MONTEVISTA, Compostela Valley–Protesters here on Tuesday night lifted their human barricade as the government gave in to their demand of fair distribution of relief goods to typhoon-affected areas.
Some 7,000 residents from this province and Davao Oriental occupied at least 300 meters of a major highway here shortly before noon Tuesday. They complained about what they called “poor and selective” government relief services,
The barricade rendered the highway impassable for those who are traveling from Davao to Compostela, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Davao Oriental and vice versa, leaving hundreds of commuters and vehicles stranded. The protesters were demanding the unconditional release of 10,000 sacks of rice.
Led by Barug Katawhan, an organization of Typhoon Pablo survivors, the residents decried “poor and selective” government relief services.
Barug Katawhan said only residents with family cards have access to government services.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy had tried to negotiate with the protesters, even attempting to snatch a microphone during a heated debate with typhoon-devastated residents.
“My only appeal is for you to let the vehicles pass through. If you want justice, OK we will talk about that. But please also give justice to those who are stranded. They are already hungry,” a shouting Soliman appealed to the protesters on Tuesday afternoon.
“That’s the message that we are trying to deliver. That we are starving because of the inadequate distribution of relief goods in our villages. If the people stranded are hungry then we, the residents, are already dying. If you are thinking about feeding the hungry then the government must wake up and ensure that relief services reach our villages,” a resident shouted back.
The protesters also demanded the cancellation of Integrated Forest Management Agreements and that mining operations in the region are immediately stopped.
“These corporations caused massive destruction to our ecosystem. The government must claim responsibility and stop these corporations from destroying further our environment,” Carlos Trangia, a peasant leader, said.
“With this protest action, we are demanding reparations from these corporations and the government, for facilitating these destruction. Their hunger for greed caused the death of thousands of innocent civilians and to massive damage to properties,” Trangia said.
After several failed attempts to grab the microphone being used by the protesters, Soliman raised her voice challenging the protesters to voluntarily disperse from the barricade to prove that they are genuine people’s organizations.
Sheena Duazo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao explained that they would not allow government leaders and politicians use their sound system.
“That is very unfair,” Uy said as he grabbed the microphone from Duazo.
“They have legitimate points,” Uy said when he was finally got hold of the microphone.
“If your barangay (village) captains are hoarding the relief goods then give me their names and I will file appropriate charges,” Uy said.
Failing to convince the protesters, Soliman and Uy left at around 3 p.m. But at around 9:30 p.m., a truck loaded with 1,900 pre-packed relief goods and 100 sacks of rice arrived at the barricade. Soliman also sent a written note, saying 10,000 sacks of rice will be released in the next two days. This prompted the protesters to end their human barricade.