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Heavy cost of coronavirus response drains local governments’ disaster budgets

Pandemic response is taking up bulk of resources, including funds meant for disaster management.

By Estrella Torres, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

The coastal towns of Dolores and Sulat in Eastern Samar constantly battle with the impact of extreme weather events such as storm surges, flash floods and typhoons.

Early this year, the leaders of the two towns were set to conduct training for emergency response teams, buy rescue equipment and early warning devices from their calamity funds, but the Covid-19 pandemic got in the way and wiped out their calamity funds to prevent the entry of the virus.

“The province was not ready to have a Covid-19 case,” said Manuel Catuday, head of Municipal Disaster Risk Resilience Management Office (MDRRMO) of Dolores. “We don’t have a government hospital, only a rural health center with one doctor.”

A community hospital in Dolores has been dilapidated since last year, and has not been repaired, he said. The next government hospital is in Tacloban City, which is at least a four-hour drive.

Covid-19 came at a time when the localities have not even completely recovered from the onslaught of Typhoons Yolanda and Ruby, which struck a year apart.

While the government was still on post-Yolanda operations, Ruby came in November 2014 and caused severe damage to homes, crops and farmlands that were still being rehabilitated. There was not enough public attention in the aftermath of Ruby as Yolanda was still fresh in the minds of government officials as well as the general public.

A piece of G.I. sheet is seen on top of an electrical post in Barangay Sagkahan, Tacloban City after Typhoon Yolanda made landfall and claimed around 6,000 lives. Photograph: Bernard Testa

Lahat ng hanapbuhay namin nawala (All our sources of livelihood were destroyed),” said Rio Caspe, 42, a fisherman from Barangay San Francisco in Sulat whose house was destroyed by Typhoon Ruby.

His three children and wife had to rely on the meager earnings of their small sari-sari store as massive flooding made fishing difficult.

Caspe said his neighbors were also cash-strapped because their crops such as banana, rice and copra were destroyed by the typhoon.

“We only relied on relief goods while staying in an evacuation center,” said Caspe.

Funds depleted

Dolores, a third-class municipality, earmarked P8 million in calamity funding for 2020 to prepare and protect its 42,000 people or 12,700 families from the impact of natural calamities.

However, the funds had to be realigned to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for community volunteers as well as hygiene kits and food packs for residents during the lockdown, which was imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The national government’s Bayanihan fund gave Dolores a P14-million subsidy to respond to the  Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are now sourcing from this (Bayanihan) fund for our response to Covid-19 pandemic,” said Catuday.

The town also has to spend for at least 900 LSIs or locally stranded individuals who arrived in Dolores from March to June.

Dolores, Sulat, and seven other towns in Samar were placed under state of calamity in May when Typhoon Ambo, the first typhoon to visit the country this year, pummeled the province. As usual, the storm destroyed crops and damaged houses, displacing more than 140,000 people.

Most houses in these towns are made of light materials.

Matagal bago kami makabangon, hirap kasi ang pagpapagawa (It takes a long time to recover because we don’t have enough money to repair our houses),” said Catuday.

Charlie Rosaroso, head of the Sulat MDRRMO, said at least P1.5 million or 30 percent of the P5.1 million calamity fund for 2020 was spent to provide emergency assistance to families affected by Typhoon Ambo. The remaining funds were depleted by the Covid-19 response.

He said he was only able to spare P300,000 to continue the training for volunteers on emergency response.

Provinces and cities get 5 percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA), the local governments’ share of national tax collections, for disaster risk resilience (DRR) under Republic Act 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

Of the total calamity fund, 70 percent is allocated to prevention, mitigation and preparedness, and 30 percent is set aside as a Quick Response Fund (QRF).

“What is left of our calamity fund is now being used for our Covid-19 response,” said Rosaroso. These include relief goods, PPE for volunteers, hygiene kits, food packs for residents, as well as LSIs and ROFs (returning overseas Filipinos) undergoing quarantine.

Sulat has hosted close to 200 LSIs since March.

A fourth-class municipality with a population of close to 16,000, Sulat does not have a hospital, but there is one doctor in each of the rural health centers in 18 barangays, said Rosaroso.

As of Aug. 10, there were eight confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection in Eastern Samar and most of them came from Metro Manila. Both Catuday and Rosaroso said there were no confirmed cases in their towns, as they work even on Sundays to ensure health and hygiene protocols are properly implemented.

Mario Candelaria, chairman of Barangay San Francisco in Sulat, said: “An infection here is a nightmare because we don’t have a hospital.”

Noon ‘pag galing Maynila sinasalubong ng mga taga dito, ngayon nilalayuan na (Before, those who arrived from Manila got a welcome, now people avoid them,” said Candelaria.

He said the P110,000 calamity fund of San Francisco has also been used for food packs, hygiene kits, and for disinfecting public facilities.

Exposed and vulnerable

The Philippines ranked second in terms of exposure and vulnerability to climate-related risks in the Global Climate Change Risk Report for 2020 of Germanwatch, the environment think tank. Japan topped the list.

Red Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said the report showed that “Those who are least responsible for the problem, are the ones who are suffering the most. This is unacceptable.”

“The pandemic has largely revealed systemic weaknesses that would have just taken more time to uncover otherwise,” said Constantino.

A man swims neck-deep in water in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City at the height of Typhoon Maring in 2017. Photograph: Bernard Testa

The German report noted that strong tropical cyclones such as Bopha (“Pablo”) 2012, Haiyan (“Yolanda”) 2013 and Mangkhut (“Ompong”) 2018 have been recorded in the last 10 years, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable population.

At least 74 percent of the country’s population is susceptible to multiple hazards, including coastal hazards such as typhoons, storm surges and rising sea levels, according to the 2018 World Risk Report. The report ranked the Philippines third among countries most vulnerable to disaster risks.

The catastrophic impact of Tropical Depression Ondoy in 2009 cost Marikina and Pasig cities P22.54 billion, of which Pasig accounted for 90 percent.

Rich city gets more money

This time around, Pasig City had to let go of critical spending for disaster risk resilience programs due to the pandemic response, said Bryant Wong, the city disaster risk reduction and management officer. These included reducing the number of fire engines and rescue vehicles to be purchased.

“We did not expect Covid-19 pandemic to affect us all, but we need to respond to it the best way we can,” Wong said.

Unlike Sulat and Dolores, however, Pasig City Hall has deeper pockets and generous donors.

Of the P600-million calamity fund for 2020, the city government has spent half for the Covid-19 pandemic response, Wong said.

It also managed to utilize an additional P200 million from the P300 million DRR savings in the last five years.

Other funding sources for Pasig City’s Covid-19 response included a P1.2-billion supplemental fund for the Social Amelioration Program (SAP) and another P1.2 billion for tablets to be used by students for online classes, from the Special Education Fund.

The city also received P136 million from the Bayanihan fund, equivalent to one month of its IRA.

Wong said private donations of beds, PPEs, hygiene kits and rapid testing kits worth P50 million boosted the city’s pandemic response.

The private sector also donated 100,000 food packs to Pasig.

In the case of Sulat and Dolores towns, there are no big corporate donors, which meant that the money for food packs distributed to locked-down residents came from their calamity funds.

Funding sources

Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad of the Office of Civil Defense, also the executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Council (NDRRMC), told local government units (LGUs) in a webinar in July to learn “to adjust, transform and adapt strategies to manage response to Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for multiple hazards from natural calamities.”

During the webinar, John Aries Macaspac, a director of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), enumerated funding sources for the Covid-19 response, including the Special DRRM Trust Fund or the savings from DRR funds in the last five years, a month’s worth of IRA from the national government and realigned funds from the General Fund. LGUs may also use 20 percent of their development funds for the purchase of PPEs, rapid test kits, vitamins, medicines, accommodation and expenses of health workers, construction of rental quarantine facilities, mobile testing labs, tents, shelters for the homeless, and training for pandemic response, under guidelines issued by the DBM and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

The “Bayanihan to Heal as One” or Republic Act 11469 allocated P37 billion for the emergency Covid-19 response of LGUs. It allocated P12.4 billion to all cities; P18.39 billion to municipalities and P6.2 billion to provinces.

Constantino said responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and climate emergency should go hand in hand, as both require the expertise of scientists and policies and actions based on evidence.

Scientists, he noted, advised physical distancing to prevent the transmission Covid-19 while waiting for a vaccine to be developed. Scientists have also stressed the urgency of limiting the rise of global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“We do not have the luxury to choose whether we need protection from the deadly fevers induced by the novel coronavirus or from an increasingly feverish planet. Just as climate change is not an environmental problem but a development crisis, so is Covid-19 not merely a human health crisis but an ecological problem,” said Constantino.

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About the Author:

Estrella Torres is a journalist who has worked for major English dailies in the Philippines for 20 years. She is now the Head of Media and Communications of Save the Children Philippines. Save the Children implements a program on improving the quality of disaster response and preparedness in the typhoon-stricken municipalities of Sulat and Dolores in Eastern Samar.

Amid Taal disaster, ‘Duterte Legacy’ disinformation campaign launched

by IBON Media

Research group IBON hit Malacañang’s launching of the ‘Duterte Legacy’ campaign while relief operations are still ongoing for tens of thousands of families displaced by the present eruption of Taal volcano. The campaign is not just rife with disinformation, said the group, but also insensitive politicking for the still distant 2022 elections.

Organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), the Duterte Legacy Campaign was launched by Malacañang at the Philippine International Convention Center barely a week after Taal volcano erupted. Cabinet officials showcased the Duterte administration’s accomplishments in three “key pillars”: peace and order, infrastructure development, and poverty alleviation.

IBON executive director Sonny Africa criticized the launch for its insensitivity. “The government pleaded lack of relief funds and asked the public for support,” Africa said, “but here comes the PCOO using its bloated propaganda budget for presidential self-promotion conspicuously in anticipation of the 2022 elections.” The PCOO budget which averaged Php1.1 billion a year in 2011-2016 has greatly increased under the Duterte administration to Php1.7 billion for 2020.

Africa said that the PCOO campaign is only the latest disinformation effort of the administration. “The Duterte Legacy Campaign is deceiving the public about the real state of the economy with its selective and misleading presentation of figures.”

The PCOO claims 4.2 million jobs generated through ‘Build, Build, Build’ to hype its impact. Africa said this is an exaggeration though and points out, for instance, that this is even more than the 4.15 million total employed in the construction sector in 2019 reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). There is so much double-counting that the number is virtually made up, he stressed.

The 4.5% unemployment rate is meanwhile disingenuous because the figure is only for the October 2019 labor force survey round. The PCOO would be more honest, he said, if they cited the higher 5.1% unemployment rate for the whole year which is already available from the PSA. Africa also said that the supposed 5.9 million Filipinos being lifted from poverty is only because a very low and unrealistic poverty line of Php71 was used to compute this.

IBON pointed out that the Philippine economy is in worse shape because of the unreformed neoliberal policies of the Duterte administration. The group noted that: growth has been slowing since the start of the administration to just 5.8% in the first three quarters of 2019; agriculture grew weakly at just 1.5% and manufacturing slowed to 3.7%. The group also cited government debt bloating to Php7.9 trillion; regressive tax reforms eating away at the incomes of the poorest 60% of the population; high real unemployment at 4.7 million; and more than 12 million families trying to survive on Php132 or less per person per day. #

(This article is being reprinted by Kodao as part of a content-sharing agreement with IBON.)

Launch a Truly-Pro Masses Relief Program

by Edberto M. Villegas, PhD

If the government were just pro-masses than pro-rich and pro-foreigners, it would have directed the Philippine Army or even the Philippine National Police (PNP) to use more trucks so they could pick up the animals, cattle, horses, pigs, chicken, etcetera suddenly left by the evacuees in Batangas in their habitats in order to escape the eruption of Taal volcano last Jan. 12. Whether they wanted to stay behind in their houses or take their animals with them, the evacuees found themselves in a very difficult position because they were ordered to evacuate and they do not own trucks to carry their animals with them. Army trucks, which have transported the population affected by the eruption, should also fetch the animals of the evacuees to save the livelihoods of the latter. More trucks should have been provided by the Philippine Army or the PNP as many of these are just standing idly by in military camps. It is to be noted that the army has acquired 219 new trucks from South Korea in 2017 to augment their other hundreds of trucks. Surely, not all of these are being used to fight the rebels or are they?

If the government were just right-minded, it should bring the rescued animals and even fruits to public lands to sell or auction to interested parties to help the devastated families of the volcanic eruption. The owners of these animals have no more space to care for them as their abodes have become uninhabitable and they are willing to sell their animals to the public to obtain capital to start anew in life. This is the least that a responsible government can do for the thousands of Batangueños and others displaced by the eruption as the masses are the foremost capital of society which make it rich with their labor power to run our agricultural and industrial sectors, but with workers always at a losing end because of low wages given to them by the owners of the means of production. Many Batangueño hog and chicken farmers as well as cattle raisers are even paying good taxes to the government which augment the latter’s coffers. The government has allocated P30 billion as emergency supplemental budget for calamity fund to the approved regular budget of P20 billion of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management, making the total calamity fund at P50 billion in the P4.1 trillion budget of 2020. It must be pointed out that the calamity fund has been decreased by P11 billion in the 2020 national budget. Compare this to the increase of the budget for the Office of the President by 21% from P6.8 billion in 2019 to P8.24 billion in 2020. The P4.5 billion of the Office of the President budget is meant for his so-called confidential and intelligence fund, including monetary rewards to PNP officers who can neutralize drug personalities! The calamity fund instead of being decreased should be raised tenfold since the Philippines lies in a disaster-prone area, as witnessed in its numerous floods, earthquakes and volcano eruptions, which have come in series last year and this month of January. It is more called for now to increase the calamity fund as the Philippines has been declared by the UN as among the leading countries in the world to be affected by climate change.

Bayan Muna representatives Ferdie Gaite and Eufemia Cullamat, along with former Representative Neri Colmenares distribute relief goods to victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.

Compare further the measly amount of the regular calamity fund at P20 billion to the allocated budget for the payment of interest alone of our foreign debts, which has increased by 13% from P399 billion in 2019 to P441 billion in 2020, all to be passed on to the Fillipino people. The Duterte regime has borrowed anew from the Chinese for his so called Build-Build-Build program, mostly expected to be funded by Chinese banks. The BBB program of Duterte is mere bluster as befits him because of the 75 projects planned, only nine have been started and it is already the last lap of his term. Many of these projects will just enrich Chinese banks and firms like, for example, the Kaliwa Dam project in Quezon Province, costing $3.7 billion, 85% of which will come from Chinese loans and which will displace hundreds of Dumagats from their ancestral lands. Why is Duterte so partial to Chinese loans when its interest rate is so high, at 2 to 3% per annum compared to Japanese interest rate which is 0.25% to 0.75%? The loans from China are also all tied-loans, which means we will have to purchase its technology and machines and hire Chinese personnel and workers to undertake a project.

Instead of having a development program only meant for show or to grandstand but which is becoming chaotic for lack of careful planning as the BBB which Duterte has dubbed the “golden age of infrastructure”, the government should prioritize the welfare of the general masses. A huge special Industrial Fund for SMEs (small and medium scale enterprises) and Agricultural Fund for farmers should be put up to extend to borrowers low-interest or no interest loans, depending upon the status of a family. These loans can also be augmented by a great portion of government savings every year and the calamity fund lying stagnant in banks. Such industrial and agricultural loans shall include bigger loans for capital investments by Filipino entrepreneurs like pig and chicken raisers, and shops and store owners whose livelihoods were destroyed by a calamity. Evacuees are desperately in need of financial help to start a new life and it is the task of a government to live up to its role as caretaker of the common good, instead of surreptitiously juggling its revenues to favor special interests specially in Congress. A great part of the government revenues come from the masses, especially from Train 1 and 2 or the tax increases of basic goods which have hit the ordinary consumers so hard but reduced the taxes of the rich. The Industrial and Agricultural Funds intended for development undertakings by the majority masses must be increased substantially annually to accelerate national development and prosperity instead of hiking such unproductive fund like the budget for the Office of the President which as we indicated above rose by 21% in 2020 from 2019.

It is about time that preferential allocation be made for Filipino enterprises, including farming ventures, since small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), owned by Filipinos, employ 60% of the national labor force and not the big companies, including the MNCs. Wages in all Philippine enterprises should also be closely monitored by the Department of Labor and Employment. Daily wages should be mandated by law to increase to P1500 which will give at least a decent living to a family of five due to the decline of the real value of the peso caused by the constant rise of consumer prices, which had been particularly taken advantage of by the Western oil companies, specially American and British. These foreign oil companies had almost every month raised oil prices, particularly that of gas so that we have the most expensive gas prices in Southeast Asia. The basic wages and salaries of all government workers should likewise be raised to the decent level of living as with private workers. And whenever there is a rise of prices of goods and services, wages and salaries should be indexed to them or adjusted accordingly. The rationale for the increases in the national budget to favor the Filipino masses and the protection of their economic well-being by laws is that it will tap their full productive capacity which will benefit the whole of our society.

Relief goods being distributed to victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.

As for the budget for the construction of new houses in designated public lands for those evacuees whose homes were destroyed, the responsibility will fall on the lap of the Department of Human Settlement and Urban Development which has been allocated a low budget of P5.6 billlion in 2020. Compare this again to the P8 billion allocated to the Office of the President and you will know how greedy this president is for money that is not his.

If the government remains as irresponsible as it is now without even having any semblance of a pro-masses national development program for industry and agriculture, which will involve the direct participation of the Filipino masses in their organizations, the Philippines will be in the same rut as it is at present with its increase of wealth (GDP), mostly derived from credits or fictitious capital (hot money) in the finance market, particularly in the stock market, only benefitting 1% of the population. How could we expect for this Duterte government to launch a truly pro-masses relief program for all Filipino evacuees from calamities when it has even bungled up its so-called flagship program for a drug-free Philippines called Tokhang, which has become a total mess and failure due again to a lack of careful planning and strategy? Or is Tokhang just a big cover-up for something very sinister that favors Chinese drug lords? The masses, led by their organizations, must act now instead of relying on this neo-colonial, tyrannical and corrupt regime, masquerading as the true government of the Filipino people. #

The author is the former chairperson of the Development Studies Program of University of the Philippines at Manila. A Batangan, he is a grandson of General Miguel Malvar.

8 Aetas killed during quake, IP group reports

Eight Aetas died in the 6.1 magnitude earthquake that shook parts of Luzon last April 22 but have not been included in the government list of casualties, an indigenous people’s group said.

The Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA) said at least eight Aetas, including minors, died in landslides in Porac and Floridablanca towns in Pampanga province due to the earthquake.

The group did not name the reported victims.

An April 26 report by CNN Philippines, however, said one child was killed in Barangay Nabuclod in Floridablanca town while three others (8-year old Landok Serrano, his father Berto Serrano and grandfather Bidong Laya) went missing during the quake.

In a press conference in Angeles City this morning, the CLAA complained that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council did not look into the plight of the Aetas—the indigenous peoples group in Central Luzon.

“[T]he NDRRMC just recorded a total of 18 deaths. Of the reported 18 deaths, five missing person cases, 243 wounded, from the 3,632 affected families or about 7,410 individuals…few or even none of it includes the indigenous people and their communities,” the CLAA in its press statement said.

The CLAA added that the Aetas are the most vulnerable sector in the region and the last to recover from disasters.

The group also bewailed that the Aetas have limited access to state resources, such as quick response and rescue teams when disasters strike.

‘Apathetic president’

In the press conference held at the Angeles City Youth Center, the CLAA expressed fears that more deaths may have occurred but remain unreported, especially in farflung indigenous communities.

The group also blamed president Rodrigo Duterte government for his apparent apathy for dismissing the number of deaths as “the barest minimum.”

“I’m not trying to belittle the problem. To me, it’s just maybe a few towns hard hit. Thank God that we have the barest minimum of deaths,” the President said at a situation briefing in San Fernando City, Pampanga two days after the quake.

CLAA chairperson Sonny Serrano said that the severity of the disaster effect of the earthquake may be linked directly to anti-environment projects “along every inch of the entire length of the Zambales mountain range.”

“In the uplands of Floridablanca for example, exploration and earthmoving activities along the ridges of Mount Cuadrado may have caused the weakened soil of the residents of Brgy. Nabuclod and other hard hit barangays of Floridablanca,” Serrano said.

In Porac, the introduction of alien tree species by the government’s National Greening Program and the existence of many quarry operations as well land conversion to roads and subdivision may have worsened the effects of the Earthquake, he added.

The CLAA also denounced Duterte’s “criminal negligence” in perpetuating more intensive environmental plunder of the entire Zambales mountain range under his government’s Build Build Build program, that may have worsened the effects of the earthquake. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

BPO workers reveal companies refused to evacuate during Monday’s quake

A group of call center employees criticized business process outsourcing (BPO) companies for refusing to allow their employees to evacuate during Monday’s strong earthquake that shook parts of Luzon, including the National Capital Region.

The BPO Industry Employees’ Network (BIEN) called the attention of BPO companies to ensure that workers’ lives and safety are their top priority during emergencies.

“We are shocked and appalled upon receiving reports from BPO workers themselves that their companies did not evacuate them during the earthquake,” BIEN said.

“Keeping business as usual in the midst of this life-threatening situation is not only illegal; it is utterly inhumane,” the group added.

A 6.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Central Luzon and Metro Manila around 5PM of April 22.

At least 16 have been confirmed dead in Zambales and Pampanga provinces, including workers of a grocery that collapsed in Porac town.

A 6.5 magnitude earthquake also jolted Eastern Visayas Tuesday, April 23, at 1:37 PM that was also felt in Central Visayas, the Bicol Region and parts of North-East Mindanao.

BIEN reminded industry players to adhere to occupational guidelines in times of natural disasters to keep workers safe.

The group also called on the government to enforce the new occupational safety and health standards law, Republic Act 1105, and penalize companies who have violated the safety standards putting workers’ lives at great risk.

The group did not name the BPO companies in its statement.

“Given the risk of an aftershock and effect of quake on infrastructure, we urge the government and companies to consider suspending operations until buildings and offices are declared safe,” BIEN ended. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NPA to carry out rescue, relief and rehab after ‘Ompong’

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) announced Saturday, September 15, that New People’s Army (NPA) units are ready to conduct humanitarian activities for victims of Typhoon “Ompong”.

“The NPA and all revolutionary forces in North and Central Luzon, as well as in Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, are geared to carry out rescue, relief and rehabilitation work for millions of people whose homes and livelihood were ravaged by strong winds and rains brought about by typhoon Ompong,” the CPP said in a statement.

The CPP said that while remaining vigilant over “relentless” offensive operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, local NPA commands shall primarily concentrate in civic action amid the disaster in the next few days.

The CPP announcement was issued even as tropical cyclone “Ompong” (International name: Mangkhut) is still barrelling across extreme northern Luzon, packing sustained winds of around 205 kilometers per hours (kph) and gusts of up to 285 kph.

“Ompong” made landfall at 1:40 am at the rice-producing town of Baggao in Cagayan Province and moved west-northwest at a speed of 25 kph after hitting the Sierra Madre mountain range.

Billions of pesos in damages to crops are expected as rice and corn, both major crops  in Cagayan, Isabela, Apayao, Abra and Ilocos Sur, have yet to be harvested before “Ompong” ravaged the area.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has yet to announce any casualty from the typhoon.

As of 1 pm Saturday, the typhoon has weakened and its center was located off the coast of Laoag City in Ilocos Norte.

The typhoon’s path closely followed the trajectory of Supertyphoon “Lawin” which hit the same area in late 2016, killing eight victims and causing an estimated P60 billion in damages to crops and properties.

Typhoon Ompong’s aftermath in Cabagan, Isabela.

Extending all help

In light of the widespread destruction, the CPP urged the Filipino people and international humanitarian agencies “to unite and extend all possible help to address the welfare of the people. “

“[The CPP] urges all democratic sectors to establish Serve the People brigades to help collect and distribute relief assistance. The broad masses of workers, peasants, minority people, fisherfolk and other basic sectors suffer the most from the damage wrought by typhoon Ompong,” the CPP said.

The revolutionary group added there is urgent need to mobilize peoples and groups to facilitate the entry and equitable distribution of all financial and material assistance.

The CPP warned that rampant corruption and inefficiencies by the government may hijack relief operations, as when Supertyphoons Pablo, Sendong, Yolanda and Lawin devastated large parts of the country in recent years.

The group also urged the Rodrigo Duterte government to implement wage increases, land distribution, cancellation of debt, agricultural subsidies, free irrigation and livelihood assistance and economic relief to help the victims. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine TRAIN wreck

By Luis V. Teodoro

Living in the Philippines has always been challenging and difficult for many Filipinos. But never since the Marcos dictatorship has it been more dangerous than today for Lumad, dissenters, women, human rights defenders and the poor.

In response to life’s daily perils, some 20 percent of the population — or roughly 20 million men and women of the over 100 million residents of these isles of uncertainty — want to leave. These numbers are in addition to the nearly 11 million Filipinos scattered all over the globe from Angola to Zanzibar, of whom 47 percent are permanent immigrants, and 43 percent Overseas FilipinoWorkers (OFWs), according to data from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).

But it isn’t just construction workers, seamen, nannies, and domestics who’re heading for the nearest airport — and who were most likely among the thousands whose flights were canceled or delayed because of the 38-hour shutdown of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) last weekend.

Engineers, doctors, nurses, teachers, even lawyers and other professionals are also among them. In the mid-1980s, the surge in the number of Filipinos leaving for alien shores alarmed those who saw in the exodus the irreparable loss not only of the brains but also of the brawn that are both crucial to the country’s development.

In the 1990s, the alarm turned into condemnation of those abandoning the country of their birth, accusing them of being unpatriotic and of being solely focused on earning as much as they could.

The critics ignored the fact that for many OFWs, working in another country had become, and still is, a matter of survival, there being hardly any job opportunities at home that would assure them and their families lives of dignity in a society that over the decades has become more and more impoverished.

As for professionals, some do leave in search of relative luxury abroad. But others are also in search of the certainty, order and predictability of life that are absent in the Philippines, which in their minds would assure their children brighter futures. The meritocracy that governs the professions and trades in developed countries — the system based on the principle that what you know rather than who you know should decide personal advancement — is also among the lures of emigration. Filipinos generally excel in other climes, thereby proving that it is the system they’re born into that hinders both their advancement and the realization of their potentials.

The long and the short of it is the common conviction that being elsewhere is preferable to being here. “Here” is the Philippines, where, despite its having been under fascist rule from 1972 to 1986 and being once again under a despotic regime, the trains still don’t run on time. (The trains’ supposedly being on time, the fascist government of Italy’s Benito Mussolini claimed during World War II, was symbolic of the efficiency of the dictatorship.)

The Philippines is instead rapidly turning into a total disaster, a metaphorical train wreck whose brutal reality is pushing even more and more Filipinos into leaving for whatever country will accept them as workers or immigrants — or at least enable them to evade being deported as undocumented aliens.

TRAIN, the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion law and the unprecedented surge of inflation in its wake that has almost literally made prime commodities worth their weight in gold, are not the only components of that wreck. Above it all is the gross inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, violence, and sheer madness that’s endemic in what passes for governance today.

The monopoly of a handful of families since Commonwealth days, political power has been used to keep those few in pelf and privilege in the seven decades since their United States patron recognized Philippine independence in 1946. Every administration since then has been run by the dynasties earlier “trained in self- government” by the US colonial regime and later nurtured and protected by their US patrons. Every one of them has been committed to keeping the country the way it has always been for over a century: a backward agricultural country and a US economic, political, cultural and military dependency.

Rather than address the poverty and its attendant ills rooted in the semi-feudal and semi-colonial character of Philippine society, they use and have always used State violence and repression against the movements, individuals and groups that have tried to work for the changes that have eluded this country and its people for centuries. The rebellions, uprisings and revolutionary wars that have haunted Philippine society for over 300 years are the consequences of both the reality of poverty and injustice as well as of the repression the ruling cliques — whether Spanish, American or Filipino — have used in response to the demand for the democratization of political power.

Since its collapse, the Marcos terror regime (1965-1986) had seemed the worst expression of the dynasts’ limitless appetite for power and plunder. But at least two of its successor regimes have come close to challenging that dictatorship’s dubious distinction.

The Macapagal-Arroyo regime (2001-2010) tried, but despite its sordid human rights and scandal-ridden record, didn’t quite make it as a Marcos regime clone during the near-decade it was in power. Instead, it is the current regime that in the brief span of twenty-five months is well on the way to becoming a worse version of the Marcos kleptocracy.

Not only has his regime amassed a record of human rights violations way above that of Ferdinand Marcos’ 19-year occupancy of Malacanang. President Rodrigo Duterte is also presiding over the complete return to power of the Marcoses via the siblings “Imee” and “Bongbong” and their unrepentant kin and cronies. In patent violation of the Constitution, Mr. Duterte has gone as far as to express his preference for the latter rather than for Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo to succeed him should he resign, and to even invite a military junta to seize State power to prevent a Constitutional succession.

But it’s far from surprising. The regime’s lawlessness and contempt for the Constitution are by now close to the stuff of legend. The Duterte police force, acting above the law and with total impunity, has slaughtered thousands including women and children in the course of the selective “war” on illegal drugs, and arrested and detained thousands more for such “offenses” as loitering, some of whom have been killed while in custody.

Should he survive the remaining four years of his term, Mr. Duterte is likely to be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. But before the advent of that moment of historical retribution, the regime war against the poor and the future is continuing to ravage entire communities.

The debasement of democratic discourse he has achieved through his rants, profanities, ravings and encouragement of hate speech and the use of State violence against dissenters and regime critics has made the reform of Philippine society through peaceful means impossible. Instead of the sustainable peace he promised the electorate in 2016, the country today has never been more divided and in peril of even worse conflicts since Ferdinand Marcos erected a dictatorship on the ruins of the Republic.

Only the willfully blind, the intellectually dishonest, and the mercenary will mistake for progress the ruin of Philippine society Mr. Duterte and company have completed. More and more Filipinos are thus leaving for foreign lands, compelled by need and concern for the future to look elsewhere in this planet for a refuge from the terrors of the man-made disaster the country has become.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

BALSA calls for donations for flood victims

Groups insist on government accountability for Yolanda Victims

On the third anniversary of Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-National Capital Region held a symbolic candle-lighting ceremony for the victims and survivors of the disaster last November 8 in Quiapo, Manila.

Bayan-NCR chairperson Raymond Palatino said the Benigno Aquino administration should still be held accountable for what they say was its inefficient and unjust response to the disaster.

Officials of the current Rodrigo Duterte government have reported that while many of the victims and survivors have still to receive material and monetary aid, only P30 million of the Yolanda rehabilitation funds remain from hundreds of billions.

The protesters are also calling for continuing rehabilitation of areas and citizens in the affected areas. Read more