Typhoon survivor, rights groups call on UN to probe govt's slow, inefficient response

READER'S VIEWS - The Freeman

Through an oral intervention delivered before member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva last Thursday, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda survivor Reverend Irma Balaba of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines strongly urged the council to conduct investigations into the "slow, inefficient, and inadequate response of the Philippine government to the plight of the millions of typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda victims."

In the statement supported by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, Balaba recounted that "thousands of desperate and traumatized residents fled the regions affected by the typhoon, as its impact on the affected communities exacerbated the poverty incidence and intensified the number of victims of displacement in the Philippines."

"Up until now, the government does not have an alternative plan for the displaced communities that would ensure their long-term alternative livelihood, safe relocation areas, free housing and access to social services," she said.

 Balaba also urged the council to monitor and investigate how the assistance extended by the international community for relief and rehabilitation in the devastated areas, amid the massive pork barrel and corruption scandals under the Aquino administration.

Balaba is among the members of the delegation of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (EcuVoice). Balaba's intervention during the General Debates of the 26th UN HRC sessions was delivered by Sister Stella Matutina of the Sisters Association in Mindanao (SAMIN), who is also part of the Philippine delegation of human rights advocates participating in the UNHRC sessions.

The rights advocates also lamented that "instead of focusing on providing the long-overdue assistance for the typhoon victims, the Aquino administration trains its guns on aid workers who provide crucial, timely and relevant support for the victims."

Five women relief workers of the Panay Center for Disaster Response (PCDR), a partner NGO of the international Catholic relief agency Caritas, were cuffed, gagged, and bound with packaging tape by three unidentified men in their office in Jaro, Iloilo at around 1 a.m. on June 19, 2014. The masked men seized two laptops, memory sticks, flash drives, mobile phones, logbooks, ledgers, cameras, and several pictures documenting the relief operations of PCDR throughout Panay.

The PDCR provides relief aid to typhoon Yolanda-struck communities in northern Iloilo, Capiz, Antique, and Aklan. PCDR has served about 50,000 families in the region with relief and rehabilitation assistance — food, non-food, shelter, among others. Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have however previously tagged aid workers of the PDCR as members of the New People's Army in communities in Estancia, Iloilo.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, who headed the EcuVoice delegation at the UNHRC said, the pattern of the ransacking and robberies in offices of progressive organizations in Metro Manila in the past two years, when mostly data storage devices were seized by unidentified men, is very similar to what happened in the PDRC office.

From March 2012 to February  2013, Karapatan and Bayan documented twelve cases of break-ins of  houses of activists and peace advocates, and offices of progressive organizations; robberies involving items such as laptops, USB/flash drives, video cameras, and the like; and surveillance of known personalities and members of such organizations and institutions.

"It appears that the intelligence operatives of the State are gathering more data on their perceived government critics and even aid organizations. These incidents are clearly systematic attacks against organizations and institutions, made to appear as cases of common crimes. It is only the military which would have the motive and means to carry out these attacks," Palabay said.

The other members of the EcuVoice delegation at the 26th sessions of the UN HRC are lawyer  Edre Olalia, secretary general of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), Dr. Angie Gonzales, lawyer Mary Kristerie Baleva, and Julie Palaganas of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

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