Despite agreement, DSWD’s Soliman to sue ‘instigators’ of protest by typhoon victims

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 March) — Typhoon Pablo victims who barricaded and attempted to take away relief goods from the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development here voluntarily left after signing an agreement that provided among others that neither party would retaliate or file charges against the other. But an official today said DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman was poised to sue individuals who allegedly instigated the victims to stage the protest last Feb. 26-27.

DSWD Assistant Seretary Camilo Gudmalin told MindaNews in a text message Monday that Soliman announced her plan during a flag ceremony Monday to sue the people who reportedly instigated the Barug Katawhan members to ransack relief goods at the agency.

Barug is a group of Pablo survivors from Compostela Valley (ComVal) and Davao Oriental provinces, who complained the DSWD has not given them enough relief goods.

Gudmalin added the alleged instigators will also be sued for “misleading typhoon victims to join the rally on a promise of celebrating EDSA revolt, go to swimming, and to receive a sack of rice from Mayor (Sara) Duterte.”

Asked if Soliman has the names of the persons to be charged, Gudmalin said: “She’s still validating with Davao police and TV footages of the group leaders who were seen in the rally.”

Gudmalin’s statement came four days after the victims returned home after signing a seven-point agreement with the DSWD on the future conduct of relief operations, particularly in areas that had not received enough assistance.

The two parties also agreed that neither side would file charges against the other.

Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, who had helped in mediating Barug and DSWD, said Soliman’s argument “stinks.”

“She can’t accept the fact that the empowered Pablo survivors can effectively wage a struggle for their rights and win some victories even if small and momentary,” he said.

He added: “Dinky (Soliman) should better explain instead where the billions of Pablo relief and rehabilitation funds did go! Also, she should explain what happened to the billions of peace bonds that she and her cabal of GMA (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) turncoats feasted upon!”

Soliman had denied involvement in the controversial Poverty Eradication and Alleviation Certificates (PEACe) bonds which also implicated then Arroyo’s finance secretary Jose Isidro Camacho.

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, who spoke at the barricade, told MindaNews that Soliman was given wrong information by individuals who belong to her network, particularly “those involved in the past anomalies with PEACe bonds.”

“Tuo pud siya dayon (She believed easily)… Then, she put the blame on the survivors and on the leaders. The standoff could not have deteriorated if the DSWD director made herself available,” Ilagan said in a text message.

She added, “Why did they renege on their promise to give the rice? Will they use it for PNoy’s electoral campaign? Only their incompetence and insincerity can match their lack of genuine concern for the survivors.”

Sheena Duazo, spokesperson of Bayan Southern Mindanao, which has supported Barug since January 15, said no case or statement that the Pablo survivors were used “can cover up the overpriced bunkhouses, forged signatures, double compensations, and the humanitarian crisis her ineptness and corrupt leadership has sown.”

“Ms. Dinky Soliman can wield all the powers of the president in whose pleasure she serves. But, she cannot silence the voices of those who do not compromise justice just for the pleasure of the president,” Duazo said.

The DSWD said in a statement posted in its website last March 1 that “reliable sources said some protesters disclosed they were not really aware about the protests being staged by Barug Katawhan.”

The protesters were told to attend the EDSA Celebration in Davao City, to go swimming, to “receive personally” a sack of rice each by the city mayor, the statement added.

City police chief Senior Supt. Ronald dela Rosa, who led the dispersal of the barricade on orders from Duterte said that Soliman has not talked to him about her plan to file a case.

Gudmalin said the DSWD was still gathering evidence.

Barug demanded for the release of 10,000 sacks of rice from the DSWD as promised by Soliman during their January 15 barricade in Montevista town.

But the DSWD refused to release the rice saying Barug did not submit a distribution list with the names and addresses of the recipients. The group argued the local government units already have such list.

On the second day (Feb. 26) of the barricade, some 4,000 protesters destroyed the gate of the DSWD regional office and took away relief goods from the compound, saying they “confiscated” what were intended for Pablo victims.

However, police and soldiers dispersed them and retrieved the goods. A number of protesters were injured in the melee that ensued.

Barug and the DSWD, along with Gudmalin, resolved the issue through a closed-door negotiation that ended the barricade on the night of Feb. 27.

Barug members left the city last Feb. 28 bringing home 100 sacks of rice which they agreed to be deducted from the promised 10,000 sacks of rice, and some donations from citizens who did not want to be named.  (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)