By People Surge
November 7, 2017
CATARMAN, Northern Samar – People Surge Northern Samar Chapter, together with allied groups under the #StandwithSamar campaign, joins fellow disaster survivors in commemorating the 4th anniversary of Yolanda with surge of protests from all over the region and with support groups backing us up from all over the globe.
Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the strongest typhoon to ever made landfall, only signaled the arrival of other consecutive typhoons which ravaged Northern Samar: Typhoon Glenda (July 2014), Super Typhoon Ruby (December 2014), Typhoons Seniang (December 2014) and Nona (December 2015).
The already “poor” province of Northern Samar has become even poorer. Prior to Yolanda, poverty incidence was nailed at 43.5 percent but in 2015, it leaped to 56.2 percent. Northern Samar remains to be one of poorest provinces in the country.
Nona, the typhoon which hit strongest in Northern Samar, left 15 people dead, 1,207 wounded and 11 people missing. It ravaged 110,427 houses and 112,655 families in Northern Samar. According to the Office of Civil Defence (OCD), total loss in the province amounted to more than P14 billion where P960,690,993 came from the agriculture sector.
The storms that struck, especially Ruby and Nona, have resulted to fallen trees and severe damage to coconut plantations. It takes almost seven years before coconut trees fully recover from nature’s fury. Farmers either have very low yield or farmers' planted coconut trees have yet to bear fruit, subjecting them to the perennial debt trap of rich landowners and exploitative merchants.
A recent report from the Department of Agriculture (DA) also shows that rice production in Northern Samar posed a steady drop in the past three years. In 2014, rice production in the province was at 117,965 metric tons but in 2016, it dropped to 111,086 metric tons.
According to the Provincial Office of the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA), damaged abaca plantations after Typhoon Nona was at 99.97% affecting thousands of farmers and fiber loss worth more than P173 million. Abaca farms also suffered the infestation of bunchy top virus which impeded recovery from the wrought of successive typhoons.
We suffer multiple disasters: nature's fury, government negligence and militarization
Provincial and national government failed to provide timely and decent help. Even during the disaster preparation phase, the Commission on Audit (COA) 2016 report cited certain municipalities in the province which failed to maximize and/or misuse the 70% mitigation fund under the Local Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (LDRRMC).
The integrity of disaster response after Nona struck Northern Samar is also put in question. The 2016 Audit Report of COA shows municipalities in the province which lacked transparency as to where disaster aids go such as the case of Laoang and Palapag towns, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) for Typhoon Nona was given two years after it swept through the province under a 'prorated scheme'. Instead of receiving full amount, totally damaged households only received P13,000 while partially damaged households only received P8,000. People Surge chapters in Gamay and Lapinig towns reported that distribution of said aid has not yet even begun in their municipalities. Even the cash-for-work program of DSWD for Typhoon Ruby has not yet been conducted in those two municipalities.
Northern Samar is also set to receive the Presidential Financial Assistance (PFA) under the Duterte administration. There are 22,073 beneficiaries in Northern Samar who will receive P5,000 from the PFA. Local People Surge chapters however said that distribution has not yet started in any part of the province.
The Provincial Office of Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority reported that there is an unused fund of P12.7 million budget specifically allotted for the rehabilitation of abaca farms in the province after Typhoon Nona swept. Two years since the typhoon, the government has not provided a single coin, no free insecticide or pesticide to kill bunchy top virus, virtually no help amid the gravity of the situation.
The government provided little to no aid for farmers in the province. While the Department of Agriculture (DA) reported that rice seedlings and other agricultural inputs have already been distributed in communities affected by the typhoon, local farmers' organizations report that most farmers did not receive any of those agricultural aids. And if there are any agricultural inputs given, local chapters reported that only selected families are provided with such aids. In our local chapter in Lapinig town, members reported that rice seedlings were not actually given for free by the DA.
The provincial government has instead crafted the Nona Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan (NRRP) 2016-2019 that brushes the agricultural sector to the margins and has put more premium on infrastructure instead despite Northern Samar being an agriculture-driven province.
Government intervention to the farming sector is also notorious as scapegoats of land-grabbing. Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) reported cases where their lands are being taken from them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for the mass reforestation of bamboo shoots across the province particularly in Las Navas and Catubig. Despite strong resistance from the local peasants, hundreds of hectares are being claimed by the National Greening Program. Meanwhile in Palapag town, farmers are asked to plant cacao instead. One of the principal objectives of the said program is to help reduce poverty and provide alternative livelihood to farmers in upland areas but ironically operates in favor of landlessness, debilitating farm production and stealing peasant livelihood.
DA's promise of free irrigation is nowhere to be found in the province. All local chapters present reported that no free irrigation was provided to them by the government. In Palapag, farmers are asked to pay P1,500-P3,000 per hectare whenever they use the irrigation facility. Meanwhile in Catubig town the Help for Catubig Agricultural Project (HCAAP) which aims to provide irrigation covering 700 hectares of farmland supposed to be completed in 2007, was left unfinished by the government.
Local chapters report that if there are any livelihood programs given, they are mostly loans that may potentially bring bankruptcy to farmers' organizations. In Palapag town, the military is initiating alternative livelihood in coordination with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) as part of their overall counter-insurgency design, Oplan Kapayapaan. A review of the NRRP also shows provisions such as the “No Build Zone” policy which may displace thousands of residents along the coast and consequently displace them from their sources of income.
Militarization is government's response
In previous months since the implementation of the bloody counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, the people of Northern Samar who have yet to recover from the onslaught of successive typhoons, have been targets of militarization and state terror.
In Barangay Sumuroy, farmers from the barrio stood their ground against military encampment and sought refuge at the municipal town proper of Lope de Vega due to 43rd IBPA Bravo Company's militarization last March. Schools are far from being zones of peace as they report soldiers occupying schools and even constructing defense structures such as fox holes.
Meanwhile in Barangay Geparayan in Sivino Lobos, 13 families (57 individuals) evacuated to different barrios due to harassment threats by the military. Cases of illegal detention and strafing were also experienced by farmers in Las Navas. Military encampment within civilian communities continue in Barangay Mckinley in Catarman, Barangay San Isidro and San Miguel in Las Navas, among others.
In Las Navas Elementary School, the military has been encamping within the school vicinity for three years now. They also camped within Las Navas National High School from May to August this year where even teachers have been harassed by the military. They also planted landmines surrounding the school which sent fear among students and teachers alike. Harassment among teachers have also been reported in Lope de Vega and far-flung barangays in Las Navas. There are also reported military men going inside the school in full battle gear and enticing children to spy their targets.
In Barangay San Miguel in Las Navas, Alyansa san mga Parag-uma kontra Gutom san Las Navasnon (APKLAS) reported that elements of the 20th IB have been camping within the community for three months now. Under the pretension of “peace and development,” they have exhibited ill-respect to public facilities such as barangay halls, barangay health centers and even the barrio school by treating them as barracks. For one, military fatigue are hung in the barangay health stations and they occupy the place when barangay health workers and patients should have been occupying these facilities.
As of this writing, military troops are also in civilian communities of Barangay Mckinley in Catarman town, in Barangays Poponton, San Miguel and San Isidro in Las Navas town, committing various human rights abuses. We have received reports from local chapters that state forces are strong-arming civilians to surrender, subjecting them to psywar to admit that they are members of the New People's Army (NPA).
We are fed up with so much injustices and outright fascism. We join other disaster survivors in the call for justice and accountability! Stand with us. #Stand with Samar.