DAVAO CITY—Negotiations between thousands of Typhoon “Pablo” survivors and social welfare officials ended on Wednesday with an agreement to review the list of relief beneficiaries.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) agreed to add to the list those not listed earlier but were victims of the typhoon.
It was also agreed that the protesters would be given 100 sacks of rice as they returned home Wednesday night.
The third day of the typhoon survivors’ protest was marred by a scuffle between the protesters and police outside the DSWD compound here.
Two people were arrested during the scuffle.
Earlier, protesters accosted a plainclothes policeman mingling with the typhoon survivors and seized his 9-mm pistol. They handed over the gun to a uniformed police officer.
A policeman was hurt in the brief scuffle that started when people blocked a police vehicle as it brought in food for policemen keeping the peace at the protest site.
The protesters started their “occupation” outside the DSWD regional office on Monday afternoon to denounce the agency’s alleged inept delivery of relief and rehabilitation services to areas devastated by Typhoon Pablo in December last year. They belong to the militant Barug Katawhan, a group of storm survivors from Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.
On Tuesday morning, they knocked down one of the compound’s front gates and carried away sacks of rice and boxes of relief goods. In the afternoon, however, the police forcibly took back the goods, again resulting in a brief riot that left several protesters and policemen injured.
“These relief items were allocated for us. Why is the government depriving us of these items?” said Karlos Trangia, spokesman of the group.
Acts of aggression
In Manila, the DSWD on Wednesday said the goods were intended for victims of Tropical Depression “Crising” in Davao del Norte, which struck Mindanao last week. It vowed to take legal action against the Barug Katawhan for raiding its regional office, destroying government property and stealing the relief items.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said she was saddened by “these acts of aggression directed at our field office, as well as our personnel.” She said her department “has been faithfully serving all sectors affected by the calamity.”
“Our people work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide much-needed services. We respond to the exigency of public service at great cost to ourselves and our families. That we are now being subjected to harassment is deplorable,” she added.
Trangia said his group was also demanding the immediate release of 10,000 sacks of rice promised by Soliman when a protest roadblock was erected in Montevista town in Compostela Valley on Jan. 15.
The secretary, however, said the rice would be given as soon as the Barug Katawhan provided the DSWD with a list of beneficiaries, the places where they came from, the distribution plan and local coordinators.
What was submitted to the DSWD was a list of repacking areas and the names of people who agreed to have these places used as distribution sites, Soliman said.
She said the DSWD had contacted at least two persons on the list and they denied agreeing to have their places used as repacking areas.
“Our intent in requiring them to provide the list is to countercheck it with our lists. This is to clarify their allegations that some families were not receiving relief goods or are not on the list,” said acting Director Priscilla Razon of the DSWD regional office.
“If there are really families not listed in our system, then we will include them,” Razon added.
But the organization said the residents were apprehensive to give their names because this might be used against them. Eight leaders of the group and its supporters have been charged in court for joining the roadblock.
Trangia said the 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 the DSWD has nothing to worry about these goods getting to people who are not recipients,” he said.
Lawmakers on Wednesday took the side of the typhoon survivors who, they claimed, were just venting their helplessness and desperation.
“There could have been some peaceful compromise only if the DSWD officials were present to listen and respond to the people’s cries,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, who was in Davao City on Monday for his senatorial campaign.
“What triggered it was that no one from the DSWD was negotiating with them. I was informed that by Tuesday morning, there was still no response. The people were willing to have their names listed as long as there is somebody who will come to their assistance.”
Cagayan Rep. Jackie Enrile accused the social welfare officials of treating the people like “animals. “
“It is sad to see these people being reduced to subhuman standards. First you see them stopping food convoys, then they are being forced to eat rotten rice unfit for consumption even by animals,” Enrile said in a statement. “What is more devastating is the hopelessness and desperation that comes after a calamity.”
‘Warranted by situation’
Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano said the victims’ acts were warranted by the situation.
“Hungry and desperate typhoon victims have all the right to take what are rightfully theirs. Their actions are justified. It is the government’s duty to provide relief and rehabilitation assistance to its disaster-stricken constituents,” Mariano said.
Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the DSWD regional office should explain its harsh actions against the protesters.
“What happened at the DSWD office was simply cruel, heartless and inexcusable. The protesting typhoon victims did not ask for anything more than what was promised and they did not ask for anything more than what they needed to survive. Is what they are asking too much?” Ilagan said.
“International aid poured for Typhoon Pablo victims. Why is the DSWD depriving them of food and treating them like rats? They are being victimized twice, even three times over,” she said.
In a statement, evangelist Bro. Eddie Villanueva assailed the department for its “failure to quickly and efficiently distribute relief goods.”
“Instead of threatening to press legal charges against the typhoon victims and their leaders, Secretary Dinky Soliman should examine the agency’s relief goods distribution chain in typhoon-affected communities,” said Villanueva, the Bangon Pilipinas party’s lone senatorial candidate.
“While I do not condone the manner by which the typhoon victims took relief goods from the DSWD office, the desperation behind the group’s action showed a deep discontent toward the failure of the government to help alleviate their plight, especially after the storm ravaged their communities,” he said.
As of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, a total of 220 sacks of rice sent by anonymous donors arrived at the barricade site. Some people sent bread.
In a radio interview, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio said she had given the city’s police chief, Senior Supt. Ronald de la Rosa, authority to disperse the protesters.
“I gave De la Rosa full authority to disperse the rally at all cost as soon as possible today,” she said. “I ordered De la Rosa to arrest the protesters in case of resistance or if they create violence in the course of the dispersal.”
Arrested during Wednesday’s scuffle were Conrado Capili of Monkayo and Daniel Binang of Compostela, both in Compostela Valley.
The city government also sent buses to ferry the protesters to their places of origin. But the protesters said they would hold their line.—With reports from Cynthia D. Balana, Gil C. Cabacungan and Jerry Esplanada in Manila