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Typhoon victims loot welfare office

Tired of waiting, villagers snatch food stocks

Kerima Bulan Navales, Davao City
Philippines

February 26, 2013

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Hundreds of survivors of Typhoon Bopha ransacked the government social welfare office in Davao City on Tuesday, carting away sacks of rice, boxes of noodles and other food supplies.
 
The survivors from villages in the typhoon-ravaged provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental started massing outside the office on Monday to demand aid from the government. 
 
They camped out overnight and vowed not to leave until their demands were met. They broke into the gated office and ransacked its store rooms on Tuesday, after negotiations with social welfare officials failed.
 
Armed guards and policemen tried to stop the villagers but failed. 
 
Spokesman Karlos Trangia said the villagers would not have broken into the compound if the social welfare office had fulfilled its promise to distribute 10,000 sacks of rice.
  
Senior Superintendent Ronald dela Rosa, Davao City police chief, said those who stole food will face arrest. "What they did was a clear and simple case of looting," he said.
 
The villagers piled sacks of rice and boxes of noodles at their camp outside the office and taunted police officers. "Go ahead, arrest us. We are not scared," Trangia shouted while pointing at the boxes of noodles. "These are ours. These are for the victims of the typhoon."
 
Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate said what the survivors did was not looting. "They are here to claim what is due to them," he said. 
 
"It was the ultimate manifestation of exasperation over how they are being treated by a government agency that is supposed to help them," said Juland Suazo, spokesperson of the environmental group Panalipdan. 
 
"These people are desperate, aside from the fact that they are angry," he said.
 
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the agency will take legal action against the leaders of the group.
 
"We have been bending over backwards to accommodate what they want," she said. "They have disrupted our work. What for? They are using it for their political agenda."
 
In December, Typhoon Bopha, the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, made landfall as a Category 5 super typhoon. 
 
The storm caused widespread destruction across Mindanao, affecting about six million people, leaving thousands homeless, and more than 1,000 dead. Around 216,000 houses were destroyed.
 
An estimated 6,000 people in the provinces of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley remain in evacuation centers.
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