Two and a half weeks have passed since a powerful storm ripped through southern and northeastern Mindanao and parts of the Visayas, leaving more than a thousand dead, hundreds missing and millions without sources of livelihood.
No one could calculate the immensity of suffering that has ensued, with the victims having no food, no shelter and no access to medical treatment for their injuries or the diseases that have befallen them.
Despite the wretched conditions of the people in the calamity-stricken areas, the US-Aquino regime has been markedly and criminally negligent in providing assistance. Rescue and relief operations have been proceeding at a snail’s pace. The government has been excruciatingly slow in accessing the farthest barangays.
The aid that actually reaches the victims is good for only a few days. They comprise a tiny fraction of the billions of pesos worth of natural resources extracted every year from the forests, uplands and agribusiness plantations in the plains of Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, the two provinces most severely hit by the typhoon.
Despite the tremendous benefits gained by the central reactionary government from the wealth generated by Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines, it has been allocating very few resources to disaster preparedness and in ensuring that the people are not put in harm’s way. The government has its much-vaunted geo-hazard maps, but its agencies have failed to put up the necessary infrastructure to control flooding and prevent landslides. Not enough resources have been allotted for the organized evacuation of people before calamities actually strike. The reactionary state contents itself with providing warnings to the public and heaps the blame on them when they fail to heed such warnings.
The US-Aquino regime’s biggest crime lies in its aggressive drive to promote large-scale foreign mining and commercial logging despite the widespread clamor to put a stop to them. The imperialist plunder of forests and uplands, which has resulted in the grave destruction of the environment is the real cause of the disasters that have been devastating the country year after year.
It is the oppressed and exploited people of Mindanao who are now paying the price for decades of profligacy by the imperialists, comprador bourgeoisie and landlords. Landless, they have been constructing their houses on mountainsides, seashores, riverbanks and other areas vulnerable to disaster. Their poverty and lack of other sources of livelihood have forced them to put their lives at stake.
The devastation that has afflicted millions of people has actually been wrought not simply by calamity. Their suffering, exploitation and oppression have rendered them vulnerable to major disasters like typhoons, floods and landslides.
Worse, on top of the US-Aquino regime’s criminal negligence, it has seized on the disaster to intensify the militarization of the affected areas. The fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is now being portrayed as the people’s saviors. In fact, it has served as the protector and private army of logging and mining companies and plantations in evicting peasants and Lumad and plundering the island’s natural resources.
Whatever assistance the regime has provided to the calamity victims has been all for show. Instead of continuously helping the victims and aiding in the rehabilitation of affected communities, government officials briefly visit the calamity-stricken areas to give piecemeal assistance, in exchange for photo or video opportunities. As usual, what reactionary politicians really want is to make money out of the disaster and exploit it in furtherance of their candidacy in the upcoming elections.
The people must strongly condemn the added burdens caused by the ruling regime’s incompetence. They must create a powerful mass movement to hold them and their cohorts in local government accountable for their role in destroying the forests. Their responsibility for the widespread loss of lives and livelihood among the masses must be clearly laid out to them.
Because it is the revolutionary movement that truly represents the people’s interests, a major part of its political responsibility lies in ensuring the masses’ welfare during times of calamity.
The issue of preventing and dealing with disasters is a matter of arousing, organizing and mobilizing the masses. The issue of disasters must be closely linked to the issues of livelihood, poverty, oppression and exploitation of the masses. We must rouse the masses to the fact that the dangers they face from disaster are directly linked to their oppressive conditions. Their effectiveness in dealing with disasters is intertwined with their struggle for their democratic interests for land reform, wage increases, jobs and free housing, health and education.
We must prepare and mobilize the masses to both avoid and confront the possibility of disaster. We must glean information from the masses on disaster-prone areas in their localities and combine this with information or studies by the experts. We must define the actions that need to be taken to prevent disaster, such as what infrastructure to construct or repair, the rehabilitation of the environment and bans on operations that are destructive to the environment and the masses’ livelihood.
We must underscore all this and hold the reactionary government accountable for failing to undertake the necessary measures.
Plans must be drafted to deal with disasters in an organized manner, including instituting systems for rescue, evacuation and the like. The mechanisms for organized action must be in place during times of actual calamity. There must be plans to rescue victims, provide shelter for children and the elderly, give first aid to the sick and wounded, set up soup kitchens for collective food preparation and the like.
Rescue, rehabilitation and coordination with private and government agencies must be managed in an organized way. There must be appropriate mechanisms for aid to reach the intended beneficiaries and prevent it from being malversed by corrupt officials. The procurement and distribution of aid must be organized to prevent politicians from merely using it for photo opportunities. The masses must be on the alert for anomalies that will surely arise in the process of distributing relief.
The rehabilitation of communities must be undertaken immediately and effectively in order for economic activity to resume soon. The rehabilitation of ruined farmlands, the repair of destroyed infrastructure and the revival of denuded forests and mountains must be given attention.
The times are likewise exceedingly favorable for antifeudal struggles to be advanced more intensively. A particular campaign that can be advanced in the calamity-stricken areas of Mindanao is the conversion of thousands of hectares of banana plantations to rice and corn lands and for planting other crops that would be of benefit to the people.
The anti-militarization movement must also be advanced, because militarization has long been a bane to the people’s livelihood and becomes an even bigger burden during times of calamity.
Above all, we must intensify the struggle against imperialist mining, logging and agribusiness plantations.