DAVAO CITY—Some 2,000 victims of Typhoon Pablo in three provinces ransacked the open building of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) here and carried away sacks of rice, canned goods and other relief items.
The unit of unarmed policemen securing the warehouse yielded to the rush of people, who forced open a steel gate that also gave way, as other males climbed the fence on the Suazo Street side of the DSWD regional office here.
Chief Insp. Noel C. Asumen, deputy commander of the Santa Ana Police Station, who headed the detachment of 16 unarmed personnel outside the DSWD gate, said the incident happened at 10:15 a.m. on Tuesday.
Asumen said he was inside the DSWD compound to broker a dialogue with DSWD officials and ralliers, led by the Barog Katawhan, the same group that barricaded on January 15 the highway in Montevista, Compostela Valley, to demand the release of 10,000 sacks of rice.
“They rushed the gate, and then there was no one to control them. They carted away sacks of rice, cartons of noodles and other unpacked relief goods,” he said.
Minutes later, riot policemen tried to disperse the bigger crowd, and some protesters reported that they were beaten by lawmen using truncheons.
The relief goods were placed in the middle of the road as organizers made an accounting: 52 sacks of rice, 593 boxes of noodles, 13 boxes of soap, 34 boxes of sardines, 10 empty envelopes, a box of biscuits, 78 boxes of coffee in sachets and 820 sacks of assorted goods.
Cops to witness distribution of goods
CARLOS TRANGIA, spokesman for the Barog Katawhan, which organized the protest action, said the group would ask the police later to witness the distribution of the goods after they have matched the goods with the number of persons who joined the rally.
“We want them to witness that what we have been demanding was really for these victims, and not for the NPA [New People’s Army],” he said.
Organizers of the protest action said that ransacking of the DSWD warehouse was “spontaneous.”
“We didn’t expect them to do it. Others even wanted to go home immediately with the goods, but we prevailed upon them,” a male organizer, who declined to be named said.
Ralliers started to pour into the city on Monday, and they came from Lingig in Surigao del Sur; Monkayo, Compostela, New Bataan, Montevista, Nabunturan and Mawab in Compostela Valley; and the towns of Baganga, Cateel and Boston in Davao Oriental.
Asumen estimated the crowd at about 3,000 on Monday, but by Tuesday, the crowd has dwindled as others left, apparently owing to hunger.
“Many have not taken their meals since Monday yet,” said Pedro Arnaldo, spokesman for the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, of which the Barog Katawhan was an affiliate group. The latter was formed after Typhoon Pablo hit the Davao region on December 4 last year.
Arnaldo said they would later submit the master list of persons who would be given the relief goods. The master list became an issue that delayed the release of the relief goods that Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman promised during the Montevista highway barricade, as the DSWD demanded the list as a routine government requirement.
But Trangia said that as the police and the military stepped into the issue, saying that their accusation that the relief goods would only be given to the NPA rebels in their respective areas, “forced us to hold on to the list, until the goods would be released.”
In several radio interviews, the DSWD insisted on the list to avoid being administratively charged of releasing items without documentation.
The police set a cordon along Uyanguren Street to prevent the ralliers from spilling into that main downtown street, as radio calls were overheard asking reinforcement from the regional police headquarters in Camp Catitipan. “Please send more units because these people might run amok,” a radio message said.
Trangia assured, however, that they would police their own ranks and would begin distributing the goods.
Youth group raps DSWD for inaction
MEMBERS of the Kabataan party-list group stormed the DSWD main office in Quezon City in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Pablo who mounted a barricade in Davao City to press for relief.
The estimated 6.2 million victims of Typhoon Pablo have been receiving little or nothing from the government after the super typhoon hit the Davao region late last year and ruined their homes and livelihood.
Protesters also slammed Soliman, holding her accountable for the corruption that attends the relief efforts, which has led to the chronic shortage of basic necessities for the victims.
Protesters, both in Mindanao and Metro Manila, also charged that the government had been collaborating with logging and mining companies that contributed much to the damage wrought by Typhoon Pablo.
“The government is turning a blind eye even when faced with one of the most destructive catastrophes in history. Officials like Dinky Soliman have proven their blatant motivations in utilizing the disaster for their own gain with overpriced bunkhouses, ghost laborers and other avenues for corruption,” claimed Kabataan party-list group President Terry Ridon.
Corruption, coupled with the militarization of the affected areas, has led to impeded services and relief to many of the typhoon victims.
The P18-billion relief fund has turned into a makeshift pork barrel abused by government officials as exposed by June Sanchez, formerly a DSWD project staff.
“Lack of accountability from the government has turned the relief and rehabilitation effort into a money-making scheme for officials, and increased military presence in the area has protected this. No amount of counterinsurgency programs will help these people, even the previous demand to release the 10,000 sacks of rice hasn’t been given,” added Ridon.
He also said: “This is a national issue and reflects how the government responds to harsh calamities. In the past, President Aquino boasted about the increase for the calamity fund, yet now his administration directly prevents people from receiving it. This has aggravated the situation, and the people have a right to be angry.”
In Photo: Irate typhoon victims who stormed the Department of Social Welfare and Development warehouse in Davao City prepare to divide the relief goods they seized from the premises. (Manuel T. Cayon)