A group of typhoon survivors stage a rally in Manila on Wednesday to call attention to what they say has been a slow government response to their needs (Photo by Vincent Go)
Almost a year after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines, thousands of survivors say they are still waiting for help after a perilously slow government response in the wake of the calamity.
On Wednesday, a group of 50 survivors who call themselves the Tindog People's Network staged a protest in Manila, decrying what they describe as “government neglect”.
"The government seems to be negligent and heedless to the clamor of survivors for speedy distribution of relief goods and immediate rehabilitation measures for long-term solutions," Mark Louie Aquino, the group's spokesman said.
A government audit released last month revealed that a cache of relief goods was found rotting in warehouses, instead of being distributed to typhoon survivors.
The report released by the Commission on Audit noted that the Department of Social Welfare and Development failed to distribute some 128,000 cans of sardines, US$1.5 million worth of bottled water and US$1.3 million worth of supplies, including thousands of family food packs.
The same report showed that local and foreign cash donations amounting to US$16.5 million are still sitting in the department’s bank accounts waiting to be spent. Of the amount, only US$86,672 has been disbursed.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman admitted to ucanews.com in a September interview that some goods donated for typhoon survivors had spoiled due to improper handling.
"I appeal for understanding. We want to assure you that we are doing our best to help our people and deliver the goods," Soliman said. "We committed some mistakes, but we are doing our best," she added.
But the survivors said they are tired of government promises. The Tindog People's Network and People's Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors, said they are gearing up for a huge protest rally in Tacloban City timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Haiyan's landfall on November 8.
This week, farmers and fishermen in devastated areas complained that they have been omitted from the government’s “build back better" program.
"The absence of tenurial security has, unfortunately, excluded farmers and fisher folk from services for Haiyan survivors," said Ruelie Rapsing, spokesman of the non-government organization Rights Network.
Manuel Cayubit, a village leader in Barugo town in Leyte province, told ucanews.com that he is afraid that "one day soon I will be kicked off the farm I’ve been tilling for years".
Cayubit said he has not received any support from the government, especially for processing crucial papers that would prove ownership of his land.
Lawyer Karen Jimeno, spokesman for the government's Rehabilitation and Recovery office, appealed for patience.
"We did our part," she told ucanews.com. "If there is brewing discontent then it’s really obviously a need that we have to address," she said.
She said her office submitted a far-reaching recovery plan to President Benigno Aquino in August, but the 8,000-page document is still waiting for approval.
She assured that the government has the money to help the people. The problem, however, is a lot of records were destroyed by the typhoon. Jimeno said she understands people’s impatience.
“We are all groping in the dark,” she said. “We are all … trying to figure out how we can … be responsive.”
But when pressed, Jimeno was unable to offer a specific timeline for the government to address concerns about the slow rehabilitation process.
“It takes time,” she said.
People's organizations, meanwhile, are also complaining about an initiative to relocate typhoon survivors so that they are far away from the route of Pope Francis when he visits Leyte province in January.
Fr Rex Ramirez, vicar-general of the Archdiocese of Palo, confirmed the government's plan to relocate some 250 homeless families from their temporary shelters in time for the pope's visit.
He said local government officials have already set a November deadline for the relocation of the typhoon survivors.
"I had a meeting with local officials, and they informed me about the deadline," he was quoted in a post on the website of the Catholic bishops' conference on Wednesday.
Marissa Cabaljao, spokeswoman of the People’s Surge, condemned what she called a "whitewash campaign" by local officials ahead of the pope's visit.
"I appeal to the Catholic Church to take the side of the typhoon victims and give them the chance to be seen by the pope," she told ucanews.com.