Disaster victims from major Visayas islands will start to gather in Manila tomorrow to stage mass actions at the doorsteps of government agencies to urge the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to “rethink and redirect government thrusts” on Yolanda reconstruction, three years after super typhoon Yolanda battered the region.
“Compounded with issues of failed resettlement and corruption in disaster aid distribution, the hunger problem, most importantly, has gone unabated both in rural and urban communities where millions of workers and farmers work under marginalized opportunities to make ends meet,” said Dr. Efleda Bautista, chairperson of disaster survivors group People Surge, leading the Manila protest actions.
Around 200 disaster victims from the poorest Philippine region Eastern Visayas, who are joining the ‘Lakbayan ng Visayas laban sa Kagutuman at Militarisasyon’ caution Duterte not to simply tread along the path of reconstruction set by the previous Aquino government’s Build Back Better. Bautista averred that Aquino left a Yolanda legacy that favors ‘disaster capitalism’, securing only “big business interests to thrive”.
“While we appreciate President Duterte’s pronouncements in contrast to his ‘Noynoying’ predecessor, this issue on rehabilitation is something that must be deeply addressed by providing immediate response and by revisiting and revising anti-poor economic policies still in place,” Bautista said. She further warned Duterte that “blindly expediting a flawed program will only worsen the widespread hunger and poverty.”
Agriculture sector still neglected
At the third Yolanda anniversary protest in Eastern Visayas, People Surge mentioned that “many may be only seeing the typhoon’s ‘Ground Zero’ in Tacloban City, but rural communities are equally hit hard by far-reaching impacts of consecutive typhoons – from super typhoons Yolanda and Ruby, typhoon Glenda, Seniang and Nona.”
“Government estimates on agricultural damages were pegged at P55 billion pesos with the bulk affecting the coconut industry, one of the main economic activities of the region. It takes seven years before damaged coconut trees can fully recover and be productive again, leaving hundreds of thousands of peasant coconut farmers without any livelihood,” People Surge adds.
During the send-off activity in Tacloban City on Saturday, Marissa Cabaljao, the Secretary General of People Surge, challenged a recent government claim released a day after the third Yolanda anniversary protest in Tacloban. The Philippine Statistics Authority said that between 2012 and 2015, the annual poverty incidence has significantly lowered by 6.7 percent.
In another government data presented by the National Economic Development Authority, the government had already allocateda total of 13.3 billion pesos to the agriculture and coconut industry sectors in the Visayas . People Surge believes that the gap in funding remains big as compared to the cumulative worth of damages brought by consecutive natural and man-made calamities experienced by the region.
Cabaljao also underscored inadequacies in government response in providing prompt and immediate relief in terms of food aid, shelter assistance, and sustainable livelihood.
“It is the height of callousness that peasant farmers who feed our nation are rendered unable to feed themselves, as the extreme conditions are forcing them to eat only once a day. Yet the previous government continues to turn a blind eye to the millions of tillers, perpetuating the long-standing landlessness of the majority of the peasantry in Eastern Visayas and exacerbated by recent calamities,” added People Surge.
Other disaster victims from Cebu, Negros and Panay islands will be joining them in the national capital to highlight their call against hunger and militarization. People Surge will lead the first batch expected to arrive tomorrow. After a breakfast at the Baclaran Church, a salubungan (convergence) with Manila-based groups will be staged at the Mehan Garden before a protest rally in Mendiola at 10:00 AM and a boodle fight lunch with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) community.