LEGAZPI CITY (BicolToday.com/28-Feb-2013) – Though Pablo victims and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have reached an initial agreement on the distribution of relief goods and implementation of rehabilitation efforts, party-list group Kabataan stressed that the “issue is far from over.”
“For one, DSWD officials should be investigated and held accountable for the alleged mishandling of funds for relief and rehabilitation. Hindi dahil may kasunduan na sa pamimigay ng relief ay tapos na ang usapan,” Kabataan Partylist President Terry Ridon said.
“Apart from distributing relief – which DSWD should have done a long time ago – the government should also be made accountable for the drastic environmental plunder in Southern Mindanao and the intensifying militarization that has led to countless human rights violations in the said region,” Ridon added.
Over 5,000 typhoon victims staged a barricade in the Region XI office of DSWD on February 26 to demand for the immediate release of 10,000 sacks of rice and relief goods. The distribution of the said relief goods has been delayed for over two months now.
The following day, after failing to get a favorable response from DSWD, the victims gathered around DSWD office decided to enter the agency’s stockroom and confiscate the goods stored there.
Initially, DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman and even Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda brushed aside the mass action as a simple case of “looting” and even warned of pressing charges against the Pablo victims.
“Dubbing a united and organized mass action as a mere criminal activity reflects the government’s insensitivity and utter disregard for the plight of Pablo victims. The DSWD stockroom siege was justifiable, especially as the relief goods were intended for the victims in the first place,” Ridon said.
However, a dialogue between DSWD Davao and Barug Katawhan – an organization composed of Pablo victims – resulted in a memorandum of agreement that assured victims that relief and rehabilitation efforts will be hastened and their demands would be met.
“Though this is an initial victory for Barug Katawhan and thousands of victims who stood up for their own welfare, we must still hold accountable erring DSWD officials, and ultimately, the Aquino administration for implementing policies that resulted to the disaster that left thousands of families homeless and deprived of their livelihood,” Ridon said.
The environmental lawyer stressed the fact that over 83,000 hectares of land in Davao Oriental, one of Pablo’s hardest-hit areas, are exempted from the Aquino administration’s logging ban.
Also, over 30,000 hectares of land in Davao Oriental have already been converted into plantations for export-quality banana, palm oil and biodiesel. “With the forests being converted into plantations and logging permitted by the government, the area has been denuded up to a point wherein a mere rainshower could cause a catastrophic landslide,” Ridon said.
Ridon also hit the proliferation of large-scale mining in Southern Mindanao, wherein over 37,000 hectares have mining permits from the government and at least a million hectares have pending mining applications.
“It is appalling that the Aquino government just sits idly while foreign companies are exploiting and plundering our natural resources. Worse, the regime is sending more troops to the said region to protect the interests of the said foreign companies,” Ridon said.
“Such act exposes the Aquino administration for what it really is – a puppet of large foreign investors that does not care if our natural resources are pillaged to the point of utter destruction,” Ridon said.
“The responsibility of the government does not end in relief and rehabilitation. The Aquino administration should be held accountable for the continued destruction of our forests in Southern Mindanao,” Ridon ended. [BicolToday.com]