Yolanda survivors in their Duterte campaign signature pose. People Surge facilitated the consultation to craft a survivors’ agenda to be presented to incoming President Rodrigo Duterte.
TACLOBAN CITY, PHILIPPINES – Leaders of People Surge convened on Saturday, June 18, at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Tacloban City, a number of disaster survivors in Eastern Visayas to gather proposals from the urban poor, workers, peasant and other sectors in light of continuing reconstruction efforts in Yolanda-ravaged communities.
The proposals, combined into one “Survivors Agenda” will form part of a comprehensive ‘People’s Agenda’ to be presented at a National People’s Summit in UP Diliman in Quezon City, a day before incoming President Rodrigo Duterte is sworn to office.
According to People Surge Secretary General Marissa Cabaljao, who presided the event, the survivors agenda includes demands that may be acted upon immediately, through executive orders, during the first 100 days of the Duterte administration. She said that almost three years since super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the region, survivors still demand assistance especially on the livelihood sector.
People Surge hopes a new reconstruction program will be put in place under Duterte. Cabaljao stressed the importance of junking the present reconstruction framework which People Surge criticized as skewed towards “corporate interests in favor of big business” while marginalized sectors “are further deprived to voice their own proposals”.
“We maintain our demand to bring to account the Aquino administration for issues of negligence and failure over undelivered or unaccounted donations from the international community,” Cabaljao said when asked if they will file possible legal charges against outgoing Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman.
It was mentioned during the event that People Surge may ask incoming President Duterte to form a special body to investigate anomalies in the distribution of the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) and to revoke executive orders that hinder its full distribution.
In 2014, the DSWD issued Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 24 operationalizing through guidelines the distribution of ESA funds. People Surge claims that the MC 24 became the basis for the “selective, politicized, corruption-riddled and divisive” shelter assistance program of the Aquino government.
“The MC 24 disqualified a very significant number of beneficiaries. It excluded families who chose to rebuild their homes in NDZ communities “where livelihood is better than anywhere else.” It is also unreasonable to exclude households earning at least or slightly above P15,000 a month,” said Cabaljao.
In Tacloban City, the remaining ESA fund was utilized to hasten the “voluntary eviction” of several households from their original communities. In Brgy. 37 Reclamation Area in Tacloban, NDZ dwellers are promised of P10,000 pesos in exchange of “voluntary demolition.”
However, families who relocated to their assigned relocation shelters decry the lack of water and the longer distance they must travel every day to make a living. Most of the residents in Brgy. 37 are laborers and small vendors.
During the consultation with People Surge, Michelle Ignacio – 32 years old, of Brgy. 35 Magallanes District in Tacloban, another NDZ community – shared that her family was not included in the master list of ESA recipients since their house is located within the 40-meter NDZ.
Ignacio said they were assured of relocation to a permanent housing. “Until now, no permanent housing nor ESA was given to us,” Ignacio exclaimed, “and I would just cry realizing that before Yolanda, we had a house, we own a car for rent. We have a more stable life but now all that is left is nothing.”
In a September 2015 statement of the Commission on Audit (COA), it cited DSWD to have committed errors and mishandled the rehabilitation funds which include funds allocated for ESA. The COA reported that only 142,348 beneficiaries or 30 percent of the targeted homeless survivors were given cash assistance.
The COA also added that P382.072 million cash donated by individuals or groups for typhoon victims were sleeping in DSWD’s bank accounts.
It was in July 2015 when DSWD Regional Office VIII declared that a total of P7,189,579,934.25 pesos has been fully downloaded to Local Government Units (LGUs) in Eastern Visayas, but People Surge, however, said it still receives complaints on ESA.
Meanwhile, Nono Ocasla of Brgy. 37 Reclamation Area in Tacloban, wants the new administration to support an “on-site development” program instead of displacing their whole community to a new site far from the city center.
Ocasla said that relocatees who now reside in northern Tacloban – which takes 15-20 minutes ride from the city downtown – would spend at least P40 to P60 pesos a day to cover the cost of transportation from their relocation site to their workplace in the city. “This has put us to extreme hardship especially since we have no stable income,” said Ocasla.
For People Surge, the Aquino government’s program on reconstruction has been “proven inutile and anti-people in several ways.” In Eastern Visayas, now the poorest region in the country, People Surge said that many survivors continue to “suffer from the lack of free access to social services, face threats of enforced demolitions, and make up for the absence of alternative livelihood opportunities for relocatees in resettlement areas.”
People Surge Chairperson Dr. Efleda Bautista has recognized the incoming president’s “intent to initiate reforms to make social services accessible and accountable to the people.” She said the appointment of long-time social activist and former UP Professor Judy Taguiwalo as next Social Welfare and Development chief “may be a good start” while the mass movement among Yolanda survivors “is open for any possible cooperation” as it continues to press for long-term demands.
The multi-sectoral consultation was attended by leaders of different sectors from other Eastern Visayas provinces. The survivors agenda will include demands related to the issues of housing and resettlement, support to the agriculture sector and livelihood, as well as the abandonment of the multi-billion pesos Tacloban-Palo-Tanauan tide embankment project.