DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 Feb) — No distribution list, no release of rice “kahit mag-rally pa sila” (even if they stage a rally).
This was the message of Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman to Barug Katawhan (People Rise Up), a group of Typhoon Pablo survivors behind the January 15 barricade in Montevista town, Compostela Valley that paralyzed transport along the Davao-Butuan highway for at least 10 hours.
The standoff was resolved later in the day when Soliman and Barug officials signed an agreement for the release of 10,000 sacks of rice that Barug, which complained of alleged irregularities in government’s distribution of relief goods, would distribute.
No release of rice has been made because while Barug has submitted to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) a distribution plan, it has not submitted a distribution list.
“It wasn’t released because they have not complied with our agreement, Soliman told reporters Friday after Task Force Pablo’s briefing at the provincial capitol of Compostela Valley in Nabunturan town.
“What they gave us was just a list of places where they would repack the 10,000 sacks of rice. That’s not enough because we are accountable for the 10,000 sacks of rice, Soliman said, adding, “kahit magrally pa sila… labag sa batas ang pinaggagawa nila sa amin” (even if they stage a rally, we cannot release the rice because what they want us to do is a violation of law).
She said the distribution list is not a special requirement for Barug but a requirement for all. Other entities asking for rice such as municipalities, comply with the requirement, she said.
Soliman said this is the reason why there are family access cards. “This is being done at the barangay and municipal levels. This is not new and this is not during disasters only but in all other programs such as 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program). We have a list of names with addresses and we have a system where the Commission on Audit can come to us, or it can go to the beneficiaries to check on them. That is the reason why we are asking for a list but until now they have not given it.”
She explained that the DSWD will have to account for the 10,000 sacks of rice which cost millions of pesos.
A sack of rice at the National Food Authority costs P1,350. Ten thousand sacks would cost at least P10 million pesos.
“So kahit na mag-rally sila nang mag-rally, hanggat hindi nila ibibigay yung listahan, hindi rin namin maibibigay kasi may responsibilidad kami” (No matter how many rallies they would stage, we cannot release the rice unless they submit the distribution list because we are responsible for that), she said.
Barug agreed in the January 15 document signed with Soliman, on the following: the submission of a distribution plan which includes place and time; distribution list containing the names of recipients and addresses; names of responsible persons who shall guarantee safe distribution; place of distribution (barangay/purok); and distribution to be witnessed by DSWD representative and a provincial and local government unit (LGU) representative.
The agreement also provides that the release of rice will be done at DSWD regional office depot; that the goods are acknowledged as coming from DSWD and PLGU (provincial LGU); that a report after distribution be rendered; and that proper storage of the rice following safety standards is ensured.
According to the distribution plan it submitted, Barug will distribute the rice in eight towns in Compostela Valley (Nabunturan, Montevista, Laak, Mawab, Compostela, Maragusan, New Bataan and Monkayo); three towns in Davao Oriental (Baganga, Cateel and Boston); one town in Davao del Norte (Kapalong); and three towns in Agusan del Sur (Veruela, Loreto and Trento).
Compostela, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte belong to Region 11 or the Davao region while Agusan del Sur belongs to Caraga region.
Barug organizers expressed fears the list would be used for something else.
In a press statement dated February 11 and e-mailed to media outlets by BAYAN-Southern Mindanao, Barug called for Soliman’s ouster, citing alleged irregularities. It alleged that the DSWD has been “conniving with the fascist AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) for its counter-insurgency program in demanding the names of rice recipients–a questionable government procedure given the relief and quick assistance nature of such a service.”
“The DSWD’s insistence (on the distribution list) bolters our suspicion that the names could be used against other members of Barug Katawhan so that they too could be charged with similar criminal offenses, earlier filed against Barug Katawhan leaders.
Eight members and supporters of Barug are facing charges for leading the Montevista barricade.
Bello Tindasan, Barug’s farmer sector leader, said residents fear the military’s participation in the rehabilitation program might be used for counter-insurgency.
“We have received threats from the military, saying that those who joined the barricade were members of the NPA (New People’s Army),” he said.
Soliman said the police filed cases against eight leaders of the group for alleged public disorder, among others.
No charges were filed against those who participated in the barricade, she said.
About a hundred members of Barug picketed in front of the DSWD regional office on February 12 calling for Soliman’s ouster, citing DSWD’s alleged corrupt and inept implementation of relief and rehabilitation operations.
“On the corruption and allegation… it is important to have evidence,” Soliman said.
On calls for her ouster, Soliman said: “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
“Serving at the pleasure of a President who is equally insensitive to the plight of the poor fits her well enough.. she did the same kind of ‘pleasurable’ service, too, under the hated regime of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” said lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, second nominee of Bayan Muna partylist.
Bayan Southern Mindanao spokesperson Sheena Duazo said the recent exposé and cases filed against the DSWD are “glaring proof that the agency is lying about transparency.”
Suazon said the January 15 barricade was a concrete proof of DSWD’s negligence.
Grace Curso, Barug’s women sector leader, claimed Barug represents the “real” voices of the victims and that their group will investigate any compaint related to government’s relief and rehabilitation program.
Curso said they opened a “grievance hotline” at 09497697407 for issues related to the ongoing relief and rehabilitation work.
“Anyone may contact this number any time and we will immediately respond to help in addressing the needs and concerns of Pablo victims,” said Karlos Trangia, Barug spokesperson.
Organizers claimed 5,000 joined the barricade last month but Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy and Soliman, who were supposed to be in a convoy to New Bataan with representatives of foreign governments and humanitarian agencies, said there were only about 1,500.
Of this number, only about half were from Compostela Valley province, Uy told a press conferece in Tagum City two days later. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)