Marking one hundred days after Yolanda (Haiyan) struck Samar and Leyte, members of People Surge trooped to Metro Manila to highlight their situation and bring their petition for financial assistance and a stop to the “no-build-zone” policy affecting many coastal communities.
People’s Surge was formed last January 24 to 25 in Tacloban City when more than 13,000 protesters mobilized in downtown Tacloban to demand government action on the plight of the affected victims in the region. That was one of the biggest mass demonstration seen in Eastern Visayas in recent years. One of their main demands was a demand for P40,000 financial assistance for families that were affected by the typhoon.
Sister Edita Espolor, spokesperson for People’s Surge, pointed out that more than three months have already passed and people of Eastern Visayas are still in need of, and are still demanding, food, livelihood, housing and social services. She echoed the uncertainty that the people in the region are feeling happy, contented and at peace as many victims are still struggling under their very difficult situation until now.
They are coming to Manila to assert that government planners should put the people at the center of any post-Yolanda rehabilitation plan. Despite an estimated cost of P360 billion by the National Economic and Development Authority, a clear plan for recovery and reconstruction is still not at hand. What they hear about are big plans for public-private partnerships between big foreign and local businesses that are eyeing projects in the area.
People Surge made its own study on the estimated damage of typhoon Yolanda in Eastern Visayas and lists the following: more than two million farmers and fisherfolk were affected and total agricultural damage estimates reach up to P 64 billion. As more than 80 percent of the population in the area is reliant on agricultural activity, Yolanda’s destruction is being shouldered directly by the peasants affected by the storm.
Sr. Espolor said that the rural poor who are already living at subsistence level are being forced deeper in poverty with no foreseeable income in the future. Urban poor families are barred from returning to their communities due to the “no build zone” policy and are crammed into substandard bunkhouses. Espolor noted that many of these bunkhouses are not finished as of today.
Worse, the “no build zones” where the urban poor in Tacloban is being denied entry are the same areas where supposed investment zones are being offered to big business and inventors. Taken under this light, these “no-build zones” are just being used to clear the area not for safety’s sake but for other interests.
Mangrove specialist Prof. Jurgenne Primavera pointed out in a forum at UP Diliman last year that coastal protection should involve not only hard engineering—seawalls, levees and breakwaters—but should also include rebuilding beaches and mangrove forests as well. She further pointed out that despite the many greenbelt laws that require buffer zones facing the open sea and riverbanks, “pond after fishpond in monotonous succession with hardly any relief of green” are more the norm than compliance with the law.
In considering the overall rehabilitation of the area, the government should not hide behind the no-build zones in driving away urban poor families from their communities as they have not given any alternative free housing for them before—and after—Typhoon Yolanda. Worse, government has allowed many reclamation activities in Manila Bay and other areas in direct contradiction to its supposed no-build zone policy.
Professor Primavera has one suggestion in an opinion piece she wrote some months ago. She suggests that government purchase land for the resettlement of low-income fishers and other coastal folk with no resources to move out of harm’s way.
Before they are driven away from their lands, government should first ensure alternative housing, jobs, access to resources and support for our displaced people rather than their one-minded view of just clearing them away for the supposed investors to come in.
A more comprehensive study on how to put up buffer zones against these storm surges and flooding should be done before blindly driving people away especially those that were left with nothing because of Yolanda. In the immediate, Sr. Espolor suggests that government first ensure the food security of the peasants by promoting quick-growing cash crops so they could recover lost income and to provide the necessary agricultural assistance to sustain them in the long term.
Sr. Espolor and her companions tried to bring this to Malacañang in a letter but many of them were denied entrance to the Palace. This is accompanied by petition papers that were signed by more than 17,500 individuals. The same cold welcome happened in Leyte where members of People Surge pressed for a dialogue with the authorities tasked for rehabilitation of the region. Despite beng tasked by the President to head the task force for Eastern Visayas, reports say that no dialogue took place between Secretary Jericho Petilla since he was “too busy and can only meet them in March.”
If the government keeps to this mindset of pushing the people of Eastern Visayas away from participating in the planning and implementation of the rehabilitation of their area, the large mobilizations in Tacloban is a portent of the aptly named people’s surge that might come.