Yolanda survivors see hope for recovery in peace talks resumption

At the 2nd anniversary of super typhoon Yolanda, farmers from Samar cross the San Juanico bridge to push for justice in a rally attended by 20,000. With the resumption of peace talks between the new administration of President Rodrigo Duterte and the National Democratic Front, a new window of hope opens for the tens of thousands of “neglected victims of disasters” in Eastern Visayas. Photo by Jezeree Jeonne Gajelomo

Tacloban City – The social and economic reforms agenda to be tackled at the formal resumption of peace negotiations between the Philippine government (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) give fresh hope to victims of calamities in Eastern Visayas.

NDFP spokesperson Fidel Agcaoili states in an interview with EasternVista.com that peace talks with the new government under President Rodrigo Duterte will, in general terms, include concerns of disaster victims especially on how the government will respond to future calamities.

Based on The Hague Join Declaration (THJD) signed in 1992, both parties draft their own versions for each of four substantive agenda until they arrive at a mutual agreement, ultimately with a final peace deal, to end the armed conflict and achieve “lasting peace based on social justice.”

Immediate relief

Successfully concluding the negotiations might take a long while but Agcaoili said Yolanda survivors may maximize the new situation especially with progressive personalities in the cabinet.

“Ngayon pa lang sa tingin ko, sa pamamagitan ng [Department of Social Work and Development]– yung nakaupo sa ngayon diyan na si Judy Taguiwalo – ay meron nang makakamit ang mga Yolanda victims diyan. (Even at this point, as I see it, through the DSWD with Judy Taguiwalo as head, Yolanda victims may have something to benefit from that).”

DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, meanwhile, laid out on Wednesday, during the National People’s Summit held at the University of the Philippines Diliman, her department’s thrusts in the next six years.

Taguiwalo explains in an interview with Altermidya: “ang general namin na thrust ay ang pagtiyak ng maagap at mapagkalingang serbisyo sa mamamayan at patas na pagtrato sa komunidad. (Our general thrust is to ensure service to people with promptness and compassion and to exhibit fair treatment of communities).”

Last June 18 in Tacloban City, People Surge organized a workshop and consultation attended by survivors from different sectors. Their output, according to Cabaljao, was integrated into the 15-point People’s Agenda.

A booklet copy of the People’s Agenda was received on June 30 by President Duterte, himself, when he invited progressive leaders, who, at that time, were at the gates of Mendiola holding a support rally for Duterte’s reform programs.

Optimistic for peace

The NDFP and GPH panels declare in separate interviews that formal peace talks starts this July and, according to NDFP, at least 21 peace consultants, their staff included, are expected to be released prior to the resumption of formal talks.

NDFP’s Agcaoili urged Yolanda survivors to become active participants in the peace process. He said the agreements on social, economic and political reforms will benefit not only the people in Manila or Mindanao but also the people in Eastern Visayas.

Halimbawa, magkaroon ng agreement tungkol diyan sa mina, pagtiyak na yung ating mineral resources ay tayo mismo ang magde-develop at hindi iyan ilalabas ng bansa, aba ay malaking tulong iyan sa Eastern Visayas, lalo na sa Samar kasi maraming mga minahan diyan na ang mga produkto ay inilalabas na lamang,” said Agcaoili.

(“If there becomes an agreement, for example, on mining, to ensure that our we develop our mineral resources and avoid bringing it outside it to other countries, that is of great help to Eastern Visayas, especially in Samar where a number of mines operate where products are sold outside,” said Agcaoili.)

Strategic benefits

The NDFP spokesman adds that Yolanda survivors will surely benefit from free education, healthcare, and housing. For the majority of farmers in the region, a “genuine land reform program” will also do to alleviate poverty while a program for “national industrialization” will revolutionize the economy and create jobs.

According to government data, Eastern Visayas falls second as poorest region in the Philippines. The damaged brought by super typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, extends from Eastern Samar in the east to Panay in the west with over 16,078,181 million people affected, 1,140,332 houses damaged, and not less than 10,000 people dead and injured.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that Yolanda’s damage to agriculture and infrastructure is valued at 95,483,133,070.67 billion pesos.

“Many of our fellow survivors continue to suffer from the lack of free access to basic social services and jobs. But under a new regime, we are optimistic that some reforms are achievable under a new leadership of the DSWD and the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC),” Cabaljao said. President Duterte appointed former Gabriela Women’s Party rep Liza Maza to convene the NAPC which is the government’s arm tasked to coordinate inter-department poverty alleviation programs.

Accountability not a bygone issue

People Surge leaders told EasternVista.com that they are now coordinating with other disaster survivors in Panay and Central Visayas to craft a new action plan as the third Yolanda anniversary approaches. Also, People Surge Chairperson Dr. Efleda Bautista said that they intend to formally meet the new Secretary in Tacloban City.

A report from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) indicates that only 19,330 out of targeted 205,128 housing units have been completed, so far, as of March 2016. Several communities in Samar and Leyte provinces still await the distribution of the Emergency Shelter Assistance pegged for typhoon Ruby victims. The Build Back Better concept, criticized by Yolanda survivors, also continues to guide reconstruction in Yolanda-impacted communities.

The alliance of Yolanda survivors People Surge, through its Secretary General Marissa Cabaljao, said that their volunteers are recently going around in Tacloban City and other provinces to investigate further and collect data through their engagements of grassroots people’s organizations. To date, internally displaced persons (IDP) at the transitional and temporary housing sites have reported the absence of free and accessible water service, difficult transport, etc.

Evacuated Yolanda survivors and now residents at the Ridgeview Resettlement site in Brgy. Cabalawan, Tacloban, wait for their turn to fetch water.
Evacuated Yolanda survivors and now residents at the Ridgeview Resettlement site in Brgy. Cabalawan, Tacloban, wait for their turn to fetch water. Photo taken June 29, 2016. (easternvista.com staff)

Cabaljao adds: “Accountability is not a bygone issue, we will pursue the accountability former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman and her boss Noynoy Aquino, all members of the so-called Gang of 5.”

For Yolanda survivors, the Gang of 5 refers to former President Noynoy Aquino, former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, former Rehab Czar Panfilo Lacson, former Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.

The Yolanda survivors' so-called 'Gang of 5'
The Yolanda survivors’ so-called ‘Gang of 5.’ Photo from Boy Bagwis of Pinoy Weekly.

Cooperation for peace, progress

Meanwhile, the NDFP spokesman has an invitation to the people of Eastern Visayas to rally for “peace based on justice.”

Ang akin pong hihilingin sa mga kababayan natin diyan sa Eastern Visayas ay sana po ay tumulong kayo na ilaban ang muling pag-resume at patuloy na paguusap ng gobyernong Duterte at ng NDF para magkaroon ng mga agreement on social and economic reforms, on political and constitutional reforms, on end of hostilities and disposition of forces, para magkaroon ng isang pamahalaan sa ating bansa na sinasabi nating a government of national unity, peace and development,” said Agcaoili.

(“I earnestly ask my countrymen in Eastern Visayas to help push for the resumption and continuation of talks between the Duterte government and the NDF to help usher in new agreements on social and economic reforms, on political and constitutional reforms, on end of hostilities and disposition of forces, so we can build a government in our country which we call a government of national unity, peace, and development,” said Agcaoili.)

People Surge, now a member of the anti-imperialist International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS), give a positive response. “We will continue engaging our fellow survivors on the issue of basic socio-economic reforms. We support the GPH-NDF peace talks too. We will always side with justice for we are victims, ourselves, of injustice and criminal negligence,” said Cabaljao.

Here is a link to the full video documentation of the media interview with NDFP’s Fidel Agcaoili.

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Eastern Vista

Eastern Vista is an alternative media organization in Eastern Visayas. Stories of people in the struggle for justice and aid after super typhoon Yolanda inspired its creation in 2014. Eastern Vista is also a co-producer of Lingganay han Kamatuoran, a Waray-based radio magazine program airing since 2003. From Eastern Philippines, Eastern Vista shares the news and views from a people rising.