Statement by Damayan Migrant Workers Association, “Typhoon Yolanda Recovery: Serve the Suffering People, Not Corporate Interests!”:
In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines, what is sure to be a long and painful recovery has begun. It was the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall, and the 25th typhoon to hit the Philippines this year. Haiyan caused untold damage to the provinces of Leyte, Samar, Panay, Bohol, Negros and Palawan, affecting more than 2 million people and killing an estimated 10,000 people.
Filipinos around the world have mobilized to assist the people of our homeland, and have been moved by the outpouring of solidarity from non-Filipino people. We in the Filipino-American community are organizing relief drives and conducting people-to-people aid to help our devastated compatriots. With the Sagip-Tulong sa Pilipinas (STP) Relief Campaign, Damayan Migrant Workers Association and allies echo the appeals for generosity and sacrifice to send aid directly to pro-people organizations in the Philippines.
At such a moment, it is also important to put this catastrophe into a political and social context. Resource allocation and planning can play a decisive role in mitigating the impact of natural disasters and dealing with the aftermath. As the people of the Philippines struggle to locate their loved ones and survive the shortages of food, shelter and other basic necessities, there is a well-founded concern that the Philippine government’s relief effort will primarily serve wealthy elites and corporate interests rather than the people who are suffering.
The Philippines needs aid, not militarization
Immediately following the typhoon, international news began to spread of “anarchy” and “looting.” On Nov. 10, just one day after the typhoon left the archipelago, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said that he was considering declaring a state of emergency or martial law in the hard-hit city of Tacloban, Leyte. As of this writing, hundreds of Filipino police and soldiers have been deployed to the area in the name of security.
The situation obviously requires emergency action. But these stringent military measures are geared to protect private property and goods rather than provide for people’s needs. The call for martial law-style “order” is an appeal to those with wealth; for the rest of the population, it means the suspension of civil liberties, including due process.
On the heels of President Aquino’s statement, U.S. military search-and-rescue helicopters, surveillance planes and Marines raced toward the central Philippines. The claim is that this military push to the area will help survey the devastation and assist survivors.
Again, the larger historical context of these actions must be emphasized. The U.S. military in the Philippines has been the instrument for the complete subservience of the Philippines to U.S. political and economic interests. It has meant an increase in violence against women at the hands of U.S. service members.
The U.S. government has long wrapped its colonial and neocolonial endeavors in the Philippines in the language of humanitarianism and paternalism towards its “little brown brothers.” With President Obama’s strategic “Asian Pivot,” which has a military and economic dimension, the Philippines figures prominently. Washington plans to once again use the Philippines as a key military base. While the Philippines will welcome any and all humanitarian aid, progressives must oppose U.S. military aid.
Corporate interests and corruption: unnatural disasters
The ultimate cause of the devastation is largely hidden from the news stories about this typhoon and other natural disasters: the unnatural disasters of climate crisis, large-scale commercial logging, mining and deforestation of the Philippines.
Climate change is one of the most urgent issues of the world today, bringing about rising sea levels and sea temperatures that lead to super typhoons such as Yolanda. Greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible, mostly emitted by rich and so-called developed countries like the U.S. Transnational corporations, with the blessings of their governments, have been at the helm of destructive projects that have likewise contributed to the crisis: they have polluted and plundered communities, and built factories, oil refineries and coal power plants contaminating our air and water. These countries have further pushed for policies allowing industries to irresponsibly extract the earth’s minerals. The U.S., in particular, continues to wage environmentally destructive wars. Meanwhile, these same countries are ignoring or even denying the existence of climate change and the climate crisis.
In the Philippines, large-scale commercial logging and deforestation, run by big political families, have largely escaped regulation despite an Executive Order by President Aquino declaring a moratorium on logging in natural forests and creating an Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force. Recently, a commercial logging permit was given to the San Jose Timber Co, owned by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, to cut trees in the 95,770 hectares of forest lands in Samar Island, one of the hardest-hit provinces during Typhoon Yolanda.
Beset with corruption, government agencies are responsible in the processing and approval of logging operations, while some officials are actually active parties in the destruction of forests. Logging companies with permits were able to reforest only 97,741 hectares since 1976 – an insignificant number compared to the millions of hectares of natural forests that were destroyed. Wiping out the archipelago’s natural defenses, deforestation has left the people vulnerable to storms, exacerbating the calamity.
A True Recovery for the People
Given the political and economic context in which aid takes place in the Philippines, and indeed globally, it is essential that aid from abroad is channeled to genuine people’s organizations in affected communities, and that these organizations are not beholden to the same corporate interests that caused or exacerbated the devastation to begin with. And most importantly, aid should seek to break with, rather than to contribute to the same historic problems of neocolonialism, racism and chauvinism that continue to sink the Philippines further into poverty.
In addition to the Sagip-Tulong sa Pilipinas (ST) Relief Campaign, Damayan Migrant Workers Association signs on the calls of Alliance-Philippines for the following:
1. Stop deforestation and destructive extractive mining all over the Philippines.
2. Relocate all low-lying cities and squatters along the coastal areas and implement good and proper urban planning. Provide decent and proper housing to the people who will be relocated.
3. US military out of the Philippines – aid should not come at the expense of Philippine sovereignty.
4. End the destructive practices causing the climate crisis!
For information or to donate to STP, click here
. One hundred percent of donations will go towards people’s organizations in the affected areas.
Antonio Montalvan II, “An irrelevant president”:
As the whole world heard the same cries as we did, Malacañang’s response (or lack thereof) to the already full-blown-and-still-worsening crisis became all the more baffling with each passing day. The sobering reality couldn’t seem to get into the heads of administration officials. As baffling was their seeming ignorance of the breadth and length of destruction. For example, it was media that told us that even some small islands off northern Cebu had been without food and shelter for days. And that no government help had reached them.
The impression President Aquino tried to project in the CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour was of a government in control. But the situation on the ground told a far different story. That disconnect now appears to have sent the once much-vaunted popularity of the President into a nosedive.
Six days later—remember that six days without food and water is an eternity, and the fact that the whole world was watching—Mr. Aquino announced that he was overall in-charge of the relief operations. Even as that was understood as a tacit admission of Malacañang’s shortcomings, the frustration had by then burrowed deep into the public’s consciousness and sentiments. The Aquino “charm” had imploded.
Did he fumble or was he “jumbled”?
To be fair with him, no one is expected to emerge an expert from the strongest typhoon in recorded history to hit land. If Mr. Aquino fumbled, that’s understandable. We can forgive him for that.
But after that Amanpour interview it was clear that he was jumbled. He said that the estimate of 10,000 deaths could be too high and, apparently the figure so irked him that he sacked the police director who reportedly gave that number. President Aquino seemed so fixated on his pre-Yolanda framework of “zero deaths”; he told Amanpour that the around 1,000 deaths reported so far would most likely not increase substantially. At that time, news reports were mostly coming from Tacloban or focused on that city. Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Coron and even nearby Eastern Samar and Ormoc were as yet unknown territories. Now that the death toll has reached 3,600 as we write, and still counting and proving the President wrong, we are wondering: Were his lieutenants feeding him wrong or guarded information? Was there a cordon sanitaire in the first days following the tragedy?
On the same sixth day, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas reappeared in Tacloban. We know that Roxas was in Tacloban since the day before Yolanda made landfall. When hotel guests were already crying for help, hotel guests claimed Roxas just walked past them, surrounded by his bodyguards, unperturbed by the chaos that was starting to unravel. Then he was lost from television cameras—for days.
Dylan Rodríguez, “Death Was Swiftly Running After Us: Disaster, Evil, and Radical Possibility”:
Unexpected displacement and premature death are absolutely unremarkable to Filipinos, above and beyond exposure to the worst of naturalized environmental disaster and intensified poverty (although I will not rehearse the socioeconomic, health, or mortality data here). Whether it is due to the reified status of the Philippines as the most underdeveloped and structurally impoverished place in the Asia Pacific, or its colonial and neocolonial subjection to U.S. hegemony and American-proctored, hyper-militarized domestic state violence, the scene of [Hurricane Katrina] is not altogether alien to us. Memors of the Filipino diaspora, across class and regional distinctions, can almost universally state that they are immediately and personally connected to the episodic or systemic fallout from environmental hazard/disaster, assassination, acute government repression, or U.S. military occupation/mobilization… A central political and theoretical problem defining the global and historical structure of Filipino intimacy with death and terror is its relative alienation from a common sense of white supremacy that sees, analyzes, and viscerally experiences mortal Filipino suffering as the logical global and historical condition of white (American) life…
Of our contemporary global ordering, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt write in their widely read text Empire: “Empire is emerging today as the center that supports the globalization of productive networks and casts its widely inclusive net to try to envelop all power relations within its world order—and yet at the same time it deploys a powerful police function against the new barbarians and the rebellious slaves who threaten its order. The power of Empire appears to be subordinated to the fluctuations of local power dynamics and to the shifting, partial juridical orderings that attempt, but never fully succeed, to lead back to a state of normalcy in the name of the “exceptionality” of the administrative procedures.
…What I find more significant here, however, is the manner in which “natural” disaster itself, as a normalization of profound bodily violence against “slaves and barbarians,” most often escape the critical lens of critical theorists, activists, and even human rights advocates. This is to demystify the notion of “natural disaster” as something that naturally kills the abject of Negri and Hardt’s Empire. The apparent unavoidability of things like volcanic eruptions and Category 5 hurricanes [edited to add: and typhoons] must be theoretically and politically distinguished from the proctored processes and architectures of mass-scale death that are manufactured in the midst of natural disaster’s presumed inevitability. Perhaps the targeted chaos, socially planned displacement, and flexible (non) administration of “relief” and fatality in moments of disaster illuminate the global dominion of white civic life as the fundamental collective project that simultaneously precedes, constitutes and overdetermines empire, globalization, neoliberalism, and so forth…
Disaster, conceived in the present-tense regimes of white supremacy, definitively and conclusively means the end of any viable, much less rational, possibility for the future of white liberal humanism. Something that many survivors of European and Euroamerican colonialism, slavery, and genocide share is a durable belief in the existence of evil, a basic conception that its force of possibility is always lurking in the overlapping spiritual and material worlds, and a powerful (though often understated) conviction that evil inhabits and posses the white world, its way of life, and its relationality to “others.” Liberal white humanism, which contantly circulates and rearticulates notions of a shared universal “human” character, while morbidly militarizing against manifest human threats to the integrity of the coerceively universalized white body, cannot authentically survive the white supremacist time of disaster. In fact, white humanism can survive at all only if it is capable of persistently reconstructing its apparatus of meaning to accomodate the materialization of white evil in the face of black New Orleans, Aeta Mt. Pinatubo, and so forth. Perhaps, then, another question we might visit is, What does distaste tell us of evil? What happens when we look up and evil is armed absence and militarized neglect, intentional and institutional without a doubt, but materialized through the white world’s persistent festival of health, happiness and physical integrity in the face of such incredible suffering?
To answer the questions I’ve received: yes, as far as I know, everyone I know in the Philippines is alive. No, I do not have family in the region, but have family friends and coworkers who do, all of whom, as far as we know, are physically safe, but some of whom have lost homes and been evacuated out of the area. Perhaps this goes some way in assuaging what I’m sure are the well-meaning worries of some readers. As part of the Filipin@ diaspora, I always marvel at the ways in which Filipin@s are often expected to occupy a welcoming repository space for Western liberal catharsis, read as symbolic figures of global disaster; at how many people have emailed to say that they can’t stop thinking about me (being, I assume, the only Filipin@ they know), about Yolanda/Haiyan, about the impact of such “natural” disasters, etc. I do appreciate these emails. I also wonder if the same people wonder about the impact of other disasters, such as Nestlé and Dole and OceanaGold and illegal logging syndicates and the American military and the American medical-industrial complex or construction work in Qatar, on the same populations, whenever they eat candy bars or are attended to by a Filipina nurse or wear a cherished gold necklace or admire a mahogany bedframe or look forward to the World Cup. If they do, I receive no emails about it.