The following is a lecture delivered by Prof. Jose Maria Sison a month after typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the Visayas in November of 2013. I chanced upon the article while researching for material for a conference of victims of Yolanda and other calamities that I will be attending this week in Tacloban City.
In his analysis of the events leading to, during and after the disaster, Sison was able to explain in socio-political terms why the Aquino government failed to respond adequately to the crisis. Despite his distance from the Philippines, Sison gave a precise description of the situation on the ground and predict, as early as a month after the calamity, how the Aquino government would eventually fail in its relief and rehabilitation efforts.
This kind of up to date, sharp and critical analysis of events in the Philippines is what makes Sison highly relevant in the Philippines, especially for those involved in political and social movements.
Super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda): The political context of a natural disaster in the Philippines
Lecture at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences
Groningen, the Netherlands, 16 December 2013
By Prof. JOSE MARIA SISON
Chairperson, International League of Peoples’ Struggle
Good afternoon, friends. Thank you Jake for your kind introduction.
My task today is to talk about the political context of the corruption and criminal negligence of the Aquino regime in relation to the super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).
The Scope of Devastation, Corruption and Criminal Negligence
Let me start by pointing immediately to the lack of preparedness of the Aquino regime before the super typhoon struck and the delayed and inadequate response of the regime to the great and urgent need for rescue and relief operations. The disaster made by the regime compounded the natural disaster, aggravating and worsening the intolerable suffering of the16 million people in provinces of the Visayas and adjoining provinces of Bicol, Mindoro and Palawan.
The concerned scientists of the world and the Philippines had correctly estimated the magnitude, intensity and path of the super typhoon. They called on the Philippine authorities and the people in the provinces at risk to prepare against the impending disaster by evacuating the threatened coastal areas, bringing the people to safe areas and to storm shelters and stocking on food, water, medicine and other emergency supplies.
Two days before the super typhoon came, President B. S. Aquino boasted on television that all necessary preparations had been made, that he expected a zero casualty rate and that the planes, ships and relief goods were ready to provide rescue and relief to the people in distress. He even dispatched the defense secretary and the interior and local government secretary to Tacloban city to posture as saviors before the cameras of TV crews brought in from Manila.
When the monster winds and the storm surges hit Tacloban city and the Visayan islands, the truth came out that no pre-disaster preparations aimed at reducing risk had been made at all. There had been no sufficient information, warnings, instructions and mass mobilizations not to speak of evacuations, against the highly probable storm surges of at least 5 meters height.
The local and international mass media reported that the government was not carrying out any search and rescue operations in the crucial days soon after the storm. Anderson Cooper of CNN exposed to the world the fact the corpses were not being collected and not a single feeding center could be seen five days after the super typhoon. It was only six days after Haiyan struck that Aquino and his national officials announced their “adjusted disaster management plan,” which many foreign and local observers immediately criticized as too bureaucratic and unresponsive to the emergency needs in the disaster areas.
The immediate reflex action of Aquino and his cabinet officials was to blame the local governments for not moving fast enough, and to focus on the so-called problem of looting by deploying armed troops and police in Tacloban to restore a semblance of “peace and order.” He also appeared on CNN to minimize the number of death casualties and the scope of destruction and stupidly appeared to discourage international assistance.
He fired a police officer echoing the UN estimate that possibly at least 10,000 were killed in the disaster. He insisted that only 2000 to 2500 could have died. He led Philippine authorities in talking all the time about Tacloban city and on blaming the city mayor for his lack of preparedness. They obfuscated the fact that 15 to 16 million people in 32 provinces had been hit hard by the super typhoon and urgently needed rescue and relief.
It was only more than a week after Haiyan when the responsible government agencies began to set up a workable system of immediate food and fuel relief, but only in and around Tacloban city through its airport lifeline and in sections of highways cleared of debris. In most other ravaged provinces and municipalities, however, several more weekspassed without the responsible government agencies concerned providing food, clean water, medicine, clothing and temporary shelter for millions of people in need, without collecting the corpses of those who died during and after the super typhoon and without clearing the debris. The suffering and dire conditions of the people would be alleviated here and there only when the relief aid came from international agencies and private donors.
Always shameless as a puppet, Aquino also allowed the US and its imperialist allies to bring into the Philippines military forces under the pretext of humanitarian aid. Instead of using military forces on an aircraft carrier and a fleet of destroyers, the US could have just brought in American civilian relief agencies and their personnel.
Whatever complement civilian relief agencies the US brought were slow to respond because they were heavily dependent on heavy war equipment on board US war carriers. The US and its puppet Aquino have been more interested in psywar to promote the acceptability and increased presence US military forces in the so-called US strategic pivot to East Asia. Even now as we talk, Aquino and his defense and diplomatic officials are seriously using the argument of the US role in the post-Haiyan relief operations in order to fast-track the expanded troop-rotation arrangement under the US-Phlippine Visiting Forces Agreement.
The Aquino regime has had a less welcoming attitude towards private relief organizations and has threatened to tax their donations, unless these had been coursed through the agencies of the regime. The bilateral and multilateral aid from foreign governments have been coursed mainly through the Manila government. And a great part of this aid is stocked up in government warehouses for the corrupt bureaucrats, the military and the merchants to prey on. Most of the aid that has reached the suffering people has come from private donors and has been delivered efficiently by the people’s organizations and religious groups to the communities in distress.
In the latest update from the UN office for coordinating humanitarian aid (OCHA) and other sources of information, the official toll is more than 6,000 deaths and more than 27,000 injured. Incredibly, the government-stated figure of nearly 1,800 missing persons has remained essentially unchanged in the past two weeks despite new information coming in from devastated towns showing entire villages wiped out.
These figures are still understated because of Aquino’s order to keep them down. Sixteen million people have been adversely affected and four million have been displaced. More than one million houses have been totally destroyed or seriously damaged The estimated cost of damage to infrastructure is Php 23 billion (€380 million) and Php 17 billion (€280 million) for agricultural products. But now smelling an opportunity for corruption, Aquino has announced in Tokyo during the ASEAN-Japan summit that Php 120 to Php 130 billion (€1.98 up to €2.144 billion) is needed for rehabilitation.
The Political Context of Wrong Policy, Corruption and Criminal Negligence
What is perceivable as the wrong policy, corruption and criminal negligence of the Aquino regime in failing to anticipate and respond to the natural disaster, can best be understood by knowing the context of the entire semicolonial and semifeudal ruling system of the Philippines. The leaders of the reactionary parties and coalitions that dominate Philippine politics are agents of US imperialism and the local exploiting classes of big compradors and landlords.
The president of the Philippines is the chief representative of the local exploiting classes and is the chief servant of US imperialism. In 1946 the US had gone through the motion of granting nominal independence to the Philippines but in fact it retained its economic, political, military and cultural control over the Philippines. Whoever is the president of the Philippines is servile to US interests and is a big comprador-landlord like Aquino. He has undergone a process of competing for the position with other candidates from the same exploiting classes.
The winner in the competition gets the biggest amount of campaign money from foreign and domestic big businessmen by best catering to their demands before and during the elections. After the elections, the president gets the lion’s share in the spoils of political power by taking the most bribes from those corporations that obtain business privileges, contracts, loan and loan guarantees, by delivering economic and business privileges to corporations of his relatives and friends and by channeling public funds to his own private account.
In using their public offices as means for amassing private wealth in capital and land, the president and other high bureaucrats are engaged in what has been called bureaucrat capitalism. You may simply call this bureaucratic corruption. It is a kind of capitalism with no investment risk and the pure profit is collected in advance. This is a form of exploitation distinct from and related to exploitation by the imperialist firms and banks, the big compradors acting as their chief trading and financial agents and the landlords that are based in the countryside.
To serve their own interests, the bureaucrat capitalists serve the interests of the US, the big compradors and landlords. Otherwise they are thrown out of office in favor of another set of politicians in the next elections or even earlier. To be in good standing with the exploiters in the private sector, they follow the fundamentals of capitalist exploitation and they push the neoliberal policy of pressing down wages, liberalizing investments and trade, privatizing state assets, deregulating social and environmental restrictions and denationalizing the Philippine economy.
Under the auspices of semi-colonial politics, the bureaucrat capitalists have perpetuated the semi-feudal economy of the big compradors and landlords. Following the dictates of the US and the local exploiting classes, they prevent national industrialization and genuine land reform and thus keep the Philippines underdeveloped, impoverished and a reliable source of cheap raw materials and cheap labor. The exploitation of natural resources has been so extensive and intensive that the environment has been gravely ruined.
Poverty has made the people extremely vulnerable to natural disaster. The flimsy houses of workers, peasants and fishermen comprising more than 90 percent of the population are easily ripped apart by typhoons, swept away by floods or crushed by landslides. The use of open pit mining and of lethal chemicals to accelerate the extraction of mineral ores has caused soil erosion and heavy siltation and has poisoned streams, rivers and marine life.
Logging has deprived the people of forest cover against storms, the coastal mangroves against storm surges, the natural flow of the water from upland, soil fertility and the biodiversity that provides food and a healthy environment. The modern plantations use monoculture over extensive areas and use a lot of chemicals that poison the peasants and farm workers and the rivers and the lakes. In many cases, previous landgrabbing and demolitions have pushed many rural and urban poor communities to eke out subsistence living in barren and eroded slopes, steep ravines, tidal flats, under bridges, dumpsites, and other hazardous areas. And yet the government repeatedly brands these communities as “pig-headed” for resisting relocation or even blames them as the causes of environmental destruction.
Subservient to the global economy of the imperialist powers headed by the US, the bureaucrat capitalist rulers do not care about global warming and climate change. They do not condemn the continued prevalent use of fossil fuel and the wanton emissions of carbon dioxide. They do not demand a strategic shift in global fuel policy and compensation for the damage suffered by underdeveloped countries like the Philippines, Due to global warming and climate change, the sea level around island countries such as the Philippines has risen and the waters of the Pacific Ocean have warmed to such a point of causing more frequent and more disastrous storms. An average of 20 storms of growing devastating force is now assaulting the Philippines every year.
Aquino and the other high bureaucrats in the Philippines are not at all genuinely concerned about global warming and about natural disaster risk reduction and responses to disasters that occur, except as new potential sources of foreign aid from such mechanisms as World Bank-managed climate adaptation funds and the so-called Green Climate Fund. They are so obsessed with stealing public funds through filing-cabinet or fly-by-night NGOs, false cooperatives and ghost road projects that they have not implemented a truly comprehensive and practicable disaster preparedness program. Such a program would have ensured the installation of emergency communications and warning systems, construction of storm shelters and sturdy school houses that can double as storm shelters, the maintainance and timely prepositioning of warehouses with relief goods at regional and provincial levels.
In 2011 Aquino vetoed appropriations for pre-disaster preparedness on the stupid argument that he would rather spend money on the actual damage of disasters. But the calamity funds which had been appropriated from year to year supposedly for actual disasters, was designated at the sole discretion of the president and had always disappeared from year to year. In fact, such funds had disappeared into the pockets of the bureaucrat capitalists before super typhoon Haiyan struck. The post-disaster funds supposedly for the victims of typhoons Sendong and Pablo went into the pockets of the bureaucrats and their racketeering partners in pork barrel scams.
Perspective on the Ruling System and the Private Initiative
More than five weeks have passed since 8 November, when Haiyan crashed into the Visayan islands, only a small part of the millions of victims has received relief goods from the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Aquino regime. Bureaucratic red tape is applied on the distribution of goods. The bureaucrats say that they would rather let the goods rot in the warehouse than distribute them to their political opponents. People living in the remote villages have not received any at all. In urban areas, people observe that relief goods are sold in the market. In the disaster areas, the government is allowing the merchants to raise the prices of basic goods by the hundreds of per cent.
Among the endowed and prestigious international private relief organizations that arrived to help in the relief and rescue efforts are those that collaborate with the Manila government, and have officials that behave like government bureaucrats in their attitude towards the people in need. They go where the mass media are present, they are arrogant, they ride in flashy new vans and cars and take photos as if they were tourists. The Manila government officials and their rich foreign collaborators forget that that their duty is to retrieve the dead and clear the debris in Tacloban city.
Other foreign relief organizations with only a skeletal Philippine presence prior to Haiyan had to “parachute in” volunteers not familiar with the territory and people, and encountered many difficulties. Many of them decided to focus on their technical specialties such as operating field hospitals, setting up tents, water stations and evacuation camps in the more accessible and high-profile areas like Tacloban city. Weeks passed until an international Buddhist organization arrived, augmented its personnel by hiring the local people in need of work and income and cleared 50 per cent of the debris in only a week´s time.
In proportion to their modest means, the people’s coalition of BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, New Patriotic Alliance) and its mass organizations under the banner of BALSA, the Citizens Disaster Response Center (CDRC) and its regional networks, , the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, church parishes and communities has effected more distribution of relief goods and services and in a more systematic and community-sensitive way, than the reactionary government and its big foreign partners.
Of special mention are the formations of BALSA Mindanao, forged in the midst of earlier typhoon calamities that struck Northern and Southern Mindanao last year, which organized their own relief caravans and crossed over by ferry to reach the ravaged Samar and Leyte islands. In proportion to their modest scale, medical teams from abroad and other parts of the Philippines who are inspired by the national democratic movement and international solidarity have done more service to more people than similar teams from imperialist-funded organizations. Local communities struck by the super typhoon are also aided by groups and individuals who originate from them even as they are abroad or in other places in the Philippines.
As has been amply noted by most foreign media and relief agencies, who can make fair comparisons with their experiences in other major disaster relief operations, the people themselves in the calamity-stricken areas have been helping each other and raising themselves from the ground. They searched for missing family members and neighbors and buried their dead whose bodies were in the vicinity. They mourned the dead who had been swept away too far for them to trace. They shared whatever makeshift shelter, food and tools they had. They dug wells for fresh water. They foraged for whatever food was found among the shambles, including rootcrops and coconuts from the many uprooted coconut trees. They were reached and assisted by relatives and friends from other places who brought necessities. While some people could choose to leave, most people have no choice but to stay.
The peasants among them need farming tools, farm animals and seeds, and the fishermen need boats, engines, fuel and nets. All the people need building materials to have better shelter than what they have now.They also need to repair and replenish medical facilities and supplies, school facilities and books, and to establish alternative means of transport and communication, to the extent that pre-Haiyan public services (inadequate as they already were) have not been fully restored.
Long after the bourgeois mass media forget about the damage wrought by Haiyan, the period of rehabilitation and reconstruction will continue for a long while, even as the people face new typhoons and other natural and man-made disasters. The people are determined to revive and develop agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry and other means of livelihood, and to find alternative ways of satisfying badly needed social services that the reactionary government is unable to restore or provide.The revolutionary movement is ever present and growing among them in order to guide and mobilize them.
It is paradoxical and ominous that President Aquino who in the first weeks was minimizing the destruction to life, property and infrastructure is now maximizing the cost of such destruction in the hope of bloating the need for bigger budget allocations and bigger roles of foreign loans and big business in the rehabilitation programs now being planned. He and his cohorts see new and huge opportunities for making a killing. The pundits and people most knowledgeable about the corrupt character of the Philippine ruling system are already warning that the high bureaucrats in the regime and their relatives and friends will engage in robbery during the recovery and will take advantage of the government appropriations, the foreign loans and grants for rebuilding the economy of the devastated areas and providing concessions and benefits to the people.
Even at this early stage of the long rehabilitation and recovery period, big corporate interests have already started to lobby the Aquino government and his new “rehabilitation czar” Panfilo Lacson for a big role in rezoning, planning housing and tourism projects, reconstruction of land titles lost during the calamity, land delineation, and relocation of entire coastal villages in the guise of avoiding geohazards but actually to free up choice beachfront areas for lease to real estate developers and foreign tourist enclaves. The people of the Visayas, especially the numerous peasant and fisherfolk villages living along its very long coastlines, are now being alerted to these new dangers to their land and resources that are being packaged as “rehabilitation” and “disaster preparedness.”
We know that the greater and persistent calamities suffered by the Filipino people come from those who rule the Philippines. We must look at pre-disaster preparedness both in the technical sense and in the broader social, political and economic context. We must expose and oppose every attempt of the bureaucrat capitalists, their imperialist masters, the big compradors and landlords to rob the people of the land and other resources that ought to be for the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction of their lives and communities. And the people must be ready to wage revolution against those who rob them after their suffering so much of natural disaster, corruption and criminal negligence. Thank you.