Noynoy Aquino’s Disaster Presidency

imagesI wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.

In an interview with President Benigno “Noynoy’” Aquino, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour said that the way his government responds to the devastation caused by Yolanda will define his presidency.

This remark proved to be prophetic more than a year after Yolanda (international name Haiyan) hit the country, as the Aquino regime proved incapable of responding competently to the disaster while gravely mishandling the rehabilitation efforts for the affected.

Not only did help from the national government for the victims come late, with the comprehensive rehabilitation plan taking 11 long months for President Aquino to approve, this has been tainted by reports of massive corruption.

The Aquino government’s rehabilitation program has itself been criticized by Yolanda victims catering to the interests of foreign monopoly capitalists and their local partners who take advantage of disasters for money-making and investing in disaster-stricken areas.

Many families whose homes were completely destroyed by Yolanda are not allowed to rebuild under the government’s “No Build Zone” policy which covers areas that are up to 40 meters from the shore even as big businesses are invited to invest in these very same communities.

One particular example cited by the international non-government organization (NGO) Intal is the case of Giporlos town in Eastern Samar where investors have been developing the coasts into a posh eco-tourism zone even before the coming of Yolanda.

Another is the case of Sicogon Island in Carles, Iloilo where over 6,000 residents displaced by Yolanda are prevented from rebuilding their homes to make way for the conversion of the 1,163-hectare island into a high-class tourist destination by the Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO).

Fr. Edu Gariguez, Executive Secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action/Caritas Philippines, pointed out that SIDECO is the local partner of Ayala Corporation which is one of the Aquino government’s major partners in its recovery program.

“Greedy corporations are taking advantage of the helpless and hapless situation of Yolanda farmer and fish folk victims are being eased out of their lands and domiciles to give way to new development projects such as resorts or bigger land consolidations,” said Fr. Gariguez.

This is what journalist Naomi Klein called “disaster capitalism” to describe the way wars and natural disasters are exploited by big capitalists and enterprising bureaucrats as market opportunities to generate more profit.

This is underscored by the way the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR), formerly led by Panfilo Lacson, divided typhoon-hit areas according to the business interests of big business under its adopt-a-town scheme:

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Yolanda has even been used to rationalize the positioning of additional American troops and US warships in the country. Humanitarian intervention becomes a façade for securing US political and economic interests in the region.

The deployment of military troops in shopping malls in Tacloban when supertyphoon Ruby hit the country earlier this December offers the most striking image of how the Aquino government pursues this kind of disaster response and rehabilitation framework.

Even as evacuees cramped in evacuation centers lack food, water, and other provisions, the armed forces are deployed to protect big business against the threat of a repetition of last year’s “looting” wherein desperate Yolanda victims procured emergency supplies at supermarkets.

The people of Samar and Leyte, which were heaviest hit by Yolanda, have yet to fully recover when another supertyphoon left a trail of destruction in the region.

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A year after Yolanda, many victims are still living in bunkhouses, which has been assailed as overpriced and substandard. Worse, government workers insisted that the people stay in these bunkhouses as the Ruby came, putting their lives and belongings in danger.

The Aquino regime’s P170-billion “Build Back Better” rehabilitation program is thus wrongly named. It should be called “kickback better” with the bunkhouse meant as temporary shelter for Yolanda victims instantly destroyed by Ruby’s strong winds.

P700 million worth of donations cannot be accounted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) under Secretary Dinky Soliman while over P40 million worth of relief goods are left rotting in the warehouses of the said department.

Moreover, of the P100 billion allocated by Congress in the 2014 budget as calamity funds only P3 billion have been reported to have reached the Yolanda victims.

The ruling classes and their imperial masters wish to take the land and resources that should be for the recovery of the disaster victims and their communities.

From all these we see the undeniable picture of an unjust ruling system with the government prioritizing the profit-making schemes of a few ruling elites and foreign corporations amidst the death, hunger, and destruction caused by natural calamities.

From typhoons Sendong, Pablo, Yolanda, and now Ruby, Noynoy Aquino is proving himself to be a “Disaster President” with the natural calamities intensified by the greater disaster of his government.

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