Contribution at the 11th International Symposium Against Isolation
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
24-26 January 2014
By LUIS G. JALANDONI
Chief International Representative
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Supertyphoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on 8th of November 2013. Winds of more than 300 kilometers per hour and storm surges devastated wide areas of central Philippines and other areas. Official death toll has already exceeded 6,000. More than four million people have been rendered homeless and a total of 14 million people were gravely affected by the supertyphoon.
The Filipino people in their millions accuse President Benigno Aquino of criminal negligence and incompetence. Two years before supertyphoon Haiyan struck, in the wake of earlier calamities, a parliamentary bill was proposed to provide funds for pre-disaster preparations, like setting up of strong structures for evacuation and warehouses with food, drinking water, and medicines. Aquno vetoed this bill. He shortsightedly declared that money should be used only when disasters strike, not before.
A day before the supertyphoon made landfall on 07 November, the Manila Observatory released a report warning that the storm “could cause catastrophic damages especially in provinces in Visayas and islands in Southern Luzon, as well as parts of Northern Mindanao.” It advised that mass evacuation would be needed to in order to move communities eight to 16 kilometers from the coastline. Aquino disregarded these warnings. No evacuation was carried out. In contrast, Vietnam evacuated 600,000 people before Haiyan struck.
In the face of these warnings, Aquino even made the preposterous and arrogant declaration that there would be zero victims, there would be “zero casualties”. He boasted of having the planes and helicopters of the Air Force and 20 vessels of the Navy “prepositioned” in the areas to be affected. He gave the assurance “that help will arrive as soon as the storm passes.” But after the winds subsided on 08 November, there were no sight of air force planes nor navy ships to deliver urgently needed drinking water, food and medicines. Moreover, Aquino tried to belittle the loss of lives, announcing in an interview with the CNN that only 2,000 to 2,500 died. The provincial police chief who stated that the loss of lives would reach 10,000 was summarily relieved.
More than a month after the disaster, many affected areas had not yet received any food, drinking water, nor medicines from the Aquino government, despite huge funds contributed by international aid agencies. Even two months after, many dead bodies had not been buried and numerous corpses have yet to be identified.
US Warships and Troops Allowed by Aquino
In utter disregard of the country’s sovereignty, Aquino allowed US warships and troops to come in, under the guise of offering emergency relief. Ten thousand US troops entered the affected areas, taking over airport, ports and other facilities. The Armed Forces of the Philippines set up checkpoints, falsely alleging that victims of the disaster had been looting relief supplies. The US and Aquino government soldiers set up military rule in various areas.
Aquino’s military falsely claimed that the New People’s Army attacked Red Cross trucks carrying relief supplies. They also spread false information of the NPA carrying out attacks in disaster-affected areas. This demonizing of the NPA was an additional excuse for allowing the entry of thousands of US troops and the imposition of military rule in the devastated areas.
Corruption in Bunk House Construction
Today, bunkhouses are being constructed by political allies of the Aquino government. The bunkhouses are temporary shelters for six months before permanent housing is constructed. The bunkhouses have been severely criticized by international observers and experts as inhumanly substandard and overpriced. The room per family is very small, only 8.67 square meters, lacking ventilation, safety and privacy. In most cases, there are no toilets and kitchens. The overpricing is more than five times the actual cost.
Oust Aquino Campaign
This criminal negligence and incompetence of the Aquino regime follows the exposé of the massive corruption in so-called pork barrel funds and the presidential discretionary funds running into scores of billions of euros. This is propelling a widespread campaign demanding for the overthrow of the Aquino regime or the forcible resignation of Aquino.
Filipino People’s Heroic Efforts
The revolutionary forces throughout the country, especially those in the affected areas, are carrying out heroic efforts in undertaking relief and rehabilitation operations for the communities severely affected by the supertyphoon. The Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People’s Army declared a unilateral ceasefire from 8 November until 24 December 2013 in all regions affected. In Eastern Visayas region, covering especially Leyte and Samar islands, the ceasefire was extended until mid-January 2014. This ceasefire declaration was meant to put the highest priority and concentration of the revolutionary forces on the urgent needs of relief and rehabilitation.
The victims themselves, the people in the affected areas, organized themselves to do what is possible to look for their necessities, build their temporary shelters, secure drinking water, food and medicines. This resiliency and determination of the people had been noted by international observers who found the people’s courage and resourcefulness highly inspiring. One international observer who visited the affected areas declared: “Typhoons, earthquakes, and floods may come and go, but the Filipino people will still be around.”
People’s organizations on the national, regional and local levels worked tirelessly and heroically, together with the affected communities and with some international NGOs. They collected goods, drinking water, medicines. They formed health teams to give immediate medical care and psycho-social assistance for the traumatized persons and families. Five hundred volunteers from Mindanao, who were among the victims of earlier calamities, went to Leyte, Samar, and other affected areas to assist in relief and rehabilitation.
Overseas Filipino organizations in the US, Canada, Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East conducted fund raising and other solidarity activities, collecting significant amounts. They sent the assistance directly to the people’s organizations in the Philippines.
Solidarity organizations and progressive NGOs from different parts of the world sent teams to the Philippines and conducted campaigns of solidarity. Their activities strengthen the solidarity of the international community not only with the people in the affected areas, but in many cases, also with the liberation struggle of the Filipino people against the US-Aquino regime and the unjust semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system in the Philippines. It is noteworthy that international organizations, including some governments and intergovernmental organizations, declared that they did not want to channel their aid through the Aquino government. They had received reports of the widespread accusations of corruption of the Aquino government and how international aid for past disasters were pocketed by corrupt bureaucrats. It was known that many relief goods ended up being sold in supermarkets and groceries.
In sharp contrast to the Aquino government’s criminal negligence, incompetence and corruption, the people’s heroic efforts and the international solidarity of overseas compatriots and concerned international organizations and agencies underlined the just struggle of the people for rebuilding their lives and future and struggling for a just and free Philippines.