In the eye of the storm, serving the people

Paninindigan Special Issue

December 2009

“A President must be on the job 24/7, ready for any contingency, any crisis, anywhere, anytime… As a country in the path of typhoons …we must be as prepared as the latest technology permits to anticipate natural calamities when that is possible; to extend immediate and effective relief when it is not….The mapping of flood- and landslide-prone areas is almost complete. Early warning, forecasting and monitoring systems have been improved…”

These were the confident words of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo in her State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27 as she vowed that her government will continue to invest in environment even as, according to her, the country is “safer from environmental degradation”. But on one fateful day in September 2009, all these talk about disaster preparedness was rendered empty by tropical storm “Ondoy”, and a week later by typhoon “Pepeng”, which together brought the heaviest rains, worst flooding and landslides in the country in decades.

This string of calamities served as a grim reminder of the reality of climate change and how vulnerable the country is especially with a government that is obviously ill-prepared to deal with natural disasters. More importantly, it also showed how policies and projects long opposed by the people like large-scale dams and foreign mining do cause death and destruction, and thus the urgent need to institute policy reforms.

But even as we demand accountability from the national government and call for policy changes to avoid a repeat of the enormous devastation of lives, properties and livelihood due to typhoons, we also bring attention to the remarkable spirit of bayanihan (“helping one another”) among Filipinos. For the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and our member-organizations, partners and friends, the slogan “Serve the people” has always been more than just a catchphrase, but a way of life. And this we showed in our swift response to calls for relief and assistance from the victims of flooding and landslides in Metro Manila and other provinces in Luzon.

BALSA and other relief efforts

balsa work1balsa work2balsa work3for more photos, please visit

Through the Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), Bayan and its allied organizations have launched relief drives in Ondoy- and Pepeng-affected areas in Metro Manila, Laguna, Pangasinan, and Baguio. With the support of various organizations, relief formations, and institutions, BALSA has so far provided relief goods to around 7,300 families in 13 barangays in three cities and three provinces badly hit by the flooding and landslides. (See Table 1)

balsa table 1

BALSA targeted communities that have yet to be reached by relief efforts from government and other private sector initiatives. It also ensured to reach victims who have stayed in their communities instead of those who have moved to the evacuation centers since many relief drives, both government and private-led, tend to concentrate more on these centers. In this way, BALSA widens the reach of the relief initiatives, avoids the duplication of efforts, and maximizes the goods and services it has generated.

The relief operations in Pangasinan and Baguio were in coordination with Bayan Central Luzon and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. In San Nicolas, Pangasinan and Baguio, BALSA delivered a total of 130 sacks of rice, 36 boxes of canned goods, and 15 boxes of cooking oil on top of the 2,000 plus relief packs that it allocated for the affected barangays in the said areas. The delivered goods were enough for 2,000 families. Some 13 balikbayan boxes of clothes and blankets from Bayan USA were also brought to the Cordillera region.

On December 19, through the Serve the People Corps of Bayan- Southern Tagalog, BALSA also sent goods and boxes of clothes for the Christmas season for the still flooeded areas in Laguna. Some 1,000 Christmas packs and 70 boxes of clothes were turned over to Bayan-ST.

Aside from the distribution of relief goods, BALSA has also conducted medical missions in selected communities. With volunteer doctors, nurses, and health workers moblizied by the Health Alliance for Democracy and the Samahan Operasyong Sagip (SOS), BALSA provided free medical check-up and distributed medicines to flood victims in Barangay Bagumbayan in Libis, Quezon City and in Barangay San Isidro in San Nicolas, Pangasinan.

BALSA’s relief operations have been made possible through the cooperation and support of formations such as the health sector’s Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS), Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), and Bayan-USA. Contributions for relief goods, mobilization of volunteers, and other forms of support have also come from IBON Foundation, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, AGHAM Advocates for Science and Technology for the People, Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Bayan Muna, Kodao Productions, and others. There were also individual donors such as the Cabaero family of Pampanga.

Among the major sources of support is Bayan’s chapter in the US, which has raised cash donations for Ondoy and Pepeng victims aside from gathering hundreds of boxes of clothes, food, and medicine from across the US. Bayan-USA also sent volunteers to the Philippines to join on-the-ground relief operations. According to Bayan-USA, it has always been the responsibility of Filipino people’s organizations in the US to provide the emergency response needed for their families and loved ones back home.

Big support came from Bayan-Hong Kong and Bayan-Canada which also promoted BALSA in their respective areas. BALSA received the biggest contributions in the Hong Kong relief drive by the Filipino community. Friends and comrades from Europe, particularly in the Netherlands and Italy also gave significant contributions to the relief drive. Workers, union members and migrants in Japan through the Asia-Wide Campaign (AWC) and Migrante Japan were the first to extend international support for the relief efforts of BALSA.

Meanwhile, organizations and institutions in the health sector and their partners formed the Samahang Operasyong Sagip (SOS) as their main platform to respond to the relief and medical needs of the calamity victims. SOS includes the Council for Health and Development (CHD), Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), Alliance of Health Workers (AHW), Community Medicine Development Foundation, All-UP Workers’ Union – Manila, Health Action for Human Rights, Health Students’ Action (HSA), People’s Health Movement – Philippines, Center for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG), and NARS (Association of Community Health Nurses and People’s Health Advocates).

As of this writing, SOS has already provided relief goods to 11,603 families in various areas in Metro Manila as well as in the provinces of Laguna, Pangasinan, and Benguet (in partnership with BALSA). It has also conducted a total of 15 medical missions that served 5,012 patients in calamity-hit areas. (See Table 2)

balsa table2(click to enlarge)

On the other hand, Bayan Muna’s (BM) Serve the People relief drive has, as of Oct. 18, has already reached 7,384 families in six cities in Metro Manila, three towns in Rizal, and one town each in the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Laguna. (See Table 3)

balsa table3

Another major relief project is the Tulong Anakpawis, a coordinated relief effort spearheaded by Anakpawis Partylist in cooperation with Task Force Obrero, Sagip Kanayunan, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kadamay, Crispin B. Beltran Resource Center, Piston, Pamalakaya, National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates-Youth, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Institute for Occupational Health, Safety and Development (IOHSAD) and volunteer individuals from the labor, peasant, urban poor, drivers, vendors, fisherfolk, and other sectors. (See Table 4)

balsa table 4

Coping with trauma

Meanwhile, in addition to the distribution of relief goods, some institutions have began to provide psycho-social therapy services to help calamity victims cope with the trauma caused by the disaster. The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC), for instance, has given such therapy to children in Barangay Olandes, Marikina City. According to CRC staff, they have observed symptoms of trauma such as lack of sleep, rousing from sleep and catching breath as if drowning, fear of darkness, and fear of water, among the children in typhoon-hit areas.

According to the CRC, the victims, especially the children, need long-term rehabilitation not only in terms of livelihood but also psychologically because the trauma they suffered is unimaginable. In one case, for instance, children and their families had to cling to a large tree for 48 hours in order to survive as they awaited government rescue that never came.

To address the needs of children who suffered from trauma due to Ondoy and Pepeng and to prepare for future disasters, the Task Force Children of the Storm, a network of organizations dealing with children’s rights and welfare and of which the CRC is also a member, will publish a self-help manual. The manual is intended as a simple, easy-to-use handout that anyone can use to help their children cope psychologically during calamities, according to the CRC.

Socioeconomic impact

The twin devastation brought by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng hit the Philippines at a time when the country is still reeling from the impact of the global financial and economic crisis. According to the latest (as of Oct 16) consolidated report of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), the total cost of damage from the two typhoons reached P21.29 billion. The cost of damage to agriculture accounted for 64.8% of the total, and infrastructure, 35.1%. About 7.43 million were affected in the country’s 12 regions, including Metro Manila[1]. (See Table 5)

balsa table 5Compiled by Bayan using data from the NDCC Situation Report No. 31 dated Oct 16, 2009

Initial estimates from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) claimed that the macroeconomic impact of the two typhoons is equivalent to about 0.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP)[2]. Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, on the other hand, said that aside from the budget deficit possibly ballooning to P300 billion this year, 2009 economic growth could also fall to 0.4 – 1.4% because of the storms from an earlier forecast of 0.8 – 1.8%, although the downgraded target has yet to be made official[3].

Government acknowledges that current estimates are based on conservative assessment, which did not include the thousands of homes and businesses that were devastated. Nonetheless, such extent of damage and dislocation will surely worsen the social and economic effects of the global crunch on the chronically depressed, backward Philippine economy and the exploited and downtrodden Filipino people.

While government tends to downplay the effects of the recent typhoons on the GDP, with NEDA pointing out that reconstruction will spur domestic growth, the costs are actually much higher considering the still unquantified short- and medium-term effects of losses in jobs and livelihood due to Ondoy and Pepeng (although independent think tank IBON Foundation, in a preliminary estimate, said that Ondoy alone would push at least 276,000 families in NCR, Calabarzon, and Central Luzon into “long-term poverty”).

Note also that official unemployment before the storms ravaged the country was pegged at 7.6% nationwide (National Statistics Office’s July 2009 Labor Force Survey), with the top three highest regional unemployment posted by the NCR (12.1%); Calabarzon (11.1%); and Central Luzon (9.9%) – the regions most affected by the typhoons. These regions together account for 79.9% of the total number of permanently displaced workers due to economic reasons from Jan 2008 to Jun 2009 as well as 69.3% of the total number of families affected by Ondoy and Pepeng. (See Table 6)

balsa table 6 Compiled by Bayan using data from the NSO on unemployment, BLES on displaced workers, and NDCC on affected families by Ondoy & Pepeng

Aside from economic displacements, the poor and marginalized sectors such as the families in the slums as well as villages of small fishers face physical dislocations as government uses the recent flooding in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon to justify the demolition of squatter colonies. According to the Metro Manila Inter-Agency Committee on Informal Settlers (MMIAC), there is an estimated 544,069 households living in different illegal settlements[4], including waterways. The Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), on the other hand, is renewing its push to relocate the lakeshore residents and “illegal settlers” near Laguna de Bay, which could affect about 100,000 households[5].

However, it remains to be seen if government will dismantle not only the shanties of the urban poor but the factories and other huge infrastructure such as business establishments blocking the flow of floodwater. In addition, the experience of Pangasinan residents with the flooding caused by the release of water by the San Roque Dam also challenges the wisdom of decades-old policy of government on building mega-infrastructure to attract foreign investments.

The siltation of the Agno River in the province which causes it to easily overflow and flood nearby towns is also blamed on large-scale mining operations, which the Arroyo administration is aggressively promoting to foreign investors. In Benguet and other Cordillera provinces which were hit by landslides after Pepeng poured heavy rains, large-scale mining operations are held responsible as well for making the region vulnerable to landslides.

Educating and mobilizing the people

Indeed, beyond providing immediate and short-term relief and assistance to calamity victims is the need to ensure that long-term policies are put in place to protect the environment and avoid a repeat of the destruction caused by Ondoy and Pepeng. Towards this, BALSA ensured that its every relief operation is also used to educate the affected communities of the underlying issues behind the calamities and what are the needed reforms to better protect them from future natural disasters.

Bayan-NCR promptly developed and published an education material on Ondoy and Pepeng that comprehensively discusses the relations of the calamities and their impact on the people with government policies favoring big private corporations and allowing the wanton plunder of the national patrimony. A series of public fora on climate change has since been launched by different organizations to help enlighten the people and explain to them the root causes of the disasters. During Bayan’s 8th National Congress, a resolution was passed calling for a nationwide education campaign on climate change aside from a separate resolution expressing sympathy and solidarity with the families of the victims of the flooding and landslides.

The 12-vehicle convoy to Pangasinan and Baguio on Nov. 5 and 6 under BALSA, was not only a relief effort but also a protest caravan against the San Roque dam and foreign mining. In Urdaneta, Pangasinan, a protest rally was held in front of the municipal hall to highlight the accountability of the San Roque Power Corporation (SRPC) and the National Power Corporation (Napocor) in the massive flash flood that affected 38 cities and municipalities. In Baguio City, a short program was held in Burnham Park to discuss the ill-effects of large-scale foreign mining and how it aggravated the effects of Pepeng in the Cordillera region. A similar protest and relief caravan will be held soon in Southern Tagalog.

To be sure, natural disasters will continue to hit the country in the future with drastic climate changes facing the Philippines and the world. But armed not only with the spirit of bayanihan and of serving the people, but most importantly with the firm resolve to struggle for genuine change that will free us from oppression, exploitation and from the harmful effects of an environment degraded and plundered in the name of profits, we will survive and triumph. #


[1] National Disaster Coordinating Council (Oct 16, 2009) NDCC Update, Situation Report No. 31 on Tropical Storm “ONDOY” {KETSANA} Glide No. TC-2009-000205-PHL and Typhoon “PEPENG’ {Parma} Glide No. TC-2009-000214-PHL

[2] BusinessWorld (Oct 7, 2009), Economic planners see 0.2% hit to GDP, Accessible online at

[3] Agence France-Presse (Oct 19, 2009), Philippine economy falls victim to twin storms, Accessible online at

[4] Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 18, 2009), P32B needed to house 500,000 squatter-families, Accessible online at

[5] Philippine Daily Inquirer (Oct 18, 2009), Legarda, Manda call for relocation of lakeshore residents, Accessible online at