Mindanao needs solidarity

Terry Conway reports on the after effects of Typhoon Sedong in the Philippines

Many readers of Socialist Resistance attended meetings during November addressed by Maria Pampillo from Mindanao in the Philippines. One of the things Maria mentioned in her presentations was that the Philippines is in the typhoon belt and that the communities in which she works are regularly affected by the resulting floods.

At midnight on December 16 2011 Typhoon Sendong (“Washi”) landed in Northern Mindanao bringing heavy rains and flash floods which devastated many communities including the two most populous cities in the area: Iligan City and Cayagan de Oro. Within 3 days almost 1000 people were known to have died, 15, 00 were still missing and more than 167,000 individuals and 20,000 families had been displaced. The death toll has continued to rise as a result of one of the worst incidents of flooding the country has ever faced which has also destroyed large areas of land on which crops were being grown.

This is part of what Maria had to say in an email of December 21

“Since the typhoon started midnight and the flash flood at early dawn, people are caught off guard, while sleeping. Many victims are living in the communities along the riverbanks which overflows as high as 15 feet of its usual height. In Iligan City, the latest report is that death toll is accounted at 285 and 406 missing. But as the search and rescue operations is still going on, the authorities are expecting more missing persons as presently accounted.

Many families had lost their houses and their properties where nothing is being saved. Two of our comrades in Iligan City had completely lost their houses and still 10 others are also affected, where their houses and properties are being damaged. Three NGO offices which is part of our network had also being affected by the flash flood and many members of our peoples organizations especially from the urban poor and transport workers specifically the drivers organizations are affected.

As of the moment, all our members and network organizations are being mobilized for rescue and relief operations. We have solicited support from our members and concerned individuals for the immediate relief of our comrades and mass base who are severely affected by the calamity. Our long term concerns are rehabilitation of those comrades and members who had lost their houses and properties and the traumatic effect of the incident to the victims especially the children,”

Socialist Resistance supporter Ian Parker also happened to be working in Mindanao at the time the disaster struck and was able to tour the area and send a powerful eye witness report which we immediately carried on our website.

Ian pointed out that the political situation in the country is extremely complex – that the effects of Washi (or Sendong as it is called locally) are downplayed in the rest of the country because it hit Mindanao. He continues:

The Lumad indigenous peoples are sometimes patronised by the authorities (encouraged to sing and dance for their own versions of Christmas celebrations, which start in the Philippines in September) but are mostly badly treated, robbed of their land and then told to respect the rights of the new landowners (this is the current refrain of current President Aquino). These people in Mindanao are caught in land disputes with the Muslim population of the south of the island, which is site of active armed groups, including fundamentalists who, in turn, hate those they call ‘the reds’.

There is widespread Islamophobia outside Mindanao, which the government provokes even while calling for a ‘Christmas ceasefire’ and negotiating with the Islamic groups….. But at the same time the fundamentalists here do actually pose a deadly threat to progressive forces. There is also an insurgent Maoist group, the New People’s Army’ (NPA) operating as the armed wing of the communist party, active in Mindanao…… The NPA refuse the cynical Christmas ceasefire calls, pointing to continuing harassment of local communities (as well as disappearances of activists, which is something that happens here in the Philippines not only in Mindanao), and they attack members of other left groups, including murdering those deemed enemies in ambushes and during incursions into areas held by their rivals.

Here in Mindanao, in the midst of this, there has emerged (from within the crisis of the old communist movement) a new democratic movement that has taken huge steps to engage with different forms of politics, and to work with the Lumad and with Muslim communities who are beginning to break from fundamentalism in the course of struggles for independence and land rights.

The Revolutionary Workers Party – Mindanao (RWP-M) has been organising in the interior and in cities like Cagayan de Oro, and is very active now in Iligan. This group has been working around questions of food security – the right of local communities to determine what is grown and how it is distributed for their own good rather than for multinational companies – and declares itself to be ‘ecosocialist’. It is active around lesbian and gay rights (and LGBT activists are there with these comrades in political debates and also in the practical physical protection of areas of Mindanao (from the NPA and Islamic fundamentalist groups).

This pits the RWP-M also against the Catholic Church authorities trying to block the Reproductive Health bill currently proceeding at snail’s pace through parliament. This ecosocialist group informed by and working alongside feminist organisations now faces a very difficult task in balancing the defence of its own communities while engaging with the slow ‘peace process’ (something which brings the wrath of rivals down upon it day by day).

There is a risk now, as with every disaster relief operation, that well-meant expressions of support for the victims of the typhoon from outside the Philippines will be channelled into government controlled operations, and that this will sideline those who are really suffering and who are now mobilising themselves with, for example, the help of the RWP-M.”

Socialist Resistance, in discussion with comrades in the Philippines and internationally launched an appeal for solidarity with those affected by the typhoon and subsequent floods and have channelled the donations we have received through Ranaw Disaster Response and Rehabilitation Assistance Center (RDRRAC) http://rdrrac.wordpress.com/ a grass roots organisations that comrades in the Philippines have confidence in. Through their website you can follow the progress of relief work where all the money and resources are getting to the people who need it – many of whom still don’t have access to clean drinking water or basic food stuffs.

So far we have raised £760 which we have sent to the Philippines. Thanks so much to those who have contributed already. To make your donation today: send Cheques to PO Box 62732, SW2 9GQ, made payable to Resistance and marked Philippines appeal on the bank or bank transfers to Resistance sort code 080228 Account no 70186297 – please send an email to contact@socialistresistance.org to tell us you have done this.

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