'While world continues mobilizing relief aid, U.S. Filipinos must be critical of government response to prevent future and unnecessary suffering and loss of life.'
- Terry Valen, NAFCon
By National Alliance for Filipino Concerns
TEN days after Super-typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines the official death toll has reached 3,633 and is expected to rise. Government officials in Leyte, where Tacloban city is located, reported more than 10,000 deaths in the one island alone.
Given that Typhoon Haiyan is considered one of the largest storms in recorded history loss of life was expected. However, despite the strength of the storm, the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) believes the government should be held accountable for failing to take necessary steps that could have prevented greater loss of life and preserved conditions for sustainability after the storm hit. The alliance encourages both Filipinos and the international community to pressure the Philippine government to address the following concerns to better prepare the country and its people for future calamities..
“There was no government presence in Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit areas, several days after Typhoon Haiyan struck," NAFCON president Terrence Valen cites one example of where the government fell short. "The government only arrived on scene after foreign journalists released images of the complete destruction on primetime television. Why was it that foreign reporters arrived before government relief?”
A week into the tragedy tens of thousands of people all over the Philippines in affected areas still had no access to emergency medical care, food and clean drinking water. Despite knowing the massive magnitude of the storm days before it hit, the president declared a “state of national calamity” four days later.
After being engaged in yearly relief efforts since Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, NAFCON has consistently criticized the government for its inadequate relief measures in hopes that more would be done to alleviate the suffering of calamity victims and prevent future unnecessary loss of life.
Protect the environment to protect the people from future calamities
The Philippine government should change its policies that allow for massive environmental destruction. The “World Disaster Report 2012” which identified the Philippines as the third most disaster prone country in the world explained, “Environmental degradation is a significant factor that reduces the adaptive capacity of societies to deal with disaster risk in many countries around the globe.”
For decades the Philippine government has enacted policies prioritizing large-scale mining and logging. The effect is the clearing of thousands of hectares of forest land to accommodate multinational corporations, real estate companies and other businesses. Practices such as these have led to massive environmental destruction of many natural buffers against calamities.
“In the Philippines, it is not the calamity alone that causes many of the deaths. It is also the flooding and landslides that occur in areas that no longer have trees to keep the soil in place. There are literally whole communities that were able to withstand storms before but are now buried due to the impacts of excessive mining and logging,” said Pastor Jeanelle Ablola, member of NAFCON’s Bay Area Taskforce Haiyan. “This disaster cannot be viewed as simply due to a bad storm or an act of God, this disaster is man-made. It’s our spiritual obligation to name these sins in order for humanity to turn away from them.”
NAFCON calls on the government to address systemic corruption epitomized by the pork barrel system. In the months leading up to the tragedy, the Philippine government was embroiled in a scandal where trillions of Philippine taxpayer pesos were found to be embezzled by numerous government officials through the creation of fake non-governmental organizations and sham local development projects. The uncovering of the scandal sparked a broad united national movement calling for an end to what is known as the “Pork Barrel System.” Many in congress succumbed to the pressure by giving up their access to pork barrel funds. However, President Aquino, who has the largest personal allocation of pork barrel funds at P1.4 trillion ($32.053 billion) remained steadfast in keeping his share. Meanwhile, the government clearly did not allocate enough resources to disaster response and relief and may have even diverted these resources into the pork barrel system.
“At a time when the international community is sending millions in aid to support the Filipino people, the president should respond by immediately re-allocating all pork barrel funds, a mainstay of Philippine corruption, to aid the Filipino people who are in so much need right now,” said Bernadette Herrera, domestic worker and NAFCON organizer.
The prioritization of land and resources for corporations and the rampant corruption in Philippine government has not led to any genuine development to benefit the Filipino people. The “World Disaster Report 2012” also cited the fact that at least a third of the population in the Philippines live below the poverty line. The widespread condition of poverty in the country lends to the increased vulnerability of the people to the negative effects of calamities.
The Philippines is often described as a poor beggar sitting on top of a pot of gold because although the people of the Philippines are extremely poor, the country itself is abundant in natural resources such as gold, copper, oil, arable land and many others.
“In regards to the suffering caused by calamities, the Filipino people are victims several times over at the hands of the Philippine government,” Herrera continued “First they suffer because the government has prioritized the use of land for foreign corporations which displaces them and destroys natural buffers against things such as landslides. Then they suffer because the wealth of the country which should be used to benefit its people is pocketed by the same landlord and business families and politicians leaving the Filipino people without the benefit of economic development. This leaves millions living in substandard housing with poor infrastructure and thus much more susceptible to the ill effects of typhoons and other natural disasters.”
In addition to worsening the ill effects of calamities, it is these conditions that also explain why millions of Filipinos must go abroad in the search of livelihood. “One reason why NAFCON’s Bayanihan Relief and Rehabilitation program is successful in gathering donations is because there are so many Filipinos in the U.S. who are supporting their families back home and have a deep concern for our home country. Filipino migrants here in the U.S. know first-hand the importance of family, community and grassroots efforts to help our loved ones back home because the Philippine government cannot be trusted,” closed Valen.
For more information on NAFCON’s Bayanihan Relief and Rehabilitation program, go to www.nafconusa.org.###