DAVAO CITY, Philippines – (UPDATED) – Angry residents affected by typhoon Pablo in Mindanao ransacked on Tuesday, February 26 the regional DSWD office in Davao to protest the alleged substandard delivery of relief services in their towns.
Grabbing anything within their reach, over 4,000 citizens led by the Barug Katawhan typhoon survivors movement started to set up their camp outside the Department of Social Welfare and Development on Monday, paralyzing the operations of the agency.
The group “confiscated” 52 sacks of rice, 820 sacks of assorted goods, 78 boxes of coffee, 593 boxes of noodles, 13 boxes of soap, 34 boxes of canned sardines, 10 boxes of envelopes and a box of biscuits.
At least 10 residents received minor injuries when the police was called in to evict the protestors.
Barug Katawhan spokesman Karlos Trangia explained that they were only claiming relief items allocated for typhoon survivors.
“We are not stealing anything. These items are for the people in areas affected by Pablo. These relief goods are for us. We are only forced to seize it here because the government has failed to deliver these in our villages,” he said said.
Trangia added that “this is an initial gain in our struggle but the government must still answer our larger demands.”
Gov’t must help ‘without preconditions’ – protestors
Barug Katawhan is pushing for an extension of the relief goods distribution program, set to end on March 19, and the immediate release of 10,000 sacks of rice committed by the DSWD.
But sending out the rice has hit a snag after the protesters refused to provide a list of all the recipients of the items, fearing the document would be used to file charges against them for taking part in the January 15 roadblock in Montevista town.
“Why are we being burdened to provide the list? It is the responsibility of the DSWD to coordinate with the local government to secure the list, which already exists in the village level. We are presently in an extraordinary situation. We got hit by Pablo and Crising. The government must help us without any preconditions,” said Trangia.
The activist stressed: “We will not lift our occupation here until our demands are met.”
Protest ‘against the law’ – Soliman
DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman responded saying the action of the protesters may only be described as a violation of the law.
The so-called organized confiscation done by the residents is nothing but stealing, and she will be holding the leaders of Barug Katawhan and its support groups Anakpawis and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, accountable for the incident.
Soliman explained that the protestors stopped the DSWD from doing its job of distributing relief goods: “They are creating disorder. Now we cannot continue our operations because of what they did.”
The government official also complained about the refusal to tell her who needs the goods.
“We have our employees there and all the residents have to do is to list their names. If they will list their names then we will go to their places to deliver the relief goods,” she said.
Survivors prefer to fight than die of hunger
Barug Katawhan said that no one one from DSWD has attempted to approach them since Monday.
Soliman insisted that the government has not failed in its duty to provide social services in devastated areas, and demanded that the items seized by the protesters be immediately returned to DSWD.
The typhoon survivors movement is still occupying the periphery of the DSWD regional office in Davao, and the protestors said they are prepared to hold the area even if police forces are again sent to disperse them.
Danilo, a farmer from typhoon-battered Compostela Valley, told Rappler he would rather fight than die of hunger in his village.
“When I carried a sack of rice on my back, I knew this is already a proof that we can win our struggle if we are united,” he said.
Danilo added that none of this would have happened if government services were accessible in their areas.
“It is not yet too late. We are camped just outside their office. They can talk to us anytime. If they will be able to satisfy our demands then we will gladly go back to our villages without [bearing] any grudge.” – with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com