A three-day protest “occupation” outside the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Davao City might have ended on a reconciliatory note on Wednesday night, but Secretary Corazon Soliman is haling the agitators and looters to court.
In a Malacañang briefing on Thursday, Soliman said survivors of Typhoon “Pablo” were deceived into joining Monday’s rally that turned into looting of relief goods at the DSWD compound in Davao City.
“At least four said they were supposed to join the celebration of the [Edsa] People Power [Revolution] anniversary, and in return they’d get a sack of rice each from [Davao City Mayor Sara] Duterte,” she said, quoting a TV news report. Others were promised sacks of rice from Duterte after an excursion to a beach, she added.
“Congressman Teddy Casiño was there, joined the rally and even the singing because it was the Feb. 25 celebration,” Soliman said.
Some 3,000 angry residents from typhoon-hit areas in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental began their protest on Monday afternoon to demand delivery of government relief services and the immediate release of 10,000 sacks of rice promised by Soliman during a 10-hour roadblock in Montevista town in Compostela Valley on Jan. 15.
The next morning, they knocked down a gate and stormed the office, taking away the sacks of rice and boxes of relief goods. Policemen forcibly recovered the goods hours later, prompting a riot that left at least 15 people hurt.
Deception in mobilization
“What we’re seeing here is a deception in their mobilization. That’s why those who had deceived them will have to pay. They were victims of Pablo; now they’re victims again,” Soliman said.
She said the protest leaders had been identified for the eventual filing of charges.
The minimum charges are looting and destruction of public property, she said.
In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night, representatives from the DSWD and the militant Barug Katawhan vented their concerns, emotional reactions and prejudices to finally level off and work together in resolving the difficult situation faced by residents in typhoon-hit areas.
They agreed to fast-track the distribution of relief goods, signaling an end to the three-day “occupation,” and that no charges would be filed against each other and no one will ever retaliate.
“It was sworn and duly agreed by Barug Katawhan, PNP (Philippine National Police) Davao City and DSWD-11 that there will be no action for retaliation against each one, including fostering other means to cause a breakdown of what had been agreed on,” Soliman said.
They agreed to validate the inadequacy or insufficiency of relief goods, specifically the total number of families who did not receive the bags of provisions, and to fast-track the process, she said.
List of recipients
Assistant Social Welfare Secretary Camilo Gudmalin said the government would immediately release the rice after the list of recipients shall have been validated.
In the joint agreement, both parties said it was important to conduct validation in all villages if there are cases of inadequate delivery of relief goods and that this will be done with the local government units.
The DSWD also heeded the appeal of Barug Katawhan for an extension of the distribution of relief services and declared that it would be continued until June this year, instead of mid-March as earlier announced.
The agreement also stated that the protesters would be given 100 sacks of rice, which would be deducted from the committed 10,000 sacks of rice, as they return to their villages.
“We have not talked about any time frame, but we want this done immediately,” Gudmalin said.
Barug Katawhan spokesman Karlos Trangia said the group was happy because all of its demands were met.
“We are happy that the DSWD finally listened to our calls and fulfilled all our demands. We claim this as a victory of the people. This is what we came for,” Trangia said.
All parties will immediately convene if there will be problems during the implementation of the agreement. Only Trangia, Cirila Anding and Grace Curso were authorized to speak for Barug Katawhan; Rev. Sarly Templado Sr., Noemi Dagala and environmentalist Francis Morales for Balsa Mindanao; and Assistant Secretary Gudmalin and regional director Priscilla Razon for the DSWD.
With the rally over, Soliman said social welfare personnel would double their efforts to repack relief goods and to implement a cash-for-work scheme for the typhoon victims.
Gudmalin said that in the process of reconciliation, everyone involved in the incident must forgive each other and hold no grudge.
Carried away by emotions
“Many were only carried away by emotions,” he said, explaining the series of violent encounters between policemen and protesters.
On Thursday afternoon, protesters Conrado Capili and Daniel Binang were released from jail only after the buses, which ferried the protesters back to their places of origin, reached the boundary of Davao City and Panabo City in Davao del Norte.
In Quezon City, the party-list group Gabriela on Thursday denounced what it described as Soliman’s pusong bato (heart of stone) in dealing with the typhoon victims.
“Soliman has no place in public office especially as head of an agency sworn to serve the poor and vulnerable. She should be kicked out of office for her ineptitude and malice in dealing with the Pablo disaster,” said Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador.—With a report from Jeannette I. Andrade