Quezon City- The biennial awards event organized by the Center for Environmental Concerns and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment honored local disaster group People Surge with its Gawad sa Organisasyon (Award for Organizations) last March 15 at the Institute of Biology in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus.
Present in the ceremony was the board of judges for this year including Dr. Carol Araullo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) and national artist Bienvenido Lumbera. The event was hosted by noted environmental advocate and award-winning movie actor John Arcilla.
The award was received by international environment figure Dr. Efleda Bautista, who had just been re-elected as the group’s President in a congress held in Biliran last January. In her speech, Bautista highlighted the urgency behind a non-corporate approach to disaster response and post-calamity rehabilitation saying the latter has been the leading hindrance to the region’s full recovery since super typhoon Yolanda made landfall in 2013.
What is People Surge?
Based in Eastern Visayas, the international movement of disaster survivors was quoted as having “transformed hapless victims of disaster into seekers of justice” by the award-giving body.
After four years since its founding on January 25, 2014, People Surge has been the recipient of several awards and distinctions and has taken the lead in disaster-related research and awareness campaigns in the region by partnering with international non-governmental organizations and research groups. The Gawad ng Bayani is the most recent among the group’s accolades and is among its most prestigious after having competed with several other organizations from different parts of the country.
In the past, People Surge has been dubbed as the “disaster watchdog of the East” after having played a crucial role in the exposition of anomalies in government-led relief efforts since Yolanda. The organization also provided grass-roots data on the extent of damages caused by typhoon Ruby in 2014 after government data allegedly downplayed the agriculture-woes following the calamity.
Natural or man-made
Aside from pro-people rehabilitation initiatives, People Surge has also been involved in anti-militarization campaigns after a spate of human rights violations hit disaster-struck areas in Calbiga, Western Samar last April 2017 where 2,500 farmers from 14 barangays evacuated to the municipal basketball court.
Facilitating a dialogue with the local government unit of Calbiga and the commanding officer of the 87th Infantry Battalion, Lt. Col. Arnel Floresca, People Surge succeeded in clinching the disposition of the military away from the barangays.
Where is it headed now?
In her speech, Dr. Bautista revealed environmental abuses taking place in Eastern Visayas which have gone unnoticed in mainstream media.
“The country has yet to notice the abusive mining in Batag, Northern Samar for bauxite. Samar has the biggest bauxite deposits in the entire country and yet it is being plundered by unrepentant mining companies. Their activities have a direct impact on the economic welfare of fisherfolk and farmers from the province who are still reeling from the suffering brought by typhoon Nona in 2015” says Bautista.
In addition, she also lamented over the fact that nickel mining in Eastern Samar has been driving successive blows to the livelihood of the people of Manicani Island who have repeatedly registered their opposition against the operations there. After tropical storm Urduja hit Eastern Samar hardest last December, Bautista says the public can expect an ever-worsening economic state in the province.
“We must make our position even clearer to the Filipino people and the global community; disaster and rehabilitation are linked intricately to other sectoral issues in the country. In other words, we must expose all anti-people policies ranging from the mining sector to useless infrastructural booms especially now that they are gaining prominence in Eastern Visayas and are badly affecting calamity-hit areas”
Bautista bared plans for People Surge to take their environmental crusade to a new level for 2018 by engaging more government agencies and private companies who are being linked to anomalies in post-Yolanda rehabilitation.
Photo by: Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC)