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Typhoon Rai aftermath highlights Duterte’s sluggish disaster response

Affected communities continue to appeal for help

By Karlo Mongaya/Global Voices

The prolonged aftermath of Typhoon Rai (local name Odette) highlights the Rodrigo Duterte government’s sluggish response to the storm, which wreaked havoc across

the Visayan Islands and parts of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines on December 16, 2021.

Affected communities and local governments have been appealing for help after the typhoon-ravaged agricultural zones across Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, and Negros Islands and even overwhelmed Cebu City, a major commercial and cultural hub in the Visayas-Mindanao regions.

Typhoon Rai destroyed thousands of homes while the damage to agriculture, infrastructure, and other properties displaced people’s livelihoods and left many more without electricity, internet connectivity, or access to water.

Various civil society groups and private sector actors are leading relief and donation drives to provide immediate assistance to affected communities.

Initial relief goods and other assistance gathered by Balsa Mindanao and Sisters Association in Mindanao arrived in Surigao City on Christmas Day. Thank you to all volunteers and those who donated for this relief mission.

Yet Duterte and his officials have failed to respond to the crisis, using excuses such as depleted governmental funds, media underreporting, and impassable roads to deflect blame for the government’s delayed disaster response and garner public sympathy.

Depleted funds?

The impending arrival of Typhoon Rai did not merit any public statement from President Duterte.

When the president spoke in a televised government briefing a day after the typhoon amid calls for immediate government response, he claimed he was still looking for funds to assist typhoon survivors as the government’s money had been “depleted” because of the pandemic:

This COVID really emptied our coffers. So we’re trying to screen how much we can raise so that we can marshal it to the areas affected.

On December 22, Duterte announced that he would be directing USD 199 million (PHP 10 billion) for typhoon relief. Yet his budget department would not commit to expediting the funds to provide immediate assistance to affected areas.

Duterte’s claim of “depleted” funds was challenged by left-wing opposition legislators who pointed out that the Philippines was, in fact, the biggest borrower from the World Bank in 2021. Bayan Muna (People First Party) chairperson Neri Colmenares commented:

The country has a history of being ravaged by typhoons, and it should have the budget to mitigate and provide immediate relief even while responding to the pandemic.

Later that week, on December 27, Duterte would draw criticism for suggesting the government should use the relief funds to purchase “trapal” or tarpaulin sheets as temporary shelters for typhoon survivors.

He’s the president. Why can’t I demand for something better than tarpaulin sheets especially since more than a week has passed since Odette? This is an exact quote. It’s not taken out of context. The President literally said let’s buy trapal 2 weeks after Odette hit the Philippines.

Inadequate preparations

Indeed, for many Filipinos, Typhoon Rai’s aftermath once more highlighted the Duterte government’s lack of adequate disaster preparedness and delayed response that had been the subject of scathing public criticism in the past.

Kara Ahorro, a resident of world-renowned surfing paradise Siargao Island, shared that before the storm, she felt confident that Typhoon Rai would not be as strong as Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) in 2013, in an interview with SunStar news:

It was forecasted to be just 150 kph at its peak, We were here during Yolanda and that was 300 plus kph, though Yolanda did not made landfall in Siargao, we just thought ‘ah, kaya lang’ [we can handle it].

The economic impact has been especially dire on Siargao Island, where resort and business owners had been prepping to open for visitors again after coronavirus travel restrictions were eased during the Christmas holidays.

Speaking to the Guardian, marketing coordinator Elka Requinta shares how the strength of Typhoon Rai caught everyone by surprise in Siargao:

We didn’t expect it to be this bad. You have locals who were hit because I don’t think there was a call for any evacuation from the government.

Blaming Media

But a top Duterte official, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino, blamed the national media for the slow disaster response, claiming they failed to adequately report about the typhoon beforehand.

Journalists pushed back on these accusations, noting the constant steam of coverage in the aftermath of the typhoon amidst great challenges, as Rappler’s Head of Regions Inday Espina-Varona underlines:

From Siargao and Dinagat in Mindanao, Silago, Sipalay, and Ubay in the Visayas, all the way to Palawan, officials and residents waded for hours through mud and water, inching their way through on motorcycles, bangkas, and on foot, just to get their first scratchy messages out into the world. Media reported that.

Ironically, government itself now controls the most extensive regional media network after it denied ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcast network, the right to operate in 2020:

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Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing partnership.

Former Dubai resident recounts typhoon ordeal in the Philippines

We stayed in our bathroom for hours until our neighbor helped us out of the rubble’

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI: For Budo Baylosis, 37, a former Dubai resident, Siargao is a paradise island in the Philippines – a perfect holiday destination for local and international tourists and a blissful home with white-sand beaches and enchanting lagoons.

But things changed last week when super typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) wreaked havoc in central Philippines with torrential rains, violent winds and storm surges. The hardest hit area was Siargao.

The category 5 super typhoon – the strongest that hit the disaster-prone Southeast Asian country this year – first made landfall in the island on December 16. Packing a maximum sustained winds of up to 260 kph, Typhoon Odette destroyed homes and properties, uprooted trees, and toppled power and communication lines.

Livelihoods were destroyed, many people were injured, numerous died. On Tuesday, authorities said Odette has claimed at least 375 lives while 56 people are still missing and 515 were injured across several provinces and cities.

Budo Baylosis with his family in happier times.

Flattened to the ground

The entire Siargao Island was almost flattened to the ground by the onslaught of the typhoon. Videos and pictures of the destruction were shared on social media, including one showing the newly-inaugurated Siargao Sports Complex Gym that was used by evacuees to weather the storm. The roof of the gymnasium collapsed due to the strong winds, less than two hours after Odette hit the island.

Budo’s apartment was totally destroyed like the rest of Siargao Island.

“We stayed in our bathroom for hours until our neighbour helped us out of the rubble,” Baylosis told Gulf News.

He recalled: “We took shelter in their (neighbour) home until the next day (Friday, December 17) together with other families in our street. They prepared food for everybody and gave us a place to sleep for the night.

“The next morning we saw the extent of the damage and at the same time, the best sunrise. The following days were busy checking up on friends and families, recovering what we can save from our things; finding shelter, food and water,” added Baylosis.

Families struggled to salvage their belongings in the aftermath of the typhoon, says Baylosis.

Leaving the island

On Sunday, Baylosis, his six-year old son Gat, and partner Marcella, 34, a lawyer, took a small outrigger boat to leave the island, together with a friend – a mother and her one-year old baby.

The boat brought them to Surigao del Norte and from there they took a van that brought them to Davao City, where the mother has a house.

“We did not bring any other belongings – except for some change of clothes, important documents and laptop,” said Baylosis, whose family moved to Siargao only four months ago.

“We brought everything to Siargao when we moved. After the storm, we still saved a majority of our belongings but we were not able to carry them out of the island,” he added.

‘We are the news’

Baylosis said: “We used to watch (on TV) this kind of situation from the comforts of our apartment, now we are the news. It was a scrabble to manage everything without electricity and phone communication.”

He added he also witnessed how people reacted to tragedies. “Disasters brought out the true colours of people – from stories of looting and depriving a six-year old with a glass of water; to people who had less in life but were kind and generous in opening their doors to strangers and giving them meals.”

Baylosis and his family took a small outrigger boat to leave the island, together with a friend – a mother and her one-year old baby.

Safe in another city

Baylosis continued: “Siargao has been our home in the last four months. It was with a heavy heart we left the island during these tough times. For now, I had to secure the safety of my family. We’ve managed to get out of the island on a small boat and van; and now we are safe in the nearest big city.”

“The following days and weeks will be uncertain. Electricity will be out for months. There is no reliable means of communication and everywhere in the island has turned into rubbish,” he added.

Baylosis said his family will be returning soon to their old apartment in Manila. “We will definitely come back to Siargao. But for now, what we can do is to help remotely and send aid. There are a lot of ongoing relief missions for the island but we are planning to send construction materials for people to have roofs over their heads and slowly rebuild the homes they’ve lost,” he underlined.

“Our friends in Davao are mobilizing a relief effort. Hopefully, help will get from here quicker as we are closer to the island,” he added.

When asked how his family and the island people of Siargao will recover from the tragedy, Baylosis shared a photo of his six-year old son, Gat, showing his infectious smile and playing with his dog after the storm. “It’s a hopeful reassurance that people can recover from the tragedy. Siargao is paradise lost; but it will also be a paradise regained.”

Communication lines still affected, say Filipino expats

Many Filipinos in the UAE are still grappling to communicate with their families back home, almost a week after the super typhoon.

Rodeo Pagay, 43, an accountant and Dubai resident who is originally from Matalom, Leyte, told Gulf News on Wednesday the last he spoke with his wife and kids was last Thursday night, right after Typhoon Odette made its third and fourth landfall in the province.

Authorities said the typhoon crossed central Philippines with maximum sustained winds of 195 kph near the centre and gustiness of up to 270 kph, toppling most of the power and communication lines.

Sleepless nights

“I was sleepless for three days,” said Pagay, adding: “I was very worried. I couldn’t contact my wife and kids – there were no phone signal or internet. It was only on Monday that I heard from a friend about the situation in our hometown in Santa Fe.”

“Although I was still not able to hear anything from my family – I have two kids, seven-year-old girl and one-year old baby boy – I was assured by my friend that they are safe. Our town was heavily affected by the storm but there were no injuries or casualties in our neighborhood,” Pagay noted with relief.

“My biggest worry is that I still cannot contact them. People had to travel for three hours to go to the next town to get a phone signal but because we have a baby, my wife could not go out,” he added.

Pagay said his niece from the nearby city of Cebu had booked a flight to Leyte, bringing with her relief goods and some needed groceries for the family.

“I hope I will be able to speak to my family immediately, especially now that Christmas is coming,” he added.

Erratic signal

Erik Briones, 40, a web designer in Dubai, said intermittent communication signal is one of the biggest concerns at his hometown in Talisay, Cebu.

He said: “After the typhoon hit, I was only able to talk to my mother and sister this morning (Wednesday) for just five minutes and the signal was really very bad.”

“Several towns in Cebu remain inaccessible and communication is really a big challenge,” underlined Briones, adding: “Thankfully, my mother and sister are safe.”

Briones continued: “Our old house was damaged and flood went inside but my mother and sister were in another house when the typhoon battered our province. I was able to talk to them on Thursday night at 10pm, and they were okay. They even housed our neighbours who had two kids and they remained safe for the night.”

For now, Briones said the people in their province immediately need potable drinking water. “People line up for four hours at water refilling stations to get water,” he added.

UAE solidarity

Meanwhile, the UAE on Monday “expressed its sincere condolences and solidarity with the Philippines over the victims of Typhoon Rai. WAM (Emirates News Agency) said: “The typhoon caused hundreds of fatalities and left thousands homeless. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its sincere condolences and sympathy to the Philippines government and victims’ families over this enormous loss, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

The Philippine Consulate General in Dubai also posted on its official Facebook account the contact details of regional headquarters of the Philippine Office of Civil Defence, to help Filipino expats in the UAE contact their families back home. #

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This report is original to Gulf News where Angel L. Tesorero is a senior reporter.

Gov’t priorities enrich a few and destroy the environment–IBON

Instead of just going after local politicians, the Duterte administration should take responsibility for pushing anti-environment policies that contributed to the recent massive flooding and destruction of communities during typhoon Ulysses, research group IBON said.

The National Irrigation Administration and Malacañang recently called out local officials involved in logging and mining. But this will be hypocritical, said the group, if the government does not reverse policies that degrade the environment while benefiting just a few.

The forest cover has fallen to only 7 million hectares as of 2015 according to the Forest Management Bureau. This is equivalent to only 23.3% of the country’s total land area, considered an environmentally critical level. The figure has even continued to diminish from 11 million in the 1970s when forest destruction peaked due to government-sponsored unbridled logging. Data from the Bureau of Soil and Water Management show that 70.5% of the country’s land area is categorized as severely degraded and 16.6% as moderately degraded.

IBON pointed to priorities such as Build Build Build and the National Land Use Plan that continue to encroach into the public domain and degrade land.

The group said that the Duterte government continues to promote large-scale mining, corporate and chemical plantations and land use conversion as well as reclamation for real estate and infrastructure. The government prioritizes the building of large dams, megaports, ecotourism complexes and export enclaves.

Government policies and programs enrich a few at the expense of the nation, the people and environment, IBON said. The group pointed to the businesses of Sy, Villar, Gokongwei, Razon, Ayala, Tan, Caktiong, Ang, and Ty as the biggest gainers from government priorities.

The corporations of these richest Filipinos, according to the latest Forbes’ list, dominate the real estate, construction, ports development, power, energy, water, oil, mining, and agriculture sectors. IBON said that the government should own up to upholding environmentally destructive policies that drive corporate profits instead of pointing fingers at others.

The Philippine government’s bias for profit-seeking interests even at the expense of the environment are the root cause of the logging, quarrying and land conversion in Rizal and Cagayan provinces that have caused such devastating floods. Deforestation, flooding and the sufferings of communities will continue unless these are stopped and corrective measures are taken, said the group. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Govt stinginess worsens Filipinos’ suffering and PH economic collapse

by IBON Media & Communications

The -11.5% growth, or contraction, in gross domestic product (GDP) in the third quarter, confirms that the Philippines is on its way to becoming the worst performing economy in Southeast Asia in 2020. The economy is saddled by the Duterte administration’s refusal to spend on aid for Filipino families and support for small businesses so needed amid the pandemic.

A fiscal response commensurate to the crisis at hand is critical but the economic managers are tying the government’s hands. The government package’s demand-side effort is grossly insufficient and even undermines its supply-side measures.

The Php3 trillion in government spending in the first three quarters of 2020 is only a 15.1% increase from the same period the year before. While this is larger than the 5.5% year-on-year increase in the same period in 2019, it is still much less than the corresponding 23.6% increase in 2018.

It remains to be seen how much more spending the administration can manage in the fourth quarter of 2020. The Bayanihan 2 law is supposedly the government’s main response to COVID in the remaining months of the year.

However, as of the president’s last report to Congress at the start of November, it appears that at most just Php28.4 billion has been spent so far. With only a little over a month left in the law’s effectivity, this is just 20.3% of Bayanihan 2’s Php140 billion in appropriations and just 17.1% of its Php165.5 billion including its standby fund. The report mentioned Php76.2 billion in allotments and releases which appears relatively large.

However, the same report did not mention any actual disbursements in major items especially for aid or support to small businesses or agriculture. These items with allotments released but not reported spent include: Php6 billion for the social amelioration program (SAP); Php13.1 billion for the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers (TUPAD) and Abot-Kamay ang Pagtulong (AKAP) programs; Php9.5 billion for public utility vehicle (PUV) programs; and Php12.1 billion for the agriculture stimulus package. While there is supposedly Php8.1 billion for small businesses, only Php893 million worth of loans were reported.

There is also little real stimulus in the proposed 2021 budget. The proposed Php4.51 trillion budget is a 9.9% increase from the 2020 budget. This is however smaller than the 13.6% increase in the programmed 2020 budget from the year before, and even smaller than the historical annual average 11.1% increase in the national budget over the 35 years of the post-Marcos era. The Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) actually projects an even smaller 5.3% increase in 2022 which will be less than half the historical average.

The DBCC initially projected the economy to have -5.5% growth in 2020. To achieve this, GDP will have to grow an impossible 6.6% in the last quarter of the year which is all the more impossible with the administration refusing to give meaningful aid to millions of distressed families and small businesses including in the country’s vast informal sector.

Additional direct cash assistance to households is already pitifully small under Bayanihan 2 and virtually non-existent in the proposed 2021 budget. The record joblessness and collapse in family incomes because of the government’s poor COVID response compels much larger support to alleviate wide and deep suffering.

The economic managers also keep insisting that the CREATE law’s corporate income tax cuts will most of all benefit micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). This is untrue. Large taxpayers account for an overwhelming 72% of all corporate collections as of 2019 which means that large firms will be the biggest beneficiaries of CREATE. Moreover, many MSMEs are also unregistered and in the informal sector so will not really benefit from any tax cuts under CREATE.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects the economy to contract with -8.3% GDP growth in 2020. This is the worst GDP performance in the region with other countries either contracting less or even registering positive growth: Thailand (-7.1%), Malaysia (-6%), Cambodia (-2.8%), Indonesia (-1.5%), Singapore (-6%), Brunei (0.1%), Lao PDR (0.2%), Vietnam (1.6%), and Myanmar (2%).

Even the IMF’s projected 7.4% GDP growth rebound in 2021 will still not be enough to bring the economy back to its level last year in 2019. As it is, the 2020 Philippine economy is going to be as small as it was three years ago in 2017, and with GDP per capita approaching as low as it was in 2016.

The Philippines’ COVID response is the smallest among those announced by the region’s major economies, according to the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) COVID policy tracker. This earlier reported the Philippines’ response as equivalent to just 5.8% of 2019 GDP which is smaller than in Singapore (26.2%), Malaysia (22.7%), Thailand (16%), Indonesia (10.9%), and Vietnam (10.1%).

Months into the worst economic collapse in the country’s history, the Duterte administration’s obsession with creditworthiness and the myth of a fundamentally strong Philippine economy is preventing it from taking the measures needed for real and rapid recovery. Its insensitivity is placing the burden of rebound and protracted recovery on millions of poor families and distressed small businesses. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Swept away – Philippine agriculture bears wrath from government neglect

by IBON Media & Communications

Government’s long-time neglect of the country’s agriculture sector has been disastrous to small producers. The recent series of super-typhoons – Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses – has highlighted this.

The country’s geophysical characteristics as well as geographic location make it exposed to natural hazards. What makes it extremely vulnerable to risks is government’s lack of relevant policies to strengthen the agriculture sector and the larger economy, including policies and practice of disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM).

Fresh damage

According to a combined bulletin by the Department of Agriculture-Disaster Risk Reduction Management Operations Center (DADRMMOpCen), Quinta left damages to agriculture amounting to Php2.7 billion, with a volume production loss of 149,475 metric tons (MT) in Regions I, II, III, CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, V, VI, and VIII. This affected 57,858 farmers and fisherfolk with 96,474 hectares of agricultural areas.

Still reeling from this devastation, the regions again felt Rolly’s wrath and sustained Php5.79 billion in damages and losses affecting 48,682 farmers and fisherfolk in 127,298 hectares of agricultural areas. The volume of production loss was at 177,091 MT. The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) further reported that Rolly damaged 170,773 houses and infrastructure worth some Php12.9 billion.

Then, Ulysses happened, leaving 73 dead, 24 injured, and 19 missing in Regions II, CALABARZON, V, and CAR. Damages to agriculture are estimated to be worth Php4.2 billion, to infrastructure some Php6.1 billion, with a total of 67,391 houses partially or totally destroyed. Affected were 102,500 farmers and fisherfolk in 99,660 hectares of agricultural areas. Production loss in commodities including rice, corn, high value crops, fisheries, livestock and poultry, irrigation facilities, and agricultural infrastructures was estimated by the DA to be at 167,385 metric tons (MT).

Some 62,220 hectares planted to rice alone sustained damages and losses amounting to Php1.98 billion with volume of production lost at 124,437 MT. Some 14,132 hectares planted to high variety crops (HVC) areas sustained Php907.7 million worth of damages with volume of production lost at 35,487 MT. As for areas planted to corn, up to 23,308 hectares were affected, with volume of production lost at 7,461 MT amounting to Php371 million. In the fisheries, some Php712 million was lost in terms of affected fin fish, milkfish, hito, tilapia, carp, crabs, and prawns. Livestock and poultry sustained Php51.69 million in damages affecting 72,146 heads. Some Php11.9 million were damaged or lost in terms of irrigation and agriculture facilities.

Quinta and Rolly damages and losses totaled to Php8.46 billion affecting 106,540 farmers and fisherfolk in 223,772 hectares. Volume of production lost reached 326,566 MT. Combined estimates of damages and losses in the Philippine agriculture sector due to typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses are estimated to have reached some Php12.4 billion to date.

The devastation in agriculture was also grave particularly for Catanduanes province, a top producer of abaca in the country, which is second biggest world producer of the cash crop. According to the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA), the province accounted for 30% of the country’s annual abaca output. But then Rolly battered Bicol and other abaca-growing regions – CALABARZON, MIMAROPA, and Eastern Visayas, resulting in Php1.2 billion worth of farm damages. The 30% decline in abaca output due to the typhoon as per the estimate of PhilFIDA would land at only 50,000 metric tons (MT) of produce, the crop’s lowest in 20 years. Using PhilFIDA estimates of Php1,000 income for every 10 kilos harvested, this decline is equivalent to a Php2.1 billion loss in farmers’ incomes.

What preparedness?

Government’s DRRM plan, actual implementation, recovery strategy, and even budget allocation of calamity funds are all telling – there is little acknowledgment of the Philippines being a calamity-prone country. It is no basis to say that the country is indeed disaster-prepared.

The Philippines ranks 9th among countries with the highest disaster risk index according to the World Risk Report of 2019. An average of 20 tropical cyclones enter the Philippine area of responsibility annually. Yet the budget allocation for disaster risk reduction in 2020 of Php16 billion declined from the already meager Php20 billion or 0.5% share in the 2019 national budget. The NDRRMC is again set to get Php20 billion in lump sum calamity funds in the 2021 national budget. But it remains a mere 0.4% of the total budget.

Components of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan (NDRRMP) 2011-2028 are: disaster prevention and mitigation, disaster preparedness, disaster response, and disaster recovery and rehabilitation. This should mean building massive evacuation and shelter infrastructure, for instance. This should also mean making available competent education, health, and housing, and providing sufficient energy, water, communication and transport mechanisms that can withstand any weather hazard. For a largely agricultural country, it should also mean the availability of crop insurance, food stocks, production support at all times, whether or not during recovery, and other measures that ensure farmers, fisherfolk, and farmworkers’ continued sustenance when calamities strike. Neither the NDRRM Plan nor the DARRMOpCen explicitly mandate these as part of the mitigation and preparedness steps of DRRM.

The NDRRMC reported Php115 million worth of assistance provided to Ulysses victims. The DA assured Php400 million in Quick Response Funds and Php300 million worth of emergency loans with zero interest and no collateral, payable in 10 years under the Survival and Recovery (SURE) Loan Program of Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) for farmers and fishers affected by Quinta and Rolly. The agency has also assigned the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) to provide insurance protection to farmers against losses arising from various calamities. Those insured under the PCIC are set to receive Php10,000-15,000 in insurance claims for damaged farm equipment, fishing boats, and gear. But this measure is premium-dependent and ties impoverished farm producers to indebtedness.

PCIC coverage is quite limited and leaves millions of agricultural producers behind. PIDS explains that the amount of cover is based on the cost of production inputs specified in the farm plan and budget submitted by the farmer upon application of insurance. Insurance premium rates vary based on the type of insurance cover, risk classification, type of farmer, and type of insurance cover availed. Premium for high value crop insurance is solely shouldered by the farmers, ranging from 2-7% of the total sum ensured. Premium rates for fisheries are solely determined by the PCIC.

According to latest available Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and PCIC 2018 figures cited by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, only 2.2 million farmers in 1.8 million hectares are insured. This is a small number compared to the over 10.9 million farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolk in the government’s Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture or RSBSA. It was also noted that while a huge chunk or 1.1 million of listed farm parcels reported by the Census of Agriculture and Fisheries (CAF) were less than 0.5 hectare in size, the penetration rate of the PCIC in these holdings was quite low compared to parcels of bigger sizes.

Long-time neglect of agriculture

Even given the backdrop of being a natural hazard-prone nation, government action for the farming and fisheries sectors has long-been either too little or too detrimental. Weather disturbances have even gotten worse over the years due to climate change, increasing further havoc on the country’s agriculture communities.

Philippine agriculture is in crisis, growing at an average 2.1% in 2017-2019, its slowest pace after 70 years of growing at 3.5% annually on the average. In the same period the sector lost over one million jobs. In the third quarter of this year, the sector grew only by 1.2%.

In 2018, the country’s agricultural trade deficit was the largest in history, and in 2019 the Philippines began importing its staple food rice.

However, despite the sector’s decline and disaster vulnerability, the budget for agriculture and agrarian reform averaged just a measly 3.6% of the total national budget annually from 2017-2019. This has been reduced further to 1.7% in 2020 and 1.6% for 2021 under the Duterte administration.

Calamity-battered Bicol

An example of the vulnerability and crisis of the country’s agriculture is the Bicol region. The region is prone to natural calamities such as typhoons, volcanic eruptions, drought and flooding, almost on a yearly basis. It is among the areas whose agriculture sector was hard-hit by the recent consecutive typhoons. The several calamities that have torn through the region in recent years resulted in billions of pesos in agricultural damage.

These include, for instance, tropical depression Usman which left Php1.6 billion worth of agricultural damages in Bicol at the end of 2018. Typhoon Tisoy, which hit the country in early December 2019, resulted in over Php1.7 billion worth of agricultural damages in the region, affecting its major crops. Bicol’s agriculture has also suffered crop losses from the El Niño drought last year and its abaca sector’s battle with the Abaca Bunchy Top Disease.

The region’s agriculture sector is now reeling from damages wrought by Quinta (Php395.8 million), Rolly (Php3.6 billion), and Ulysses (Php168.5 million).

Bicol’s abaca and coconut industries have not yet recovered from the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Tisoy. In the second quarter of the year, coconut production and abaca production both registered negative growth rates of 8 and 4 percent, respectively, from the same period last year.

Build Back Better” vs. inclusive response

The region’s disaster risk reduction bodies undertook early warning measures such as preemptive evacuation and advanced harvesting during typhoons Usman and Tisoy. In a way, mitigation was leveled-up. Yet, the Bicol Region’s agriculture sector, as with the rest of the country’s, was left vulnerable to destruction. The DADRROpCen practices the integration of DRR measures in the plans of government agencies. But like the NDRRMC plan, it is weightier on response, relief and recovery rather than building the core capacity of the agriculture sector. Making it flourish and able to stand on its own is not part of the plan.

The bottomline of the Philippines’ disaster risk reduction plan is the global-inspired “Build Back Better” which has been used in various calamities worldwide but saw big contractors and businesses taking the upper hand in rehabilitation and recovery. This is instead of focusing on really strengthening communities per se in terms of ensured rights to basic needs including food and jobs, adequate standards of living, a balanced ecology, ample services and development. These would be what will forge the capacity to withstand disasters.

In the case of agriculture, policies destroy rather than hone the sector’s own contribution to building this capacity. Decades of subscribing to global market dictates have crippled the agriculture sector and reduced it to being a supplier of cash crops, now being enhanced by the Plant, Plant Plant program. The National Land Use Act will accelerate the conversion of agricultural lands into commercial ones. Rice import liberalization meanwhile is destroying farmers’ incomes with falling palay prices and results in the shutdown of mills.

Through these policies, the government pushes Philippine agriculture off the cliff and keeps our farmers poor and vulnerable to calamities. Government lacks the sense of urgency to aid the calamity-stricken agricultural producers and only promises some farm inputs and limited financial assistance, not to mention in the form of burdensome loans. This jives with its non-interest to develop the sector other than for what the global market needs it to be.

The only way the country can really be disaster-prepared would be if risk reduction and response followed a comprehensive plan across pre-calamity and calamity scenarios. This needs to start with strengthening the heart of the economy and that is Philippine agriculture and manufacturing. Agriculture programs from the most token to those that destroy the industry and Filipino producers’ livelihoods must be stricken out especially liberalization and commercialized and profit-oriented insurance and credit-facilitation.

Land should be free for the tillers and not converted to non-agricultural use; the decision on how to make it productive theirs; give them substantial farm subsidies and direct farm facilities, machine and inputs support; and ensure their social protection. Especially during a pandemic such as the one that grips the nation and the world now, sustained financial assistance and direct support for producers is very much in order.

Governance that decides to sovereignly boost agriculture this way will be the same one that will forge policies and infrastructure for domestic industry, a healthy environment, people’s rights, and funding development, which are certain foundations of people-centered disaster preparedness. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Barangay chairperson halts relief distribution in Isabela, insists on taking over

An Ilagan City barangay chairperson prevented relief delivery to flood victims in her community and ordered the confiscation of food items for distribution last Thursday, November 19, a regional farmers group reported.

Hacienda Sta. Isabel Norte chairperson Leonora Uy allegedly ordered a stop to the humanitarian activity for hundreds of farmers in her barangay after allowing photos to be taken of only a few residents receiving food items, the group Danggayan iti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan) said on its Facebook page.

Danggayan said it properly coordinated with Uy on the relief activity who in turn suggested it be held at the barangay covered court “in order for the facility to be of some use.”

Relief goods being readied for distribution but were ordered confiscated by a local executive. (Danggayan photo)

The barangay executive also wanted that all residents should be recipients of the activity, prompting the relief workers to divide each pack into two to benefit twice as many families and accommodate Uy’s wishes.

But the chairperson ordered the relief items to be confiscated after photos have been taken of 10 beneficiaries receiving them, the farmers group said.

Photo ops lang pala ang pinayagan,” Danggayan said in a statement. (She only allowed the photo opportunity, it turns out.)

Uy reportedly said the barangay would re-pack the relief goods and take over the distribution.

Danggayan said the farmers disagreed, sure that many would later be denied the relief items.

“Ayon sa kapitan, kung hindi daw i-turn over sa kanya ang ayudang pagkain ay i-pull out na lang ito dahil hindi naman daw siya humiling ng ayudang pagkain. Pati ang mineral water ay ayaw siyang pumayag na ipamigay sa mga residente,” Danggayan reported. (According to Uy, the relief food items should be pulled out if these would not be turned over to them as she did not ask for them in the first place. She even refused to have drinking water distributed to the residents.)


The local executive even refused the distribution of drinking water to flood victims. (Danggayan photo)

The group said Uy’s decision angered residents and decided to continue the distribution at the house of farmer-leaders.

Two barangay councilors reportedly disagreed with Uy’s decision and helped in the distribution.

The relief items, worth PhP200,000 were donated by local groups Dagami, Tulong Kabataan, Tulong Sulong CV, Cagayan Valley Disaster Response Center Inc. and others. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

(Efforts to seek Uy’s comment failed as her supporters refuse to give the executive’s contact details. Kodao is still seeking ways to talk to Uy.)

Red Red Whine

by Sonny Africa

IBON staff reflect on red-tagging and its attack on the ideas of the Left

Two weeks ago, as floodwaters reached a new high to trap thousands of Filipinos on the roofs of their homes and force hundreds of thousands more to evacuate, red-tagging reached a new low.

The nation struggled to mobilize help beyond what the government was giving but the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) saw it as just another day at work to whine about Reds. It tried to dissuade donations for relief work of youth activists, took a swipe at CNN Philippines for being infiltrated, and even thought it worthwhile to meddle in a call for support among co-parents in a high school group chat.

The sad episode is a case study of the depths the Duterte government goes to in calling people Communists or terrorists and organizations as fronts or infiltrated. The hysterical claim last week is that the call for donations is “extorting money and goods to fund and support their terrorist activities”. Go figure.

But it also prompts deeper reflection on what red-tagging is and why we all lose from it. It isn’t the mere labelling that the government and its security apparatus like to pretend it is and which, they insist, even the Left does to itself. Red-tagging is labelling to attack not just people and organizations but also the very ideas and values so needed to make tomorrow better than today.

Fear of ducks

These are the coordinates of their lunacy: Communists are terrorists, Communist ideas a.k.a. Leftist ideas are passé, and anyone spouting Leftist ideas is a terrorist or a brainwashed puppet.

But the thing is, with the world and the country the way they are, it’s obvious what anyone concerned about humanity will cherish for their absence – social justice, equality, and a decent life for all. An honest grasp of history, politics and economics also points to what’s needed for these values to become real – people taking control of society and their lives.

Drilling down further shows what makes ‘Reds’ look, swim and quack like the ducks that elites fear so much – the rejection of capitalism, redistribution of wealth, and the imagining (or even building) of a socialist alternative. There’s a diversity of ducks but they all have these feathers.

Reds proudly embrace these ideas, and are famously relentless in putting these ideas into practice as conditions allow. They wear their red hearts on their sleeves and wave their red flags, literally and figuratively, because it isn’t enough for the ideas to be compelling. They have to be grasped and embraced and practiced by as many people as possible.

Which brings us back to red-tagging. Leftist ideas are the floodwaters of social change but instead of homes of the poor they wash away the structures of power. These waters are rising – maybe not like a storm surge but inexorably rising nonetheless.

Red-tagging aims to put a stop to that. Starting with activists and their organizations, including their supporters, and then really anyone daring to think differently and taking a stand. It wants to reduce radical ideas to a trickle of disembodied voices embellishing a fake democracy but threatening no one.

Progressive ideas will be tolerated if spoken from armchairs or as rhetoric in speeches and policy-making. But red flags are raised when these ideas are connected to each other and, especially, when they’re borne by the organized power of politicized Filipinos in a mass movement for change.

Capitalism and wannabe authoritarians don’t want that. They need a blind and docile public that doesn’t question why the economy leaves them behind, nor that opposes unrelenting corruption and the abuse of power.

Duck-hunting

The Duterte administration is averse to Leftist ideas but is incapable of arguing against them beyond shrill banalities. The government admits as much whenever it laments losing the “propaganda war,” as verbalized by the NTF-ELCAC, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and even a militarist senator.

What they don’t see and can’t concede is that they’re losing because they’re on the wrong side of history – so they’ve gone duck hunting instead.

This wouldn’t be a problem if they were going after armed ducks. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-led New People’s Army (NPA) is waging armed revolution in the countryside and, for that, is prepared for an equally armed response. The state can’t seem to defeat them in the battlefield and is in a virtual stalemate. But that’s another story.

The problem is that the Duterte administration is going after anything that quacks, wherever they might be, even if they aren’t doing anything illegal in their advocacies, projects, humanitarian work, law-making, and fiscalizing. In a back-handed compliment, the state is starting with the biggest, most influential, and deepest-rooted mainstream Left forces. The calculation may be that if the powerful radical flank is broken then moderates become more manageable.

The new Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) is bringing a tactical nuke cannon to a duck hunt with the same kind of widespread and excessive damage. Red-tagging today is in cheap posters and flyers, bad PowerPoint presentations, loose media statements, and troll-like social media posts.

The ATL will make red-tagging graduate from these – bypassing courts where they’d just be a mess of inadmissible evidence – to become the first step towards thinly ‘legalized’ surveillance, freezing of assets, warrantless arrests, and indefinite detention. The brazen abductions and assassinations by shadowy state security forces before the new law will still continue.

Fantastic tales

Red-taggers won’t admit it but they know they would never win a battle of ideas. So they fight with twisted fantasies instead and bank on sheer repetition using the vast propaganda apparatus of the government.

Armed Reds and Leftist activists, or armed Leftists and Red activists, are crudely lumped together — this only exposes that it’s Red and Left ideas that they fear most of all. The NTF-ELCAC’s banal propagandists think that they’ve stumbled on irrefutable wisdom and repeat this ad nauseam.

A Philippines that would be idyllic if not for the renegade violence of NPA bandits in the countryside? As if it isn’t the government that’s been killing tens of thousands of alleged drug offenders and unarmed activists. The Duterte government’s state-sponsored and -sanctioned violence against civilians kills more than the guerrilla war does in the countryside.

Families blissfully happy if not for youth brainwashed to hate their parents? As if children, youth and students can’t see for themselves how their families and many others are exploited while a fraction have uncountable wealth and luxury. Our best and brightest love their country and their families. Their choices come from maturity and deserve respect.

Activists whose real agenda is hate, death and destruction? As if they aren’t among the most consistently compassionate, dedicated and productive defenders of human rights or enablers of oppressed and exploited folks wherever they might be. The self-sacrifice is out of a deep love for others.

Lumad communities in picturesque harmony if not for NPA recruiters? As if they don’t know that soldiers and paramilitary goons pave the way for mining, logging and energy projects that won’t benefit the Lumad communities. The government exploits the Lumad many times over when they are paraded as propaganda props.

The NPA are rapists, murderers and extortionists? As if a roving army of such deviants could survive for decades, attracting idealistic youth and getting the support of rural communities knowing them and seeing for themselves who they are.

And an economy made poor by Communist armed conflict? As if the economy wasn’t poor before the rise of rebellion, and isn’t kept poor by neoliberal policy incantations from worshipers of the Gods of Capitalism. And as if the most rapid economic growth in decades hasn’t benefited oligarchs, government functionaries, and foreign capital while leaving the majority poor and farther behind than ever.

The red pill

Part of red-tagging is the Duterte government wanting us to take the blue pill. To swallow their disinformation, stay ignorant, and live in the confines of an unjust, unequal and unchanging world. It’s a pill to make people not just clueless but ultimately helpless and hopeless.

The red pill, on the other hand, frees us from the enslaving control of thinking that there is no alternative to capitalism and the status quo. It affirms the working class coming together as the most powerful force for change for the better.

It also makes us see how everything is commodified where the presidency, elections, legislators and laws, even the judiciary can be bought. And how oligarchs, foreign investors, business cronies, and government officials have become wealthier – as well how the wealth of the president and his family has become suspiciously invisible.

At one level, the NTF-ELCAC propagandists are just indoctrinated military personnel and folks with a quasi-religious devotion to the president (or maybe just a crush). At a deeper level, the NTF-ELCAC is the spearhead of the system trying to put down dissent and the rising waters of social revolution.

A line is being drawn in the dolomite sand. But it isn’t between those for or against ‘Communist-terrorists’ – it’s between those embracing or enabling the status quo and those choosing to change this for the better. More than ever, it’s time to take sides. #

= = = = = =

Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

Academic Break, hiling ng mga mag-aaral sa buong bansa

Nagsagawa ng student strike ang mga grupo ng mag-aaral mula sa iba’t-ibang unibersidad at kolehiyo sa Gate 2 ng Ateneo De Manila University sa Katipunan, Quezon City bilang bahagi ng International Students Day, Nobyembre 17, 2020.

Pangunahin nilang hiling na magkaroon ng national academic break dahil sa sunud-sunod na sakuna na dumaan sa bansa gayundin ang mga pahirap na sistema sa online classes. Ang academic break, ayon sa kanila, ay maagang deklarasyon ng pagtatapos ng semestre at mass promotion ng mga estudyante.

Binatikos din nila ang Pangulong Duterte dahil sa kriminal na kapabayaan nito na tugunan ang pandemya, edukasyon at sakuna. # (Bidyo ni Joseph Cuevas/Kodao)

A new and novel way indeed – and heed

from HBC’s The InComplete Sonnets

(Sonnet based on this Kodao news report: As floods devastate Luzon, cellphone load becomes disaster relief)

7
a new and novel way indeed – and heed
this well – for in the face of tragic signs
one can well count on some within the breed
who find flood victims in their helpless lines.

some offer cellphone load, it's quite relief
this, one way there to help beyond a doubt
the typhoon victims down, down in their grief
from nasty blasting typhoon's* ruthless clout.

one offered fifty pesos worth of load,
of cellular load to the ones in need
within his own community** – a broad
phrase that could help the ones in piteous bleed.

alive the bayanihan spirit is
which puts community in heights of bliss.

= = = = = =

*Ulysses, the 21st to hit the Philippines this year.

**Michael Ramos Pagulayan has offered to send P50worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.1625-1632; Nov. 14, 2020, Saturday.

As floods devastate Luzon, cellphone load becomes disaster relief

Experts urge effective communication programs as part of disaster management and relief.

Citizens have found a new and novel way of sending immediate aid to victims of the ongoing Luzon floods brought by Typhoon Ulysses: free cellphone load.

Michael Ramos Pagulayan offered to send Php50 worth of cellular load to those who need them in his home community of Auitan, San Pablo, Isabela.

Asked how much was he able to share so far, Pagulayan said he was able to send Php50 pesos each to his former elementary school classmates.

“I try to help because I have no way of going home because of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. I can’t fly home, I can’t drive. So I thought of sharing  mobile phone loads to flood victims who need to contact relatives here in Manila,” Pagulayan said.

Not many have taken up his offer, however, probably because they have ran out of batteries or have no mobile phone signals.

Auitan had been underwater for since Thursday in what many of its residents say is the worst flooding in decades.

Many victims in the community had been staying on their roofs as rescue efforts are frustrated by strong currents.

Anna Balasbas is a Pasay City resident who also gave Php30 to Php 100 cellular phone loads to 29 flood victims as of two o’clock Saturday afternoon.

Those who asked for load are from the Cagayan and Isabela provinces, Balasbas said.

Balasbas said she even talked to victim from Barangay Linao East in Tuguegarao City a few minutes past two o’clock who badly needed help, but their phone call got cut off.

“Her father suffered a heart attack. Her battery must have drained already,” Balasbas said.

Netizens had been storming social media sites demanding information on their families in severely flooded areas, especially in Cagayan Valley as well as in San Mateo and Rodriguez towns in Rizal and in Marikina City that were also hit by catastrophic flooding since Typhoon Ulysses hit Luzon Island on Wednesday.

Mobile phones had been the most reliable way for families to exchange information during disasters in the Philippines that break down as power and communication services are shut down by strong winds and flooding.

Communication as disaster aid and relief

Even emergency responses by the government are affected by breakdowns in communication and information exchange, United States-based public safety expert Thomas Connelly said.

“As important as the flow of information into the managers of any disaster situation is the flow of information out to emergency responders, residents, search and evaluation teams, other emergency managers and management agencies is critical,” Connelly wrote

“Dissemination of timely and credible information can minimize the potential for loss of life and injury, help residents understand the extent of the emergency, simplify first responders’ tasks, accelerate the recovery phase and minimize the overall impact of the disaster event on the community,” Connelly, a retired police officer who developed Los Altos, California’s emergency and disaster response plan, said.

Quezon City Disaster Response and Relief Management Council officer Ares Gutierrez said communications is the most crucial yet oftentimes neglected area in disaster and emergency management.

“Communications bridges everything. Disaster managers need an efficient communications system to enable them to efficiently coordinate response efforts and save more lives,” Gutierrez told Kodao.

Ares Gutierrez being interviewed after a strong earthquake jolted Luzon in November 2016. (Photo from his Facebook account.)

Gutierrez said timely and frequent communication also prevents disinformation and assure the public that help is on its way.

Effective communications from the ground up will also enable decision-makers to determine whether response plans are working or needs calibration and now what type of further assistance is needed, he said.

“In times of disaster, the public wants to know how or where they can get help, what risks or dangers they face, and how they can protect themselves and their families,” Gutierrez added.

Gutierrez, a crisis and disaster risk management expert, said citizens offering mobile phone loads is a way of compensating for the perceived lack or breakdown of disaster communications.

“Humanity kicks in when you see people crying for help. You want to jump in and help. Sharing cellphone credit can be a lifesaver,” he said.

Gutierrez, however, warned that such gestures are useless if the phone network is totally down.

“A disaster-prone country like ours should have all types of communications platform in place so we don’t get cut off during crucial moments,” he said.

Gutierrez also urged the government, the private sector and the academe to act together to implement the many disaster preparedness and communication plans that languish on the drawing boards.

“Ondoy gave us a decade to prepare for Ulysses; Yolanda should have reminded us that we should get our acts done. The problem is, we easily forget,” Gutierrez said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)