The recent filing of criminal charges by the police authorities in Compostela Valley province against some survivors of Typhoon “Pablo” and leaders of people’s organizations who protested the lethargic relief operations in the devastated areas of Mindanao is nothing but a shameless, insensitive attempt to cover up sheer government incompetence. Worse, it is tantamount to criminalizing the hunger and misery of typhoon survivors.
Recall that last Jan. 15, nearly 6,000 Pablo victims marched and barricaded the national highway at Montevista town, Compostela Valley, to protest the government’s pitiable delivery of relief and rehabilitation services, particularly in the remote communities.
The protesting residents—mostly farmers, farm workers and lumad—came from the worst-hit and/or banana-growing towns of Nabunturan, Compostela and Montevista in Compostela Valley; Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental; and Trento in Agusan del Sur.
For more than 10 hours, they suffered the erratic sunny-rainy weather condition that day, pouring out their frustrations as they barricaded the highway linking Davao City to Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Davao Oriental. The police and the military desperately tried to stop the protest, calling it illegal. But the hungry and angry residents refused to be cowed. The steely determination of the residents, who had banded themselves into a survivors’ collective called Barog Katawhan (People Rise Up), eventually forced Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman to negotiate, seven hours after the residents “hit the road.”
Accompanied by ComVal Gov. Arthur Uy, Soliman, who happened to be in Compostela at that time, ultimately agreed to provide the protesting survivors some 10,000 sacks of rice. Initially, Soliman, who apparently could not accept the administration’s failings in its response to Typhoon Pablo, walked out of the negotiation.
The victims’ victory, though, may quickly turn Pyrrhic. The Compostela Valley police, headed by Provincial Director Camilo Cascolan, shortly thereafter, filed a case of “public disorder” against Barog Katawhan’s leaders Grace Curso, Bello Timdasan and Carlos Trangia. Also charged were Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa from the relief and advocacy group Balsa Mindanao, Juland Suazo of the environmental group Panalipdan, Sheena Duazo of Bayan, Tony Salubre from the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Leny Camino.
Cascolan said “public disorder” includes “tumultuous and public disturbance, unlawful utterances and/or alarm and scandal.”
“It is absurd that the organizers of the said protest rally, who themselves are victims of the devastation brought (about) by Pablo, are being charged (with) alarm and scandal, public disturbance, and ‘unlawful utterances’ when all they were doing was call the attention of the government because they and their families are hungry and are merely asking for more aid,” commented Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares.
Really now, is it unlawful for the poor to demand that relief goods be distributed efficiently and equitably? Is it unlawful to demand that logging and large-scale mining, which contributed to the extent and gravity of the damage and raised the number of casualties, be stopped?
What is more “publicly disturbing” than a social welfare secretary quarreling with the hungry protesters first before conceding to give needed relief goods due them? What is more “alarming and scandalous” than the military using relief distribution and rehabilitation for Oplan Bayanihan, the government’s current anti-insurgency mantra?
A government that sues poor typhoon victims who are fighting to get what is due them instead of squarely addressing the fundamental issues that the victims had raised is not only callous, it is antipoor. The charges are a cheap act of reprisal; it is “rubbing salt into the wounds” caused by Pablo; it’s a coldhearted, malevolent scheme subjecting the survivors and those who are helping them to “double jeopardy.”
If the police really want to do their job faithfully, they should instead file charges against the illegal loggers, miners and politicians who are using the relief goods distribution to advance their selfish, personal and political interests.
As aptly noted by Balsa Mindanao: “Instead of resorting to reprisals such as the blacklisting of protesters, the government should acknowledge that Typhoon Pablo survivors do not possess the ‘victim’ mentality but are actively asserting their rights. They are highly aware of the causes of the tragedy as they rightfully pinpoint legal logging and big mining as the real culprits and aggravating local factors for climate change.”
Indeed, there is no greater disaster than a government that easily sues the empowered poor survivors of a devastating calamity, but not those who pillage our remaining natural resources. But there will surely come a time when the people will rise up and show that theirs is the true power—much higher, greater and more potent than the state’s.
* * *
For senior citizens: As Congress is set to go on recess, thousands of senior citizens are awaiting the passage of a law that increases their meager monthly pensions. The House of Representatives passed in third and final reading House Bill No. 6748 on the same day that the Marcos Human Rights Compensation law was ratified. Both measures were principally authored by Bayan Muna’s Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares.
However, for the pension bill to pass into law, the Senate has to approve its version during the remaining session days this week. If enacted into law, it will surely benefit a lot of aging SSS pensioners “who are in most need of support especially for their medical and nutritional needs.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.