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Rural groups kicked off own relief caravan to Central Luzon

By Roy Morilla, Mama Mila Liguasan and TC Concepcion

Quezon City- Rural based groups headed by the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Anakpawis party list today kicked off a three-day, four-vehicle relief caravan in Central Luzon provinces billed as Peasant Caravan for Land and Justice.

Organizers of the 3-day caravan led by KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos and Anakpawis secretary general Cherry Clemente said the relief operations to be conducted in the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac is just part of the comprehensive political program to be carried by caravan protesters.

“The relief operation is just a segment of the entire political program. The main content of the 3-day peasant caravan is the peasant call and solidarity for genuine land reform and social justice and the presentation of the farmers’ 9-point omnibus demands for calamity victims in countryside,” KMP’s Ramos and Anakpawis’ Clemente said in a joint statement.

“Our demands clearly include about support in housing, rehabilitation of farms, grant of seeds and seedlings for rice, corn, vegetables and other farmers’ crops, financial assistance of about P10,000 to P15,000 per hectare, a credit line to the Land Bank of the Philippines amounting to P10,000 to P15,000 per hectare, tractors, hand-tractors and carabao, setting-up of potable water supply, one year or equivalent to the value of two successive croppings moratorium on irrigation fees to National Irrigation Authority and private irrigation systems and livelihood to seasonal farmworkers, ” the caravan leaders said.

As this developed, the relief caravan to be undertaken by Malacanang and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on Monday, where a hundred of truckloads of relief goods will be make their way to Northern Luzon to aid victims of typhoon Pepeng was postponed due to typhoon Ramil. The government’s own relief drive is supposed to benefit 500,000 affected families.

Social welfare secretary Esperanza Cabral said the relief goods will be distributed to victims of Pepeng in 19 provinces in Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon and Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), but because of typhoon Ramil which is expected to hit Northern Luzon this week, the department decided to cancel Monday’s relief caravan to Northern Luzon.

KMP and Anakpawis in cooperation with allied groups Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Amihan peasant women federation, Nnara-Youth, Migrante International, All UP Workers Union and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines will only distribute a little over 400 relief packs for the same number of families in San Miguel, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

“Our modest relief efforts for our members in Central Luzon, particularly in San Miguel town in Bulacan, for Fort Magsaysay and southern towns of Nueva Ecija, and for the agricultural workers of Hacienda Luisita is one way of expressing our irrevocable concern for the peasants and the rural people devastated by the state and profit driven escapades. The political message is the more important thing which is genuine land reform, the solution to current predicament confronted by landless farmers,” the peasant caravan organizers added.

Today, KMP and Anakpawis caravan participants will stay in a peasant community in San Miguel, Bulacan and will have a solidarity night with farmers facing land dispute with Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, whom they accused of landgrabbing some 375 hectares of land in the area. They will also distribute 200 packs of relief goods to 200 farmer families.

Tomorrow the caravan will traverse the municipality of Gapan and the rest of the southern towns of Nueva Ecija on their way to Cabanatuan City to protest landgrabbing activities of big landlords inside the 7,100 Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Laur. Nueva Ecija. They will also hand out some 62 relief packs to the KMP chapter in Nueva Ecija. From Cabanatuan City, the caravan protesters will proceed to Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and they are expected to be at the sugar hacienda owned by the family of the late President Corazon Aquino by late afternoon.

KMP and Anakpawis said they will distribute some 158 relief packs to affected sugar workers in Hacienda Luisita.

On October 20, the caravan protesters will travel back to Manila, and will pass through several towns of Tarlac, Pampanga and Bulacan provinces namely Bamban and Concepcion in Tarlac, Magalang, Mabalacat and San Fernando in Pampanga, and Calumpit, Malolos and Bocaue in Bulacan on their way back to Manila.

On the same day, the caravan protesters will meet peasant protesters at the Department of Agrarian Reform for a solidarity night, and on October 21, they will march from DAR to Mendiola in Manila. #

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Fishers group urges House, Senate to prioritize Laguna Lake probe too

By Billy Javier Reyes and Rey Manangan

Binangonan, Rizal- The lake wide fishers group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and staunch ally- the multisectoral alliance Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLLM) on Thursday urged leaders of the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to also prioritize the legislative inquiry on Laguna Lake which is still under 14.5 meter deep since tropical storm Ondoy hit the country on Sept.26.

“Today is Oct.16 or about 20 days since storm Ondoy turned Laguna Lake into a virtual water world. Do we need 40 days before Congress takes up an inquiry on the ill-fated 90,000 hectare lake? Excuse us, but Laguna Lake, its people and environment are not dead to wait for 40-day ritual,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a press statement.

Hicap added: “Let me remind our lawmakers that 30 towns and cities of Rizal and Laguna provinces and the National Capital Region were swallowed by Laguna Lake at the height of storm Ondoy affecting 2.2 million out of the 6 million fisherfolk and lake shore population. But the investigation is not moving as if the issue on hand is just a dime-a-dozen concern”.

The Pamalakaya leader noted that only a handful of lawmakers agreed to their proposal for an all-out investigation on the current state of Laguna Lake. They are Senator Jamby Madrigal in the Senate, Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon and militant party list lawmakers Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casino and Neri Colmenaras of Bayan Muna, Luzviminda Ilagan and Liza Maza of Gabriela Women’s Party, Raymond Palatino of Kabataan Party and Rafael Mariano and Joel Maglunsod of Anakpawis party list.

“The Senate has 23 senators and the House of Representatives has 255 congressmen. But only a few good men and women managed to rise above the occasion. It is not too late for the leadership of both Houses and their peers to come to their senses and start the ball rolling on Laguna Lake catastrophe,” added Hicap.

The lake-based groups said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles should discourage members of the Senate and the House from going into vacation or abroad and instead call for special sessions that will look into the impacts of storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng and root the causes of the twin catastrophe that plagued the almost entire island of Luzon. Both houses are set to have their recess on Oct.15.

“No more foreign trips please, and the lawmakers should continue their legislative work by pursuing these investigations in aid of legislation and by going back to their respective districts and find out the needs of their devastated constituents,” Hicap added.

Prior to typhoon Ondoy, Pamalakaya and SLLM asserted that towns and cities surrounding the lake were already flooded. The groups attributed the flooding to the closure of the NCHS that prevented excess waters of Laguna Lake from passing through Pasig River on its way to Manila Bay. Both groups said at the height of typhoon Ondoy, the Napindan channel was still closed impounding more waters to the lake and later spilled to 30 towns in Rizal, Laguna and Metro Manila.

Last week, the Social Action Center of San Pablo City in Laguna said the mass flooding affected 20 towns of Laguna, excluding several towns in Rizal province and had displaced around 750,248 people mostly fisherfolk, farmers and urban poor.

The most affected towns are the towns of Binan where 45,125 families or 198,700 people were displaced, followed by San Pedro (25,606 families or 153,636 people affected), Sta.Cruz (20, 498 families or 102,590 people displaced) Sta. Rosa (14,951 families or 77,052 people displaced), Cabuyao (7,670 families or 46,001 persons affected), Calamba (8,024 families or 33, 819 people affected) and Los Banos (5,496 families or 29,730 people displaced.

Pamalakaya and SLLM suggested the following names and offices to be invited or subpoenaed for the congressional inquiry, whether separate or joint congressional inquiry.

Their list includes environment Secretary Joselito Atienza, Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) General Manager Edgar Manda, the governors of Rizal and Laguna provinces, mayors and local government officials of affected 30 towns and cities surrounding the lake, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the officials of Board of Investment (BOI), the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) and the Office of Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to represent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. #

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Think tank to PGMA: Cancel debt payment to free up funds for calamity relief

By Billy Javier Reyes, Bb. Joyce Cabral,Gerry Albert Corpuz and Viva Regala-Alonzo

Manila, Philippines–The independent think tank and research group IBON on Thursday urged the Macapagal-Arroyo government to cancel debt payments and free up resources for relief and rehabilitation, instead of seeking financial loans from foreign donors.

In a press statement sent to The Pamalakaya Times, IBON senior researcher and economic expert Sonny Africa said the environmental shifts mean that extreme weather events will become more frequent and there must be much greater investments in the country’s disaster preparedness.”

“Extreme weather conditions are beyond government’s control, debt payments are not,” he added. “It is the height of insensitivity of the country’s leaders if they dogmatically insist on repaying debt in the face of the multiple crises facing the country,” Africa explained.

IBON’s Africa said the Arroyo administration paid P1.52 trillion in foreign debt service, interest and principal, from 2001-2008. It is scheduled to pay a further P224 billion in 2009 and P253.5 billion in 2010. In contrast, the programmed calamity fund for 2009 and 2010 were just P2 billion annually.

This unceasing debt service, according to IBON, is undermining the government’s capacity not just to prepare for disasters, give relief and support rehabilitation after calamities, but also to meet the people’s basic needs for health, education and housing—which could have ensured their adaptability to extreme weather changes and resilience to calamities.

IBON asserted that the government has a range of options for debt cancellation, said Africa . It can start from identifying a target overall percentage of debt stock and corresponding payments to cancel. It can identify particularly loans such as any still left over from the Marco s dictatorship or others funding particularly onerous or anti-developmental projects.

The research advocacy and polling group likewise stressed that government can prioritize loans from multilateral development banks such as the World Bank or Asian Development Bank which, unlike commercial creditors, purportedly extend loans for developmental purposes.

IBON said: “The drastic economic slowdown especially with the onset of the global crisis, the looming fiscal crisis with deficits rising rapidly and now the calamities due to tropical storms Ondoy and Pepeng are enough justification to call for emergency cutbacks in foreign debt payments. More than trickles of foreign aid, debt cancellation would free up resources for relief and rehabilitation and for overall economic development”.

“This is an opportunity for the government to exert political will and cease being a mendicant in its dealings with foreign governments and creditors,” said Africa . “We Filipinos are fully capable of helping ourselves if only the government stops its self-destructive debt policy”, it added..

IBON reiterates successive governments including the Arroyo administration have vigorously opposed any debt moratorium, cancellation or repudiation on the grounds of protecting creditworthiness. However, this long-standing lack of vision in the government’s debt management policy has proven to be extremely burdensome for the people.

The position of IBON on debt cancelation was supported by the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya).

It pressed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to immediately stop paying the country’s debts to foreign and domestic creditors and re-channel the annual budget to debt servicing to massive relief and reconstruction efforts of all areas devastated by storm Ondoy and typhoon Pepeng from South to North of Luzon.

“Immediately suspending debt payment and by re-channeling these funds for all-out relief and reconstruction will definitely make sense, but our problem here is Mrs. Arroyo who has no sense of genuine public service, lacks political will and undeniably defiant in correcting fatal mistakes,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya leader said if the government will stop paying these debt burdens at the maximum or impose debt moratorium for a significant number of years at the minimum to rebuild the country it would be able to make a big difference for Filipino public, especially those affected by Ondoy and Pepeng.

Hicap said the government has been honoring fraudulent debts at an average of P 450 billion per year or almost 33 percent of the annual national budget.

“Imagine the big push this amount would bring only if this government knows its priorities and has this great sense of serving people. But this government is the partner in crime of transnational interests whose business escapades and super profiteering ideology is behind this humanitarian crisis and across-the-nation corporate-driven calamities,” he stressed.

Pamalakaya rejected the proposal of Albay Gov. Joey Salceda for the government to seek at least $ 1 billion in foreign grants and concessional loans to be administered by a special reconstruction commission composed of the government, big business and civil society group.

Salceda, the former economic manager of the Arroyo administration said it is time for the government to admit that it needs help in a big way beyond the exigency of disaster response, saying the country can no longer opt to raise taxes or slash other priorities. The Albay Gov. said the country needs new external resources to address the situation.

Under Salceda’s proposed 1 billion US dollar aid, the government would cover the estimated P 46 billion in damage wrought by Ondoy, P 12 billion by Pepeng and P 7 billion by typhoon Frank that devastated Panay island last year.

The proposal also covers P 20 billion for relocation, P 21 billion for infrastructure rehabilitation and P 5 billion for livelihood . But Pamalakaya said if the government suspends if not erases its debt servicing policy and budget allocations for such purpose, the country can afford to finance rural and reconstruction projects, including a comprehensive disaster management programs all over the country. #

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Expert wants San Roque dam operators, gov’t held accountable for Northern Luzon disaster

Expert wants San Roque dam operators, gov’t held accountable for Northern Luzon disaster

by Viva Regala-Alonzo.

Manila, Philippines- University of the Philippines (UP)-based expert and scientist Dr. Giovanni Tapang said the Philippine government, including private groups and operators of San Roque Dam in Pangasinan province should be held accountable for the massive flooding in the province and other parts of Northern Luzon.

Tapang and scores of scientists, environmentalists and social activists presented a study on the structural and managerial flaws of San Roque dam, that caused the severe flooding in several areas in Northern Luzon.

They also accounted for the country’s continuing disasters and the Arroyo government’s failure to provide a comprehensive, effective and adequate disaster response and prevention plan.

“The dams, particularly San Roque Dam, are supposedly designed and used to control floods. However, the floodings these infrastructures have brought us prove that they were not really designed for that function. These dams just brought profits for its proponents and more harm than benefit to the people,” said Tapang.

According to Dr. Tapang, the most devastated provinces of typhoon Pepeng are Pangasinan and Benguet provinces, as these are the areas where the large dams, that worsened the flooding, are situated. “Pangasinan is the catch basin of water coming from the series of large dams in the Agno River.

“Massive flooding in Pangasinan is caused and aggravated by the release of voluminous water from these dams,” explained Dr. Tapang.

Tapang asserted the three dams located along the Agno River are the Ambuklao Dam, Binga Dam and San Roque Dam. Based on National Power Corporation report a total maximum 6,000 cubic meters per second were being released by three dams as October 9 and is still continuing to release water today.

“The operators and owner of the dams should be held accountable. They have allowed the water to reach dangerously high levels and not acted on it sooner. Instead of releasing the waters earlier, gradually and in lesser volumes, they did it suddenly without adequate warning to the communities,” said Dr. Tapang.

Tapang theorized that the operators are probably thinking more of generating power and profits, they most likely have kept the water level as high as possible and have have not placed primary importance to their duty to give attention to the safety of the nearby communities.

San Roque Dam is the biggest of the three dams and designed as to produce energy, supply water and control flood. It is supposed to have a flood maximum design of 13,000 cubic centimetre or equivalent to floods occurring every 10,000 years. Despite protest in local and international level, San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam was approved in 1998. The dam construction was completed in March 2003 and became operational in May.

“If the dams were designed for flood control, then there should have been an alarm system in place or a protocol to warn the agencies and communities of impending disaster. However, the testimonies of the victims and the calamity that has occurred prove that the system was ineffective, if there was any,” he added.

“Communities and areas near large dam usually experience increase in frequency and more damages from flooding than other areas which are far from dams. After San Roque Dam operated in May 2003, 90% of Pangasinan were submerged in water in September 2004 and after that local communities frequently experienced flooding whenever there is a typhoon,” expressed Tapang.

“The extent of devastation that was caused by the presence of the dams and the deliberate disregard of the operators and owners to the communities in the area calls should lead to the decommisioning of the dams. Because as long as the dams remain, it is likely that the similar tragedies will occur in the future as it has done so in the past,” called Dr. Tapang.

For his part, Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) said the proponents of the dam itself, headed by the government should also answer to the millions of victims that were affected by the floods.

“The hundreds of lives lost, millions of families affected and billions of pesos worth of damages show the absence of planning and infrastructure of the government to address disasters. President Arroyo and the National Disaster Coordinating Council have blamed mother nature and climate change, the unprecedented rainfall, squatters, garbage and lack of budget but will not admit its fault and ineptness in handling and preventing the disasters,” claimed Bautista.

“In addition, to lack of disaster preparedness, the Arroyo government still pursues policies and destructive projects such as large-scale mining and large dams that destroy our environment and make communities more vulnerable and at higher risk to floods, landslides and other disasters,” cited Bautista.

“Again, we appeal to our countrymen and the international community to extend the bayanihan spirit that we exhibited in the face of disasters, in addition to joining relief operations, we should link arms to demand and push for a government that will perform its mandate to truly serve, protect and answer to the needs of the people and denounce the current one who only aggravates the suffering of our people, “ ended Bautista.

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Lakeshore groups pressed dismantling of Napindan

Lakeshore groups pressed dismantling of Napindan

By Mama Mila Liguasan in Antipolo City, Rizal
and Bb. Joyce Cabral in Calamba City, Laguna

LAKESHORE groups in Rizal and Laguna provinces identified with the activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the multi-sectoral environmental group Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLMM) on Friday pressed Malacanang and the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) to immediately dismantle the Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NCHS), asserting the Laguna Lake and its people will always be in flood and in constant danger, unless, the national government lead the slaying of this super monster structure.

Aside from dismantling of NCHS, Pamalakaya and SLLM are also calling for an independent national inquiry that will investigate and will look into the current state of Laguna Lake. The groups suggested that the independent probe body shall be composed of representatives from the Philippine Senate, the House of Representatives, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the other church organizations, environmental groups and experts, representatives from people’s organizations.

Leaders of Pamalakaya and SLLM eye Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno to head the national inquiry body. However, they said, request for SC Chief Justice Puno, has yet to be formalized.

“If the government wants to resolve the catastrophe in Laguna Lake, it should do it now. It should do it good, it should not pander, it should not pussyfoot and it should stop telling lies and tall tales to the media and the public,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

Hicap, also convenor of Save Laguna Lake Movement (SLMM) said the dismantling of NCHS will only take 24 hours of hard work and determination, so it will not take long. “The destruction of this anti-people superstructure is a social and historical necessity in order to address this across-the-lake catastrophe,” he said.

Pamalakaya and SLLM asserted that towns surrounding Laguna Lake were already submerged in waters ahead of the arrival of tropical storm Ondoy.

Reports from field coordinators of Pamalakaya and SLMM in Rizal and Laguna provinces said fisherfolk and lakeshore residents had already noticed the rising water level in Laguna Lake and excess waters had spilled along in 30 towns in Rizal and Laguna provinces, and in the National Capital Region before Ondoy pounded heavy rains on September 26.

“The disaster is bound to happen. It is a perfect storm in the making because the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) refuses to open the NCHS that will dispose excess waters in the lake. Tropical storm Ondoy only fast tracked the commencement of the super calamity,” they said.

Hicap lamented: “We have been sending hundreds of notices to LLDA General Manager Edgar Manda that the lake authority should open NCHS to prevent the happening of a Great Flood all over the lake and in Metro Manila, but Mr. Manda is either not listening to this fearless forecast, or he is not doing his assignment or he is ignorant of the issue and its consequences to more than 6 million lakeshore people.”

“Where will Mrs. Arroyo and Mr. Manda relocate the people of Laguna Lake? In the moon? In the purgatory? Or somewhere over the end of the rainbow?” the Pamalakaya leader asked.

The NHCS was built in 1983 to prevent or lessen the increase of salinity from Manila Bay and pollution from the Pasig River from entering Laguna de Bay during times of reverse flow. The NHCS is found on the confluence of Marikina and Pateros-Taguig rivers with Pasig River. This confluence is also the downstream endpoint of the Napindan Channel, which is the upper part of Pasig River that connects to Laguna de Bay.

Aside from preventing the reverse flow of Pasig River, the NHCS is also used for flood control. During the rainy season, most of the flooding along the Pasig River area is due to the increased water flow coming from Marikina River.

The Manggahan Floodway in Pasig City was constructed to divert much of this water from Marikina River directly into Laguna de Bay. By also closing the NHCS during times of rain, the water is effectively dammed in Laguna de Bay preventing it from flooding the downstream portions of Pasig River.

Pamalakaya and SLLM maintained that the destruction of NCHS is the immediate solution to permanently assure the disposal of excess waters in Laguna Lake to the Pasig River ,and then to Manila Bay. Both groups said the flooded areas which make inhabitable for 700,000 residents in Laguna province alone can be restored back to its previous state to allow lake inhabitants to resume living along the lake.

The groups said LLDA should stop all its reclamation and road dike projects along the lake because these projects are obstructing the flow of waters in Laguna Lake. The LLDA has been reclaiming thousands of hectares of public lands in Laguna Lake for various flagship projects like the Rizal International Airport and high end condominiums.

They said the forced relocation of 400,000 lakeshore residents is not the solution, and it will only complicate the problem of prevailing social injustice and would violate the housing rights of hundreds of thousands of people residing in and sourcing their livelihood from the fresh water resources of Laguna Lake. #

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Health group: “Empowered citizenry, cornerstone of disaster prep”

Health group: “Empowered citizenry, cornerstone of disaster prep”

By Dr. Gene Nisperos, contributor and Gerry Albert Corpuz, senior reporter, The Pamalakaya Times

Manila, Philippines- An activist alliance of doctors and medical personnel said an empowered citizenry is the cornerstone of any disaster preparedness program. ”

This, not the sham achievements in disaster management and flood control claimed by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July, is the real lesson taught by Typhoon Ondoy,” the Health Alliance of Democracy (HEAD) said in a press statement, a copy of which was sent to The Pamalakaya Times on Friday.

HEAD stressed that the collective effort exerted by ordinary people amidst the gross inefficiency of government action proves that there can be effective disaster preparedness in the country.

“Filipinos from all walks of life have shown a willingness to help as the damage brought upon by Typhoon Ondoy unraveled,” noted Dr. Geneve Rivera, HEAD secretary-general.

She said private initiatives and communal action became a social network that was more efficient and systematic in providing immediate relief than any of the best-laid government plans on disaster management.”

Dr. Rivera was referring to parts of SONA 2009, where Mrs. Arroyo boasted of government projects in areas like the Marikina-Pasig River Basin allegedly to prevent flooding. These were the same areas where Typhoon Ondoy wreaked severe havoc, thereby exposing these so-called disaster management projects as bogus.

“In a country regularly ravaged by typhoons and other calamities, it is imperative to harness the power of the people. This can be done by promoting the free exercise of their rights and freedoms, by encouraging the dissemination of correct information, and by upholding the principles of social responsibility and public accountability,” said Dr. Rivera.

Unfortunately, the Arroyo administration seems bent on going in the opposite direction. It is keen on suppressing initiatives and is against any form of public vigilance, as though to avoid its own accountability. Worst, it is suspicious, or envious, of assistance and funds coursed outside the ambit of government patronage.

But more than a week after Typhoon Ondoy, different government agencies still have to show their leadership and competence. The National Disaster Coordinating Council still has to make its efforts felt in many areas. The Metro Manila Development Authority does not even have enough equipment and vehicles to clear the trash and sludge spread over the metropolis.

HEAD believes that the Filipino people know what needs to be done, if only the government would listen.

“For instance, the Department of Agriculture should work with farmers to ensure food security, founded on tenural rights over agricultural lands and on genuine agrarian reform. Instead of merely warning against disease outbreaks and having a slew of infomercials, the Department of Health should also promote primary and preventive medicine at the grassroots.” Dr. Rivera added.

“After all, upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) and diarrhea are still the top causes of illness in the country, with or without typhoons. Knowledge on home nursing care and herbal medicine at the hands of families and community-based health workers can mitigate the effects of any natural disaster on health.”

“However, unless a vigilant and empowered populace is given its rightful place in governance and decision-making, the Arroyo government itself will be a continuing calamity to the Filipino people.”

“Given the licentious spending and unbridled corruption of Mrs. Arroyo and her cabal of cronies, radical change in the Philippine socio-political landscape is now a necessary measure not just for disaster preparedness but for the attainment of a decent life”, she added.

Meanwhile, another doctor by profession, Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo, chair of the activist umbrella alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Filipinos, as a people, have yet to learn their lessons well in the wake of one of the most devastating floods to hit Metro Manila and outlying provinces brought by low-intensity typhoon Ondoy that most of us had simply taken for granted.

In her weekly column Streetwise published by Business World, Dr. Araullo said she will not accept the excuses – from “climate change” to “overstrained government resources” and “unusually heavy rainfall”. ”

“Even more unacceptable and condemnable is the tack of blaming the victims, the people who built their houses on or beside riverbanks, creeks and floodways and who were washed away, for their current miserable plight”, she added.

Dr. Araullo further said: “For government to cite the record-level rainfall and other unusual weather disturbances presumably induced by climate change as the main reason for being caught flat-footed is a clear and pathetic attempt to escape responsibility and justify criminal neglect and inutility of those in charge.”

The Bayan chair said “worse, it perpetuates the backward idea that we can do nothing but cope with what nature brings, including periodic calamities that are our lot because the Philippines is located in a typhoon belt or the oft-mentioned “inter-tropical convergence zone”. Consequently, the necessary and vital measures that need to be put in place to avert disasters or at least mitigate the destructive affects of natural hazards such as storms and earthquakes are left undone or only haphazardly done”.

Araullo said it is precisely because the country is sitting smack on the intersection of a typhoon belt and an earthquake-and-volcano belt (the Pacific “rim-of-fire”) that calamities are already second nature to us. We are not lacking, then, in technological and administrative know-how and expertise on the dangers of these calamities and how to deal with them. Rather, the roots of the disasters are both historical and social.

No such thing as “natural calamity”

Araullo asserted that in truth there is no longer such a thing as a “natural calamity” anymore. Humankind has so interacted, in fact, interfered with nature, without fully comprehending its laws and the implications of his interference or even imagining that he controls nature and bends the laws of nature to conform to his will.

“It is a harsh lesson that humankind has learned from the time man discovered how to use fire and water, then steam and much later, nuclear power. Man has come to understand that the forces of nature can be tamed to make life less brutish and more comfortable, but always according to its own laws. The lack of understanding of those laws, or failure to abide by them (usually in an arrogant attempt to ignore, if not foolishly defy these laws) invariably end up in disaster”, the Bayan chair said.

The activist-columnist said the laws of nature are hard, unbending and immutable. They only appear to change because man’s understanding of those laws are unified, simplified and rendered more precise. With nature, the dictum “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is absolute and unforgiving.

“Yet, the real transgressors get away literally with murder because nature has a much more dilated time line relative to ours; the forces of nature take time – even eons – to act. But when a certain threshold is reached, all hell literally breaks loose. Most often the real causes of the disaster can be concealed or forgotten, deliberately or not, buried along with the corpses or disposed of unceremoniously along with the debris and garbage.’ her Business World column reads.

Araullo said “concretely and historically in the Philippines, those transgressors include the despoilers and plunderers of the country’s natural resources especially during the American colonial period, post-independence and up to the present time. These include the foreign corporate interests and their local partners in mining, logging, agribusiness and real estate development including their financiers and the series of supine governments that failed to protect and conserve the national patrimony”.

Unchanged policy

“Government policy is unchanged. The Arroyo regime has closed its eyes to the continuing wanton and over exploitation of our natural resources alongside the accelerating degradation of the environment. It has pushed for more and more liberalization of laws and regulations governing foreign investments in the country,” the Bayan chair said.

According to Araullo, the kinds of disaster inflicted by government policies on the Filipino people cover not only physical disaster but economic backwardness and impoverishment as well. These are exactly the conditions that create our people’s vulnerability to the effects of so-called natural calamities.

She said it is no accident that the poor are the worst hit by these calamities. The iniquitous social system is such that those who have less in life become the most vulnerable. Notwithstanding all the hype that calamities are “great equalizers” and victimize rich and poor alike, the reality is that the rich are well-protected and insulated from disaster or have the wherewithal to quickly recover most losses, while the poor, already destitute and deprived, lose everything and are at a complete loss on how to pick things up and start all over again.

“To make matters worse, the Arroyo administration had not put in place the plan and the resources to deal with even half of Ondoy’s rainfall, just as it had failed, like other administrations before it, in enforcing the laws and undertaking the measures that would have mitigated, if not prevented much of the damage Ondoy could bring,” she added. .

Araullo also criticized the lavish spending on the de facto President Arroyo’s innumerable trips abroad, the still unaccounted for millions of dollars in Overseas Development Aid intended for disasters and calamities, the corrupt-ridden government projects and the wasteful expense on government’s failed counter-insurgency programs are certainly more plausible reasons for the kind of unprecedented disaster that befell our people rather than the 12-hr, 400+ millimeters of rainfall.

Distinctly gov’t function

The Business World columnist said disaster preparedness is a distinctly government function that necessitates a comprehensive, scientific study of disaster risks and coming up with a plan on how to deal with them in all respects.

She said the government should also focus on workable plan that include measures to remove aggravating conditions and effectively mobilizing not just the government machinery but the entire people for the gargantuan effort needed for preemptive action, rescue, relief and rehabilitation.

“While past governments have their share of responsibility in failing to undertake the measures that would have mitigated, if not prevented, these disasters, the GMA regime has made the task even more difficult by destroying government credibility, which is required for any attempt to mobilize the people themselves for disaster preparedness,” she added.

Araullo stressed that the solutionis not “bayanihan”, “balikatan”, international humanitarian aid nor even private relief efforts ala ABS-CBN’s “Sagip Kapamilya”.

“The solution is to bring about a government that truly serves the people, a government that people can repose their faith and trust in and can mobilize both human and material resources to face natural calamities and prevent them from becoming man-made disasters,” the Bayan official said.

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Lakeshore towns already flooded ahead of tropical storm Ondoy, says fishers group

Lakeshore towns already flooded ahead of tropical storm Ondoy, says fishers group
By Bb. Joyce Cabral

Binangonan, Rizal- The left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday revealed that towns surrounding Laguna Lake were already submerged in waters ahead of the arrival of tropical storm Ondoy.

Reports from field coordinators of Pamalakaya in Rizal and Laguna provinces said fisherfolk and lakeshore residents had already noticed the rising water level in Laguna Lake and excess waters had spilled along in 30 towns in Rizal and Laguna provinces, and in the National Capital Region before Ondoy pounded heavy rains on September 26.

“The disaster is bound to happen. It is a perfect storm in the making because the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA) refuses to open the Napindan Hydraulic Control Structure (NCHS) that will dispose excess waters in the lake. Tropical storm Ondoy only fast tracked the commencement of the super calamity,” said Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.

The Pamalakaya official added: “We have been sending hundreds of notices to LLDA General Manager Edgar Manda that the lake authority should open NCHS to prevent the happening of a Great Flood all over the lake and in Metro Manila, but Mr. Manda is either not listening to this fearless forecast, or he is not doing his assignment or he is ignorant of the issue and its consequences.”

The NHCS was built in 1983 to prevent or lessen the increase of salinity from Manila Bay and pollution from the Pasig River from entering Laguna de Bay during times of reverse flow. The NHCS is found on the confluence of Marikina and Pateros-Taguig rivers with Pasig River. This confluence is also the downstream endpoint of the Napindan Channel, which is the upper part of Pasig River that connects to Laguna de Bay.

Aside from preventing the reverse flow of Pasig River, the NHCS is also used for flood control. During the rainy season, most of the flooding along the Pasig River area is due to the increased water flow coming from Marikina River.

The Manggahan Floodway in Pasig City was constructed to divert much of this water from Marikina River directly into Laguna de Bay. By also closing the NHCS during times of rain, the water is effectively dammed in Laguna de Bay preventing it from flooding the downstream portions of Pasig River.

Pamalakaya said LLDA is complicating the situation by endorsing the forced eviction of 100,000 lakeshore residents mostly small fishermen and poor people who have been living in Laguna Lake surroundings for generations.

“The forced relocation of 100,000 people is not the solution. All it takes is simple science and basic logic. Since the closure of NCHS is the most obvious and compelling reason behind the flooding of Laguna Lake, the best thing to do is to open the NCHS, which has been closed by LLDA for year now. The situation merits the opening of NCHS and let the excess waters pass through Pasig River on its way to Manila Bay,” the group said.

The Pamalakaya official said LLDA chair Manda should exercise common sense in dealing with the flood problem in connection with the rising water level of Laguna Lake, instead of displaying extreme act of paranoia and going hysterical all over the public.

“Right now, the water level in Laguna Lake is higher than Manila Bay, and its only logical therefore, to allow it to be disposed on its way to Manila Bay by opening the NCHS,” France explained.

In a press briefing held last week at the headquarters of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), LLDA chair Manda said typhoon “Pepeng” will dump half of the rains that tropical storm Ondoy brought to the National Capital Region on Sept.26, the water level of Laguna Lake may break its all-time record of 14.62 meters, possibly sinking more coastal barangays in Metro Manila and Rizal province.

The LLDA chief made the projection to justify the removal of some 100,000 residents, specially those residing on the shorelines of Taguig, Cainta, Pasig, Taytay and Muntinlupa, in response to the preemptive evacuation called by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

According to Manda, the waters of Laguna Lake cannot easily pass through the Napindan Channel in Taguig into the Pasig River and then to Manila Bay because of some 25,000 informal settlers blocking the passageway. He specifically identified a community of about 25,000 families in Sitio Lupang Arenda—straddling Taguig, Taytay and Cainta.

However, Pamalakaya said the people of Laguna Lake should not be deceived by the latest escapade of LLDA general manager that his recommendation is meant to spare people’s lives from the wrath of typhoon Pepeng.

“Since he assumed the LLDA general managership, what Mr. Manda really has in mind is the forcible removal of 100,000 families along the lake so Malacanang could proceed with the reclamation of 5,000 hectares in Taguig, Pateros and Muntinlupa, where an international airport glamorized with high rise condominiums and first-class hotels will be constructed,’ the fisherfolk group said.

Pamalakaya also blamed the widespread reclamation in Laguna Lake as culprits to the sudden increase in the water level of the lake for the construction of road and dikes from Taguig to Taytay (9.8 kilometers), Bicutan to Taguig (9.5 kilometers), Sta. Rosa to Calamba City section (28 kilometers) Bay to Sta.Cruz in Laguna (32 kilometers), Siniloan to Kalayaan section (28 kilometers) and Tanay section (10 kilometers).

Pamalakaya also said aside from road and dike construction, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the LLDA will proceed with the additional reclamation of lake waters in Taguig (3,000 hectares), Muntinlupa (5,000 hectares) and Los Baños in Laguna (500 hectares), which the group said will further worsen the flood problem in the National Capital Region and nearby towns of Laguna and Rizal provinces because these reclamation projects will serve as obstruction to the natural flow of waters in the lake.

Pamalakaya theorized that LLDA chair Manda is using the calamity situation as trick to really evict lakeshore folks since that has been Malacanang and the authority’s grand design which is to remove lake people to prepare Laguna Lake for the grand takeover of big businesses, who are planning to set up big infrastructure projects like high rise condominiums and posh hotels along the lake’s coastlines. (with a report from Billy Javier Reyes)

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