Philippines: People's Caravan delivers aid, slams gov't inaction

Wednesday, November 20, 2013
People's Caravan organisers speak to the media. Photo from the PLM/Masa.ph.

The People's Caravan is a grassroots relief effort initiated by the Party of the Labouring Masses, a Filipino party of the marginalised and poor. It has been collecting goods and food and transporting relief directly to areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (known as Yolanda in the Philippines) -- while the Filipino government holds up aid and sends in soldiers to target "looters" (desperate people seeking food).

On November 19, organisers held a press conference, followed by a planning session for more the next People's Caravan. Below is a statement organisers read to the press on behalf of the People's Caravan, underneath a video on their work. You can donate to their relief efforts here.

For a People’s Response to Address the Failure of Government

The 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 kilometres 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 mobilise 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 centres 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 groups, such as people’s organisations, 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.

Donations can be sent to: Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute
Account No. 304-2-304004562
Swift Code: MBTCPHMM
Metrobank, Anonas Branch Aurora Blvd., Project 4
Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines
Email: transform.asia1@gmail.com
Mobile/cell No. +63(0)9088877702
PayPal donations can be made here: http://transform-asia.org/

From GLW issue 990