NY Human Rights Group Demands Government Accountability for Shameful Relief Efforts in the Philippines

Press Statement

For Immediate Release

December 10, 2013

Reference: Yoko Liriano, Coordinator, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP), ytliriano, nychrp.info

NY Human Rights Group Demands Government Accountability for Shameful Relief Efforts in the Philippines

On the 65th commemoration of International Human Rights Day, the New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (NYCHRP) calls on the world to witness the deplorable handling of relief efforts by the Philippine government in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. One month later, people in the typhoon-ravaged provinces of Leyte, Samar, and other areas of the Visayas are still desperately seeking aid for basic needs and efforts toward rehabilitation. The Philippine government’s response has been grossly negligent, and the body count has risen to almost 6,000 fatalities. Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are additionally part of the 4.5 million displaced due to the Philippines’ lack of infrastructure prior to Typhoon Haiyan.

The aftermath of Haiyan was as much a man-made disaster as it was natural. The effects of the typhoon were exacerbated by foreign government-sanctioned, large-scale mining projects that have been stripping the Philippines of its natural resources and accelerating environmental destruction and aggravating all weather calamities.

People seeking aid in affected areas have reported heavy militarization of their communities in a blatant example of disaster opportunism. Typhoon Haiyan comes at a convenient time as the U.S. has announced, within the past year, that it will rebalance 60% of its military to the Asia Pacific. The United States is looking at this disaster as an open gateway to further their military presence in the country. This month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit the Philippines and Vietnam, surely to secure military and political dominance in the vulnerable countries and offer aid in exchange for control of resources and redevelopment in the region for the benefit of U.S. imperialism.

On Sunday, December 8th, NYCHRP, as a member of NAFCON (National Alliance for Filipino Concerns), attended the Community Gathering for Healing and Hope Interfaith Mass at the St. James Episcopal Church. Community members and clergy held a vigil for those who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan. Councilman Daniel Dromm said, “Yes, the typhoon is over, but the crisis in the Philippines is not.” NYCHRP demanded an end to US military presence in the Philippines, calling for “aid, not bullets–US troops, out now!” The group also held Philippine President, B.S. Aquino, accountable for his insufficient response to aid suffering survivors in the Visayas region.

Aquino has clearly showed reluctance in aiding victims during the first few days after Typhoon Haiyan. He and his administration were nowhere to be found up to seven days after Typhoon Haiyan hit, and reportedly walked out of an urgent disaster briefing. On another occasion, Aquino scolded a survivor seeking aid, demanding they be thankful that they are at least alive, rather than addressing why the Philippine government was neither providing relief nor efficiently facilitating the release of foreign relief goods.

In general, government funds set aside in the Philippines for relief are minimal, resulting in no system set in place to safeguard the people when typhoons make landfall annually. There are also numerous incidences of government mishandling relief goods–including stealing donated supplies, then repackaging them with politicians’ and agencies’ logos. Past administrations have a history of redirecting relief funds for personal use. This corruption mirrors itself in the latest “pork barrel scandal”, where Aquino-backed government officials, siphoned money allocated for public use and community development into the politicians’ pockets, instead.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) which has a base of 300 human rights lawyers in the Philippines are considering filing charges against Aquino for violating the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. Aquino’s misconduct has clearly breached the Act’s “dereliction of duties which leads to destruction, loss of lives, critical damage of facilities, and misuse of funds,” “forcibly seizing relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities intended for or consigned to a specific group of victims or relief agency,” and “misrepresenting the source of relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities.”

It is inhumane for the Philippine government to take the minimal resources the Filipino people have, and to deny them basic aid in times of disaster. NYCHRP calls on all human rights defenders around the world to hold the Philippine government accountable for profiting off the Filipino people, in order to maintain political corruption and to strengthen U.S. domination in the Asia Pacific.