More than 5,000 victims of typhoon Pablo barricaded the highway at Montevista, Compostela Valley to assail the Aquino regime’s neglect of their communities. They condemned the very sluggish and selective distribution by government agencies of food and other relief goods and services.
The victims, most of whom were farmers, farm workers and Lumad came all the way from the towns of Monkayo, Nabunturan, Compostela and Montevista in Compostela Valley; the municipalities of Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental; and Trento in Agusan del Sur. They walked for close to ten hours in the heat and rain just to be able to air their grievances to concerned authorities.
The barricade blocked the highway linking Davao City to Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Davao Oriental. Hundreds of vehicles were forced to stop. The police and military tried to intimidate the barricaders, saying that their protest action was illegal because it had no permit. But this did not work due to the sheer number of protesters.
DSWD secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy were thus forced to face the rallyists. They tried to convince the protesters to dismantle the barricade, but likewise failed.
By 9:30 p.m., a truck carrying 1,900 packets of relief goods and 100 sacks of rice arrived at the barricade. Soliman sent a letter saying that 10,000 sacks of rice would be arriving in two days. Only then did the protesters remove the barricade.
According to Barog Katawhan, the newly established organization of typhoon victims, hardly any help has come to them, especially to families living in remote areas. Meager supplies are distributed only to victims who have family or green cards issued by the DSWD.
In a statement, Barog Katawhan demanded that relief goods that have poured in from local and international agencies be immediately distributed to the millions of victims of typhoon Pablo. They called for an investigation on the DSWD’s anomalous practices such as hoarding and favoring families living nearby. The victims also want punishment for politicians who have been using relief funds and goods to court votes in the coming elections. Barog Katawhan condemned the measures taken by commercial plantations which arbitrarily revoked contracts with local growers. Growers are farmers contracted by commercial plantations to plant commercial products such as banana on their land. Despite having benefited from the wealth of the land and the people’s labor for decades, the plantations did not even bother to offer financial assistance to the growers and their workers. Barog Katawhan said that the plantation owners must cancel the debts owed to them by the growers.
The coconut farmers, on the other hand, said that the Philippine Coconut Authority must release funds to them as a temporary solution to the widespread destruction of coconut trees and to enable them to start anew.
In addition, the victims demanded the immediate implementation of genuine land reform in the calamity-stricken towns and the cancellation of all debts owed by peasants and farm workers to merchants, landlords and usurers.
They also demanded the immediate denial of applications for IFMA (Integrated Forest Management Agreement) which is nothing but a front for large-scale logging, and payment of damages by big logging companies responsible for denuding the forests in the two provinces. They also called for an unequivocal moratorium on large-scale mining in the area.
Before the barricade, a fluvial candle-lighting ceremony was held by progressive organizations in Davao and BALSA (Bulig sa)-Southern Mindanano on January 15. They commemorated the 40th day of typhoon Pablo and remembered the more than 1,000 people who were killed in the storm.