Protest Duterte's neglect and indifference to people's plight amid disaster

Read in: Pilipino

The Filipino people are outraged by Duterte and his government officials’ display of utter disinterest and indifference to the plight of millions of victims of the five storms that successively hit Luzon and other parts of the country over the past three weeks.

Amid their sufferings, millions of Filipinos witnessed firsthand the worthlessness of the national government. While they faced the storm and floods, Duterte and his officials were practically non-existent. Millions struggled on their own, or with their neighbors or private individuals and organizations. Many were grumbling: may gubyerno ba sa Pilipinas? (Is there even a government in the Philippines?) In social media, #NasaanAngPangulo trended.

The severity of the impact of the storms was aggravated by the national government’s failure to coordinate its different agencies and local units, put in place preemptive measures, release required amounts of funds, preposition enough personnel and equipment for swift rescue efforts and grossly lacking government aid. Impaired by lack of funds, national government rescue personnel could not respond to several hotspots at once and could only deploy helicopters long after people spent the night on their roofs.

Instead of acknowledging their weaknesses, Duterte and his officials responsible for these failures have resorted to blaming victims for supposedly not heeding storm warnings. They obscure the fact that it is primarily the responsibility of the national government to secure people’s lives in times of severe storms. Massive population evacuation especially in flood-prone areas is the task of the government. The responsibility of the national government goes way beyond issuing warnings.

Duterte himself went on national television in an unusual midday address last Thursday during which he spoke for just a few minutes. He, however, succeeded only in further arousing anger when he trivialized the sufferings of the people by saying he “would have wanted to go swimming” with the people in the flood waters. He did not give clear orders for the mobilization of government resources, but did not waste the opportunity to lash out at the vice president who has been visible in disaster response efforts.

Millions of Filipinos now suffer from the devastation of the floods and landslides. Tens of thousands of homes in rural areas, town centers and cities were destroyed by strong winds, floods and raging waters and mudflow. Rice fields, vegetable gardens and other crops were inundated. Fishing boats were smashed by rampaging sea surges. Hard-earned property were damaged. Many are left with nothing.

Government aid is arriving at snail-pace and are barely sufficient. Private relief agencies, local government units as well as people’s organizations have mobilized resources to extend aid to the victims in the face of severe shortcoming of the national government. They can, however, only do so much to cover the absence of the national government.

The Duterte government, however, has different priorities in terms of attention and funding. It continues to prioritize counterinsurgency and corruption-ridden infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, its disaster agencies are incapable of extending even the barest necessary assistance to millions who are in need of immediate aid to rebuild their homes and recover their livelihood. The P3 billion budget of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the P800 million of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) are grossly inadequate to help the millions of victims tide over the coming days and weeks and help them rebuild their homes and livelihood. Damage to Marikina City alone is estimated at P15 billion.

Amid growing hunger and suffering, the Party calls on all victims of the recent storms, especially the peasants, workers and other impoverished sectors, as well as the rest of the Filipino people, to urgently come together and build their organizations and networks. They must raise their voices in just indignation. As long as Duterte hears only dissonant cries, he will simply ignore the people’s pleas.

It is not for the victims and the rest of the people to wait, plead or pray for assistance from the national government. They must defend their dignity and assert their rights. They must demand the national government to perform its state responsibility and act swiftly in the face of the grave situation of the people. They can turn their communities and evacuation areas into centers of protest to amplify their demands and denounce the Duterte government’s failure to perform its obligation to mitigate people’s hunger and other forms of sufferings amid the disasters.

Having lost everything, millions of victims have the right to receive immediate aid from the government. The state must ensure the distribution of food, water, clothing, medical supplies and construction materials to help the victims tide over the next few weeks and months until they could rebuild their homes and recover their livelihood. They must demand immediate recompense for their loss of property and devastation of their fields and other sources of livelihood caused by the recent tropical storms for the state’s failure to guarantee their lives and social security. The peasant masses must demand emergency aid to help them recoup their losses. The grave disaster underscores the demand of workers for jobs and wage increases.

Organizations of calamity victims can take the initiative to call on foreign governments and international humanitarian agencies to extend assistance to Filipinos. At the same time, they can help build a distribution network to ensure that aid goes directly to the victims to prevent corrupt officials from defrauding them of what is theirs.

At the same time, they must hold the Duterte regime accountable for its criminal neglect of disaster response, having cut funding and alloting a measly P15.7 billion this year, 60% less than the P39 billion allotted in 2017. They must also hold the regime responsible for its failure to undertake substantive environmental rehabilitation, dredging of rivers and lakes and other flood-control measures after four years in power. The regime must be made to answer for promoting mining, logging, destructive infrastructure projects and other foreign-funded enterprises that cause massive environmental destruction.

Duterte’s criminal neglect of the people’s welfare amid the disaster comes on top of several months of failed response to the pandemic, mismanagement of the economy, brazen corruption, unbridled foreign borrowing, pro-business policies to the detriment of workers, lack of subsidies for agriculture and a slew of other policies that worsen the situation of the downtrodden masses.

Worse than the successive typhoons is the disaster of the Duterte regime and its reign of state terrorism, corruption, national treachery and anti-people policies. The outrage of the Filipino continues to build up and threatens to turn into a storm of protest with the demand for Duterte’s removal from power whether through his resignation or ouster.

Protest Duterte's neglect and indifference to people's plight amid disaster