President BS Aquino 3rd and his administration could not have been more insulting in their response to the petition of the People Surge alliance of Yolanda survivors.
Instead of granting the petitioners’ request for a meeting in the Palace of our people, he ignored them and stole away to other engagements, leaving them at the palace gates.
Instead of listening to their demands and calling for a study of the feasibility of granting them, he rejected flat out their key appeals for an emergency grant of P40,000 per stricken family, and for the lifting of the order for no-build zones that has prevented most families from rebuilding quickly their shattered dwellings.
Instead of sympathizing with them for their having to journey to Manila just to get a hearing from the president, he flippantly suggested that if they could raise the money to come to the capital, they should be able to help themselves. He also suggested that if they have time to protest, they can attend to their livelihood.
Not to be outdone in insulting the petitioners and their alliance, rehabilitation czar-turned coordinator Panfilo Lacson, branded the Yolanda survivors as “communist pawns.”
He declared that military intelligence has reported that Yolanda also damaged the infrastructure of the communist insurgency. He suggested that the communists are out to rebuild their cadre network through the protest movement.
Now that the cry of People Surge has embraced the call for President Aquino’s resignation, Lacson says that it is out to destabilize the government.
This is truly obtuse. Super typhoon Yolanda did not distinguish between left and right in the political spectrum. Everyone— rich and poor, public official and citizen, trader and consumer, men, women and children—all were battered by its merciless fury, and left deprived, sometimes destitute.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda tried to contribute his two cents to the fatuous response. He said that what the government was doing for the Yolanda survivors and their communities was already “ample.” Take it as a synonym for Aquino’s “overdelivery.”
Nowhere in these statements from the government was there one suggestion for a dialogue between the petitioners and the government, so that both sides can explore for common ground and find a way to move forward.
The stance and policy of the administration was plainly not to listen and study what People Surge is seeking. There is no room even for talk.
Hence at this point, there’s no way forward.
What Martin Luther King said
After my last column (“Aquino ignores People Surge visiting Palace to cash a check,” February 20), readers and friends swamped me with requests to elaborate on my allusion to Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights march to Washington in 1963.
Briefly, I saw an interesting parallel between the elemental demands of both marches. The civil rights march sought jobs and freedom and an end to racism in America. People Surge seeks from government the redress of grievances of Yolanda survivors and their communities, and the reversal of the criminal neglect of them by the government.
Here are the pertinent words of Martin Luther King from his famous “I have a dream” speech which was the climax of the Washington march:
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.”
The words and themes are compelling: bank of justice, vaults of opportunity, promissory note, insufficient funds. They cohere around the great idea that there is here a sacred obligation that the American nation must redeem.
I like the comparison also because of the lesson of consequences and results. The Civil Rights March led to the passage in1963 of the Voting Rights Act, and then to the passage of the historic civil rights Act of 1964.
The protest of the Yolanda survivors is well focused and grounded on grievance and the colossal tragedy inflicted by Typhoon Yolanda. People Surge could become a signpost of this era in our history.
President Aquino’s coldness in the face of tragedy will not be forgotten too. Yolanda destroyed people’s lives, houses and livelihood, destroyed the two most important cash crops in the region, abaca and coconut, as well as other staple crops. The people have nothing and all the President is giving them is “hot air.”
As one People Surge leader has put it memorably, “If the life of the poor is too difficult for President Aquino to imagine that he won’t lift a finger, we suggest he try living in a tent or a bunkhouse, and eating porridge every day for the rest of the year like many Yolanda survivors.”
The moral equivalent of People Power
To effect a turnaround in government attitudes toward East Visayas, People Surge needs to transform itself into the moral equivalent of People Power.
Yolanda survivors can count. They ask: “Why is President Aquino telling victims that there’s no money for cash assistance? What happened to the P14.6 billion supplemental budget passed by Congress? What happened to the over P25 billion in foreign aid pledges for typhoon Yolanda?”
More than a hundred days after November 8, there is still no comprehensive plan for the reconstruction and development of Tacloban and East Visayas. Lacson is no czar, he is only a pretend coordinator of nothing.
As I recall the magnitude of the Yolanda/Haiyan disaster, and now behold the emerging post-Yolanda landscape, I can’t help thinking that President Aquino is missing here an appoint ment with history.
If he had more wit and heart, he could have won the hearts and minds of Yolanda survivors by treating People Surge as a manifestation of People Power.
If he had vision, he could have won the lasting respect and support of the people of East Visayas by finally ordering the preparation of a real comprehensive plan and program for East Visayas reconstruction and development, and by inviting Congress to join him in this great endeavor.
Alas, some people are just nearsighted.