In a simultaneous protest held in Catarman in the province of Northern Samar, farmers group Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) called on the government to implement genuine rehabilitation instead of deploying military troops in the hinterlands of the poorest province in Eastern Visayas.
Military troops were, in fact, reported to have attempted to hamper the mobilizations in Catbalogan City and Catarman. The military threatened the removal of 4Ps beneficiaries from the “list” if they were to participate in the mobilization. Despite the harassment, disaster survivors in Catbalogan City amounting to 3,000 continued the protest, denouncing Department of Environment and National Resources’ National Greening Program (NGP) and the construction of the Samar Sky City cited as examples of anti-people rehabilitation programs post-Yolanda.
In Catarman, Northern Samar, military elements also stationed military troops in the Freedom Park and installed road blockades in the town of Palapag a day before the mobilization.
Human rights group Katungod – Northern Samar pledged to document and expose to the public all of the harassment, encampment, and other human rights violations perpetrated by no less than the Philippine Army. Northern Samar is currently pushing an anti-poverty, anti-fascism campaign dubbed as #StandWithSamar.
Victims of criminal neglect call for justice
For four consecutive years, Eastern Visayas continued to stage protest rallies, calling for justice on the states’ criminal neglect post-Yolanda. “Will we continue to do nothing after we were left on our own by the government during the time that we were most desperate?” asked Cabaljao during the protest rally.
“This is more than just the undelivered ESA, the undelivered houses, the undelivered rehabilitation, this is about calling for justice for what the government had done and did not do. This is about the complete disregard of the government for the thousands of lives lost during Yolanda”, Cabaljao added.
According to Cabaljao, because of the previous and present administrations’ criminal neglect, the region is mired in deep crisis with a declining contribution rate of the agriculture sector to the region’s GDP and extremely low wages.