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Analysis

Beware of the anger of the Tacloban poor

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It’s back to the streets, as a demonstration was held in Tacloban City last Friday to protest the slow response of the Aquino administration to the relief and social services needs of thousands of survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Eastern Visayas.

After enduring for more than two months deprivations in food, shelter and medicines, more than 12,000 residents of Leyte and Samar converged on devastated Tacloban to express their indignation against the agonizing inaction of the national government, whose relief workers were still recovering decomposing corpses from the ruins at the rate of three a day, so the relatives of the dead can give the remains a decent burial. Under Filipino custom, nothing can be more sacrilegious and profane than leaving the dead unburied, especially by a negligent state.

In their mass action, the survivors of the catastrophe signaled the government that they have had enough of the inadequacy of its response and its insensitivity to their sufferings; they expressed their outrage in the streets, where their protest can no longer be ignored.

The organizers of the demonstration were no activists identified with the political opposition; they are associated with a religious movement called the People Surge led by a member of the religious, Sr. Edita Eslopor.

“The massive number of people is proof of their intense discontent over Mr. Aquino’s criminal negligence and utter incompetence in looking after the welfare of the people. This is just the first of a series of protests that will fill the streets of major cities across the country to express their indignation at the Aquino administration,” Eslopor said.

The movement did not attack the shortcomings of the Aquino administration in curbing corruption involving regime officials, in the context of its “daang matuwid” governance slogan.

Efleda Bautista, a convenor of People Surge, was reported by the Manila Standard Today newspaper to have said that last week’s turnout in Tacloban belied the Social Weather Stations survey finding that the people in the typhoon-devastated region had given President Aquino a “very good” satisfaction rating. Countless lives have been lost in Yolanda’s wake and damage to agriculture and public and private properties cost millions of pesos. The devastation wrought by Yolanda may have been horrific, but the more horrendous is the government’s ineptness in ensuring the wellbeing of the people. People Surge also held the administration responsible for the high death toll (6,201 as of Jan. 14) in the region, saying it failed to ensure the safety and welfare of the victims when Yolanda struck.

People Surge also assailed the government’s “slow delivery of immediate relief even after two months, the corruption-riddled bunkhouses, and the anti-people, no-build policy imposed on residents within the 40-meter stretch from the shore.”

The movement seeks to spread its momentum to urban centers such as Metro Manila, where two people power revolutions unseated the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in February 1986 and the administration of Joseph Estrada in January 2001.

President Aquino should be extremely wary of the possibility of a Tacloban Surge catching fire in Metro Manila. It would be supreme irony if Mr. Aquino, a beneficiary of Edsa 1, the first people power movement in 1986, became a victim of an expanded protest action driven by the anger of the poor, not by the middle class. This movement developed as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter at the end of its three-day 108th Plenary Assembly at the Pope Pius XII Center, calling for more action against economic and social exclusion, injustice and poverty.

The pastoral letter said that despite economic gains, poverty remains “scandalous” in the country, corruption rampant, and peace an elusive dream. The bishops called attention to the fact that: “The income gap between our rich and poor has not closed. The richest 10 percent of our population is earning 10 times that of the 90 percent, with the income of the richest families soaring way beyond the income of the poorest.”

They pointed out that figures do not even reflect the devastation wrought in the standoff in Zamboanga City between government forces and members of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front last September, the earthquake in Bohol and Cebu in October, and Yolanda in November.


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