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‘Yolanda’ survivors slam local officials for unfair treatment during a public forum

CARIGARA, Leyte—A group of super typhoon ‘Yolanda’ survivors criticized the local government officials of this town and its other organizers after they were allegedly barred from joining the provincial grassroots consultation intended for them on Wednesday (April 11).
“We came to attend the grassroots or public consultation for Yolanda survivors but what happened was that we were denied entrance because we don’t have an invitation. But why named it as public consultation if it was only for selected people and being held in an exclusive area?” asked Pete Carlos, a person with disability and resident of the town.
Carlos, along with more than 60 members of the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), had to wait at the side of the road holding his crutches for about seven hours while organizers escorted visitors onboard their marked vehicles to and fro the campus of a private Catholic school.
Inside the small meeting hall of the college, presidential assistant for special concerns Usec. Wendell Avisado spoke about the importance of “consultation, cooperation” for the national government to succeed in implementing its various rehabilitation programs in Yolanda corridors.
In attendance were Leyte Governor Leopoldo Dominico Petilla, municipal mayors, regional directors of national government agencies led by National Housing Authority, several government employees and non-governmental organizations, among others.
In his speech, Carigara Mayor Eduardo Ong also apologized for the sudden change of venue due to the problem of the cooling system of their local government unit.
He then thanked Avisado for gracing the event and for giving attention to the rehabilitation problems of the affected local government units five years after Yolanda pummeled the province.
The Rina Reyes of the land rights group Rights Network and CYSP was not assumed on the shabby treatment they received from the local organizers.
“April 11 was supposedly the 4th leg of the Provincial Grassroots Consultations, spearheaded by the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Special Concerns and Oversight Office for Yolanda Rehabilitation. But the community of San Mateo and Jugaban, Carigara, along with the CYSP was refused entrance,” Reyes said.
“The events point to depriving the communities a chance to participate. It was this morning, the day of the consultation, that the change in venue was confirmed. Then, we were refused entry,” she added.
Reyes said that organizers were into a “security overkill” when they were required that names should have been listed in the attendance and each must secure a gate pass.
“National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the Avisado’s office negotiated for our entry. First, we were told that five, two from CYSP and three from the communities, will be allowed inside. When we were on our way up the stairs to, hopefully, at least join the open forum, we were stopped dead in our tracks. We were asked to write down our names. Then, they asked NEDA to compare our names to the records upstairs.
“Two, three minutes were enough for us to get the clearer message, we were on pity roll,” she said.
According to Reyes, the leaders decided to leave and were wanting to hold a meeting when they returned to the garbage post of Land Transportation Office just a few meters away from the venue of the dialogue.
“A few minutes later, however, we are being requested to return. The leaders stood their ground. It was at this moment, that Dir. Kim de Leon (of Usec. Avisado’s office) committed that they will be coming to us. After all, what public consultation would matter, without the public?” Reyes said in a statement.
“But as everything went wrong, in the end, things favored the communities. Avisado, along with NEDA, met the communities at the very place where we were seated – on the road, under the sun and the rain, beside LTO’s garbage can. The communities had 15 minutes with him,” Reyes said.
Avisado met with the group at about 2:30 pm already, yet the survivors thanked him the commitment that housing will be free for the beneficiaries.
“Avisado promised that before anything happens, a dialogue will be held. For the meantime, the people considered these enough. They won, this time,” Reyes said.
Leyte Gov. Petilla maintained that the dialogue is “not for local officials, barangay officials, but for the benefits of those who were hit by Yolanda.”
(RONALD O. REYES)

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