For a people’s response to Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines

Introduction by Vancouver Ecosocialist Group: On November 8, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded struck the island group in the Philippines know as the Eastern Visayas. The typhoon is named Haiyan; in the Philippines, it is known as Yolanda. The Eastern Visayas includes the two large islands that took the most direct hit–Leyte and Samar (see map here).

Overall, approximately four million people were directly affected; many lost their homes and possessions. More than 5,000 people died and the humanitarian situation will worsen if emergency aid is not delivered promptly.

Unfortunately, the prevailing political and social conditions in the Philippines are such that the government cannot be depended upon to carry the lion’s share of emergency relief, then reconstruction. The social organizations of the Filipino people themselves will be a vital force in this effort, including their struggle to create a government that is more accountable to the country’s poor majority. The frequency and force of storms hitting the Philippines is expected to increase as greenhouse gas emissions increase and the Earth’s climate warms as a consequence.

We reprint below a typhoon appeal from one popular organization in the Philippines. We encourage readers to consider responding to this appeal or to support any of the other valuable grassroots projects and appeals that you can find.

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For a people’s response to address the failure of government

Statement of the People’s Caravan, by the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Labouring Masses), Nov. 19, 2013 www.masa.ph

Map of PhilippinesThe country and its people are facing an extraordinary emergency situation in the aftermath of the Typhoon Yolanda devastation. The destruction of a significant portion of Visayas has been described as a development crisis, as distinct from a humanitarian crisis, by some development agencies.

On Wednesday, November 13, we launched the first People’s Caravan: a people’s initiative to provide relief assistance to the communities in Samar and Leyte. In Leyte, the People’s Caravan travelled through 20 kilometers of devastation, encompassing Tacloban City and the towns of Palo and Tanauan. We saw a flattened city and ruined towns, where the dead, wrapped in black plastic bags, mingled with the living – women and men, hungry children and babies – who kept watch along the streets, and in the darkness of night, without electricity, huddled around blazing bonfires.

There are two things that we have confirmed through the People’s Caravan. Firstly, the devastation is total. The President has no right to be peeved (and to even stage a childish walkout) when he heard a report that Tacloban City was ’99% devastated’. Mr President, we repeat, the devastation was complete. And the devastation is not only physical. We saw the devastation in the sobbing mothers who carried their babies and children while they walked along the streets looking for food and shelter. We also saw it in the people expressing their anguish or dismay at the absentee government that has done nothing to feed, shelter and protect them, a week after the devastation.

Secondly, there is no breakdown of peace and order. There is, however, a breakdown of government and its services to the people. We see no pandemonium, not even begging, as people sat along the streets staring at our passing convoy. The army and the police kept watch but otherwise remain nonchalant about the order of things. Even when we unloaded the relief goods, the people merely watched us at a distance. In some places, the breakdown of government means simply the absence of government. The relief has been stalled for more than week because the local government officials, and the congress representatives are nowhere to be found. It seems the rich have already evacuated themselves from the devastated areas, leaving the poor to fend for themselves and scour for food and basic resources.

We appeal to the government

To prevent an escalation of epidemic, we appeal to the government to assist the people to bury their dead now with dignity. The government has to collect the rotting bodies lined up in the streets or buried in the debris, and arrange for their proper burial in a culturally appropriate manner.

We believe that the only way to rebuild the devastated areas is to provide people with immediate relief assistance forthwith. We are perturbed that the government seems to operate not in ‘relief assistance’ mode, but in ‘security’ mode. The top priorities should be food, water, sanitation, and medical assistance – not armed ‘security’. We call on the government to mobilize the people nationwide, such as nurses, doctors, engineers and other skilled workers, as volunteers, to provide relief assistance.

The delivery of relief goods by road has almost come to a gridlock, with hundreds of delivery vehicles blocked near the port areas of Sorsogon and Albay, unable to get through to Samar and Leyte. The government must take immediate measures to clear this bottleneck, by opening new ports and using military resources, such as planes, barges and amphibians, to transport relief goods. The military should be functioning as a ‘people’s army’, supporting the transport of relief goods, clearing the debris on the roads, and rebuilding what infrastructure that they can – not guarding relief goods and property, and merely patrolling the roads.

Secondly, post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction has to begin now. The survivors should be provided adequate half-way houses, complete with essential infrastructure (electricity, roads, transport, communication, water and sanitation) and services (health and education), in centers close to their original homes, wherever possible. They should be provided with the means to rebuild their lives through employment creation and other means of livelihood. Then the reconstruction of the ruined communities should begin, in a planned way.

However, we also believe that the people must be in control of the entire process: from planning, to all stages of implementation, to guarantee the effectiveness of relief assistance and subsequent rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Only with the people in charge can we ensure that corruption and bureaucracy will not block and strangle these efforts.

Because the local government has either collapsed or has been severely weakened in these areas, we call for the establishment of People’s Emergency Councils, in specific areas, such as Tacloban City, the towns of Palo and Tanauan (and others) and the towns of Eastern Samar. The People’s Emergency Councils should include representatives of all the stakeholders in the community, including civil society organizations, such as people’s organizations, NGOs, civic clubs, church networks, small and medium business groups, and others.

The People’s Emergency Councils should also be given the powers to plan and implement ongoing relief assistance and rehabilitation and reconstruction work in their areas. They should have the power to access the assets that they need for these purposes, which includes government funds and access to resources.

We believe that an urgent and all-encompassing people’s response is the only way to comprehensively address the crisis and move forward.

We are turning the office of the Partido Lakas ng Masa into a relief goods’ collection office for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, especially for Leyte and Samar victims where we have some families, comrades and friends to assist for possible distribution. We’ll also link up to appropriate relief organizations to send what we can collect. Transport lines have been opened according to recent reports. Please bring relief goods (water, medicines, rice, canned goods, and other items) to PLM Office: 13 Rigor St., Bgy. Masagana, Project 4, Quezon City. Tel. 439-5811. Look for Ka Nelia, Van, Lara.

For overseas friends, you can visit the Transform Asia website and pay via paypal or direct to the Transform Asia bank account. See details at: http://transform-asia.org/transform-asia-appeal/.

E-mail to: plm-international@googlegroups.com.

** For background on the typhoon crisis in the Philippines, read the news articles in the latest newsletter of the Vancouver Ecosocialist Group and read this informative article on the long history of deforestation in the country:
Philippine forests are rapidly disappearing, by Henrylito Tacio, on Philippine Enviro News, June 27, 2013

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