That V word-A A +A
Friday, March 1, 2013
THE three-day barricade by Barug Katawhan and other groups in front of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) XI Regional Office ended last February 27, 2013 but the matter apparently is not finished. Sec. Dinky Soliman of DSWD said that cases would be filed against leaders of the protest action.
Barug Katawhan, described as “a movement of typhoon victims demanding genuine relief and rehabilitation and environmental justice”, conducted the protest action after the impasse over the provision of a list of recipients to facilitate distribution of 10,000 sacks of rice. The rice had been promised to Barug after the January 15, 2013 barricade along the highway in Montevista to ventilate their grievances about the poor delivery of relief services to communities affected by typhoon Pablo.
Frustrated by the tepid response of DSWD the protesters broke into the compound and carted away rice and relief goods, which they proceeded to repack for distribution. The police later recovered these.
Local government ordered the dispersal of the action. There was a tussle as the police breached the barricade. Fifteen people were hurt. The protesters also confiscated a handgun from a military agent whom they claimed had infiltrated the action.
The barricade ended on February 27 on a high note, with a written agreement between DSWD and Barug that stated among others that there would be “no retaliation between Barug Katawhan, the local police and DSWD”. The DSWD OIC Regional Director was also quoted in news accounts saying that they had gone through a healing process during the dialogue with the help of one of the leaders of Balsa Mindanao, one of those who supported the barricade. An online newspaper attributed to DSWD Assistant Secretary Gudmalin who had met with and ironed out the agreement with Barug a statement to the effect that “in the process of reconciliation, everyone involved in the incident must forgive each other and hold no grudge.”
The following day it was announced that DSWD would press charges against leaders of the action that was described as a ransacking of the regional office. It was alleged that the organizers had misled protesters. A few when interviewed had claimed that they were supposed to have joined the EDSA anniversary celebration or an event organized by the Davao City local government and were promised a sack of rice each. At the very least, the leaders would be charged with “looting and destruction of public property”. News accounts quoted a Malacañang source saying that violence that had been committed in the ransacking. The President later condemned the resort to violence. Subsequently, talks were rife that the protest action had been reduced to mob rule.
Maybe it is just a case of emotions running high, but the use of the V word (I meant “violence”. Why? What were you thinking?) by the highest officials of the land could not pass without comment. Schooled by mentors who painstakingly differentiate between conflict and violence, I am taken aback by the seemingly flippant use of a loaded term. When one refers to a group’s action as “violence” it would not be too farfetched that the response to them would also be violent.
I wonder if the unnecessarily charged reactions from Malacañang are also because the head of office involved is one of the most visible, accessible and well rated officials, and that somehow the barricade got viewed as an attack against her. I have high respects for Sec. Dinky Soliman and her work, and personally do not support calls for her ouster. But although she represents the office and it is her name chanted by protesters, it seems to me that she is not the institution that is being called to task.
I myself would like to take the long view. Individuals from rural communities who had suffered a series of disasters opted not to passively wait for help to come their way and instead mobilized and took action, in fact they took the action right to the very doorsteps of institutions they are holding accountable. I would have chalked that up as a gain for people empowerment. Community organizers and those engaged in political movements – a number of whom are now in government -- would have been the first to understand the significance of the action. Social scientists would have called it “agency”.
I say series because these are communities that are reeling from the effects not only of the disaster that Pablo wrought, but also the disasters caused by extractive industries like mining and logging, and monocrop plantations, as well as wars and unresponsive governance. Disasters are not only caused by nature, the choices that humans make have no less deleterious effects. Governments and business had made decisions for and about Mindanao that for a long time made a cash cow out of us while our people, particularly marginalized communities in rural and urban areas, received peanuts. Disasters are not just about the loss of homes and lives in the aftermath of flashfloods and very strong winds; the loss of land and livelihood due to economic displacement and wars, and even identity and culture due to marginalization are no less disastrous.
Given what they suffered in the past and continue to suffer from in the present, it comes to me as a surprise that all these communities asked for when they camped out in front of DSWD was the more efficient distribution of relief goods.
As for the protesters who were reportedly duped by the organizers, I don’t know, but it seems to me that if I were from a remote area, used to associating armed men with combat and rarely encountering government officials, and I suddenly get asked by people I do not know, people in uniform perhaps, about what I was doing in a barricade, I would likely also be evasive and say I just came along because I was promised something. One wishes that people would be more forthright, but sometimes it is just about self-preservation. But I digress; the point is that the legitimacy of the struggle of Barug are not undermined by the claims of manipulation.
The present government has been trying to demonstrate sincerity and consistency in doing good work. But without structural reforms the conditions that foster structural violence fester and it would only be a matter of time before the more vulnerable among us would feel their disastrous effects again. And again.
The point being that while one often hopes that sincerity and good work would be sufficient, they rarely are enough to suddenly erase the years of hurts and harms.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 02, 2013.