DAVAO CITY – Residents of Typhoon Pablo (International Name: Haiyan)-hit town of Cateel, Davao Oriental said they were discouraged by a barangay official and an Army officer from joining a rally last month that demanded “fair distribution of food and other relief materials”.

The rally was organized by the group Barug Katawhan, an organization formed by the typhoon Pablo themselves. One of their rallies last year ended in a forcible taking of relief goods from inside a temporary storage area in the regional office of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Renalden Palmera, 26, of Sitio Bulao, Barangay Taytayan of Cateel, said he and other residents were called to a village meeting at the barangay hall on March 2 by their barangay captain.

Many of the sitios of the barangay are five to six kilometers away from the barangay center.

“All of us who attended the rally were invited. They have an attendance sheet and all of us got letters with our names on it,” said Palmera.

Palmera said the barangay captain allegedly told them “sa pag-adto namo diri, nagpakauwaw ra daw mi dili lang sa barangay apan sa tibuok Davao Oriental (when we went here [Davao City], we put our barangay and the whole Davao Oriental to shame).

“He told us not to join rallies especially those organized by Barug Katawhan,”Palmera said.

Ester Canabe, 57, also a resident of Barangay Taytayan, said she told the barangay captain that they “would not stop our participation in Barug Katawhan until we get our demands.”

However, Canabe said that a certain “Lieutenant Soquilla” of the Army joined the conversation and warned that “siguradaha lang nga sa inyong pag-adto ang inyong mga anak dili mabutang sa kaalutan, mao na iyang sulti (Just make sure that your children will not be put in harm’s way, that’s what he (Soquilla) he said),” said Canabe.

When asked how she took the alleged soldier’s statement, Canabe said that “mura kog gihadlok, nganong moingon siya atimana imong kabataan, kinsa mang inahan dili? (it [statement] was meant to scare me, why would he say that I take care of my children, what mother wouldn’t?)”

“Sa pagpaniid nako niya, mura man mi niyag giingnan nga naay mahitabo sa among mga anak (When I observe him, it seems he is warning us that something will happen to our children),” she added.

Canabe said she also finds it “suspicious that we are called for a meeting but what happened was not a meeting but they were telling us not to join Barug Katawhan anymore.”

More than being told not to go to rallies anymore, Palmera claimed he was also hit by a village leader, where he named him when he filed a complaint with the police in the area.

He said former Purok Leader Joseph Juanillo hit him in the stomach last March 11”. Palmera said Juanillo “was particularly angry because I was one of those who complained about the favoritism in the distribution of relief goods in the purok.”

Palmera showed Davao Today a request by the Cateel Police Station to the Rural Health Unit of Cattel for a “medico-legal certification”.

The request said that he was “boxed several times hitting the left abdominal part of his body by a person known as Joseph Juanillo.” The police office request that they be provided with a copy of the result as they will use it for their investigation.

Canabe claimed that relatives, friends and those close to the barangay officials were often given priority to receive first the relief goods and other assistance from the government.” She said that “from the DSWD, the relief goods are given to barangay level officials then to purok level for distributions”.

The system worsened during the election in 2013 with a “color coding” scheme.

“Green means you are for the incumbent, yellow is neutral and red is opposing party. The green gets favored in terms of relief,” she said.

Barug Katawhan spokesperson Karlos Trangia said that “such system of inefficiency, favoritism and militarization of relief has been the problem of the Typhoon Pablo victims of Davao Oriental”.

“These are the legitimate calls which Barug members carry with them when they go to rallies in the first place, to demand that a more sincere and realistic system be put in place. It’s the government’s role but it failed,” said Trangia.

Trangia said that government agencies “should not wait or respond only because victims rally.”

Canabe said that “two years after, we are still very short of food and our homes are still in tent which drips even during light rains.”

One day before the February 25 protest of Barug Katawhan in Davao City, President Benigno Aquino visited Cateel town.

“Habang nasa helicopter po kami kanina at binabaybay ang Davao Oriental, wala pong duda na sa aming nakita, talagang nagbabalik na ang normalidad sa inyong lalawigan. Ibang-iba na ito sa nakita nating sitwasyon matapos ang paghagupit ng bagyong Pablo. Sa lakas ng bagyo, halos mabura sa mapa ang ilang mga bayan,” said Aquino in his speech before thousands of Cateel residents.

A report from the Philippine News Agency said that “the President also outlined the various programs for the rehabilitation of the town of which a P10.5 billion fund is allocated for the province”.

“Housing was also tackled were the government promised to relocate 1,179 families a project initiated by the National Housing Authority (NHA) and where the President suggested a timetable to be implemented in the middle of this year,” the report said.

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