OPINION | Yolanda brought some of the fiercest in the frontline

Five years ago, it was a surge of seawater that filled our homes, killing thousands, leaving damaged properties and lives. The next months until now, government’s criminal neglect tagged as a bigger disaster billows, hitting millions of disaster victims mired in a deep crisis, jailed in the government’s anti-people rehabilitation. But flowing like a huge ripple, surging the streets are thousands of militant Yolanda survivors yanked united in the search for justice.

Who would have though that one huge disaster can bring the biggest unity – the unity to seek for accountability from the individuals behind people’s miseries, those who have turned a blind eye and played deaf? Who would have thought it will even strengthen their resolve to fight, sharpen their rebuttals and claims, thwart the wicked and carry their victories?

The government’s atrocities to the Yolanda victims is enough to silence them, why then have their voices became even louder?

Resettlement sites are yet to be sequestered from the very people as private individuals and the government lured the people through a usufruct agreement, stating that the former can claim their “donated” lands back if they want to. Utilities remain inaccesible to the relocatees who have to endure the stench of the non-potable water and spend more for their drinking water. Pennies earned from their unstable livelihood has now been downgraded to less than half of its actual value with the implementation of the new tax reform law. The transport sector blubbers over the jeepney phaseout for the sake of a huge profit that is yet to come with the influx of e-jeepneys, first implemented in Tacloban City.

Not only that, the agriculture sector suffers the worst. Unheard by some, hectares of ricefields are being transformed into wide plantations of cassava in Carigara, Calubian and in some other part of the Leyte province, bought in a lower price from former tenants now being utilized as cheap farm workers. To justify their profit-for-the-wicked-oriented agriculture programs, the government invested more in “resilient” crops which are slowly displacing our farmers from their very land, affecting our food security the most. The government did not even try to address the massive pest infestation in the region’s major crops: coconut, abacca and rice.

To top it all, ground zero has become a field for the state forces’ atrocities. Jefferson Custudio of Carigara, Leyte is one of the first Yolanda survivors and disaster’s agenda advocate who was murdered by members of the AFP. Carlito “James” Badillo, a member and organizer of People Surge was illegally arrested days after the 4th Yolanda anniversary for a case falsely charged against him, he remains in jail. More farmers were killed, illegally arrested, tortured and harassed. Today, more government troops have been deployed in farming communities to hamper them from fighting as mandated by no less than President Duterte.

Did they quit fighting?

Four years ago, an alliance that first started with 25,000 strong men who were calling for immediate release of 40,000 pesos Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) has been acting as the people’s voice nationwide in forwarding their disasters agenda. The government was compelled to release P10,000 and P30,000 ESA for partially and totally damaged households respectively. After decrying the No Build Zone policy originally designed to demolish people from their homes to give way for investors, the policy was changed to No Dwelling Zone. Actively exposing corruption issues among Yolanda-hit areas, the COA has for many times affirmed the misusage and underusage of Yolanda funds that have either been sleeping in banks or in government officials’ pockets. It has fiercefully filed complaints against government officials with former President Noynoy Aquino among them.

The people in surge continue to broaden and has been known nationwide.

This November 8, families region-wide especially in Tacloban, Palo and Tanauan – the towns most affected by the storm surge – will once again go out of their houses, light up a candle, send prayers for their loved ones and reminisce how they survived the storm. Yet again, we are called to unite and join the surge.

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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.

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