DAVAO CITY, Philippines—Pockets of violence marred the third day of protests by thousands of Typhoon “Pablo” survivors who have been camping outside the Department of Social Welfare and Development compound here.
Two protesters were arrested following a riot with policemen outside the agency’s office on Wednesday morning. The scuffle started when protesters blocked a police vehicle not knowing it was just bringing in food for police forces. A policeman was wounded in the brief rampage.
Also on Tuesday morning, protesters confiscated a 39mm handgun from a policeman in civilian clothes who “blended” with the crowd. The gun was immediately turned over to a uniformed police.
Senior Supt. Ronald dela Rosa, the city police chief, admitted that he deployed the undercover policeman.
The protesters, lashing at the DSWD’s alleged inept delivery of relief and rehabilitation services in areas devastated by Typhoon Pablo, started occupying the area outside the agency’s regional office on Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday morning, the protesters knocked down the agency’s gates and carted away sacks of rice and boxes of relief goods. In the afternoon, however, the police forcibly confiscated the goods, again resulting in a brief riot and leaving several protesters and policemen injured.
Karlos Trangia, Barug Katawhan spokesperson, explained that the residents were only claiming what was rightfully theirs.
“These relief items were allocated for us. Why is the government depriving us of these items?” Trangia said.
Trangia added that they were also demanding the immediate release of 10,000 sacks committed by Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman in the January 15 roadblock in Montevista town.
The DSWD, however, is firm in its position that it would not release the rice until the residents comply with the requirements mandated by government protocols.
OIC DSWD Regional Director Priscilla Razon said Barug Katawhan failed to provide a master list of the recipients.
But Barug Katawhan said the residents feared that the list might be used against them after eight of their leaders were charged in court for joining the roadblock.
“Our intent in requiring them to provide their list is to counter-check it with our lists. This is to clarify their allegations that some families are not receiving relief goods or are not included in the list,” Razon said.
“If there are really families not listed in our system then we will include them,” Razon added.
Trangia said DSWD was only passing on its responsibility to the people.
“What we are offering is that everyone will sign once they receive the goods in their villages. It will be transparent and DSWD has nothing to worry about these goods getting to people who are not recipients,” Trangia said.
Meanwhile, donations of relief goods poured in. As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, a total of 220 sacks of rice, sent by anonymous donors, arrived in the barricade site. Bread was also donated.
On Wednesday morning, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio gave Dela Rosa the authority to disperse the protesters.
“I gave Dela Rosa full authority to disperse the rally at all cost as soon as possible today,” Duterte-Carpio said in a radio interview.
“I ordered Dela Rosa to arrest the protesters in case they resist or create violence in the course of the dispersal,” she added.
The city government has also sent buses to ferry the protesters to their places of origin.
Despite the threats of dispersal, the protesters said they would hold their line.
As of 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Barug Katawhan leaders and DSWD officials were still negotiating inside the agency’s office.