THERE should be no misreading of what the People Surge Alliance of Yolanda survivors were doing and were saying when they marched to Malacañang last Monday (February 17), seeking an audience with President Aquino.
Like Martin Luther King and his civil rights marchers in their historic march to Washington on August 28, 1963, the People Surge marchers went to the palace of our people and came to our national capital to cash a check.
The check is a promissory note to every Filipino by the Constitution that “The prime duty of the government is to serve and protect the people, and to promote full employment, provide adequate social services, and an improved quality of life for all.”
The march was designed to collect on the sacred obligation of the government to do the right thing for all the typhoon survivors and their stricken communities
Inexplicably, the President declined to meet with the People Surge marchers. Only three representatives of the group were allowed past the Palace gate. No official met with them. Only a clerk from the records office came out to receive their petition.
“We thought the President would meet with us. Maybe he was afraid to face the survivors of Yolanda,” said Sister Edita Eslopor, chairperson of the 12,000-strong alliance.
“They said in two hours we will know their response. But we still haven’t heard from them,” the Benedictine nun says.
The melancholy sight of the people of East Visayas having to march to Malacañang to secure official attention for their ravaged region and their urgent needs is devastating and shameful. It is especially shameful in light of the unprecedented outpouring of sympathy and assistance from nations and organizations from all over the the world into the country. Top dignitaries and celebrities have journeyed to the country and have paid personal visits to Tacloban and met with the survivors. mobilization of the international assistance through the government has been sluggish and remains ineffective.
Government inaction is outrageous considering that Congress has already acted to appropriate the initial funds for recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and the government still has to come up with a coherent plan for recovery and reconstruction.
A crisis on top of the disaster
Had the President agreed to the meeting, he would have learned firsthand the true state of Tacloban and East Visayas today, 103 days after Super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan battered the region and its regional center, and took over 6,000 lives.
Had they been heard, People Surge would have spelled out for him the crisis that is rising on top of the natural and human disaster that happened on November 8.
This emerging crisis consists of the following:
First, the situation is bleak for the survivors and their communities. And the future is darkened by complex problems of financing and lack of basic utilities. The local government units in place are barely coping for now.
Second, there is urgent need for massive and focused intervention by the national government because the needs of survivors and their families are huge. A new humanitarian crisis could develop if government does not act with dispatch.
Third, People Surge is directly petitioning for the grant of a P40,000 assistance per family as an immediate support so they can rebuild their lives and their homes.
Fourth, Tacloban and most of East Visayas face a massive lack of decent housing.
As reported by the new York Times, Yolanda destroyed or severely damaged the homes of more than 4 million people – more than twice as many as the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, The Aquino government is faring badly in filling this housing need. It has moved to build bunkhouses but the bunkhouses were below international standards and were rejected by UN experts.
Fourth, in assigning tasks, the Administration assigned the Department of public works and highways to build the bunkhouses, and did not involve the housing agencies of the government. The lack of housing expertise has been a drag. Up to now, many people are still living in tents.
Fifth, while international groups have been very effective in welfare and relief work, the Department of Social Welfare and Development has been content with taking credit for the international effort.
An emerging city of the poor
The New York Times envisions a city of the poor rising in place of the emerging regional metropolitan center before Yolanda that was Tacloban City. The city is caught in a spiral of deprivation and decline that will be hard to break, given the damage wreaked by the typhoon.
Restoration of power and other basics has been slow. businesses are finding it difficult to recover. “without commerce, the city will continue to lose money — and talent.” Energy secretary Jericho petilla’s promise of power returning by December 24, 2013, has been moved to the end of March 2014.
The confusion leaves this city struggling to hold on to young and talented residents.
The flight of those most able to find opportunities elsewhere is leaving behind a city of the poor, including those left destitute by the typhoon.
Students have also left the city in droves. University of the Philippines Tacloban has lost one third of its students. A major computer school has lost students at the same rate.
If the exodus of people is not stemmed, Tacloban City could become a ghost metropolis in the future.
This is the major challenge to local leadership and the business sector today.
Build back sooner
The government reconstruction effort has adopted the slogan, “Build back better”. Yolanda survivors would be thankful if it said and meant instead:
“Build back sooner.”
President Aquino boasts that his administration “underpromises and overdelivers.” This really drives the people of Leyte and East Visayas nuts.
It’s true, he promised little at the start because he froze and ran away from the challenge.
As for delivery, his Social Welfare secretary simply claims credit for the work of foreign organizations like UNICEf.
Rehabilitation coordinator Panfilo Lacson candidly admits that he has finished only 10 percent of the coordination work that he’s supposed to do. So where’s the over-delivery in 10 percent accomplishment? In press releases?
What could jolt President Aquino into action is a planned class suit by People Surge against the government.
They say that a suit is necessary because the government can’t hear and won’t listen to all the pleas and the criticisms. Nobody in government, not even its massive propaganda corps, has bothered to answer them.
A suit in court will at least force government to answer.
And then maybe, just maybe, the Supreme Court might consent to hear the case.
With the high court resurgent in cases involving public interest and public welfare, Yolanda victims and survivors will have a fighting chance.
They will be able to cash their check.