Inspiring Response to Typhoon Ondoy Fundraising of Progressive Women’s Group in New York

Please donate to GABRIELA here, via one of FiRE’s  PayPal account:  http://bit.ly/ornJy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 5, 2009
Reference: Valerie Francisco, Chairperson of Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE), Secretary General of GABRIELA-USA
Email: fire.nyc@gmail.com

Inspiring Response to Typhoon Ondoy Fundraising of Progressive Women’s Group in New York

New York – On September 26, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy, also known as Typhoon Ketsana, made landfall in the Philippines and laid waste to 26 provinces, including the National Capital Region (NCR).  The typhoon has displaced more than 300,000 people, with a death toll of 200 and rising.  Filipinos around the world immediately responded with grass-roots fundraising to help rebuild the damages by the typhoon and assist families who lost their homes or their loved ones.  In New York, the progressive women’s group, Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment (FiRE), member of GABRIELA-USA and BAYAN-USA, committed to raising $1,000 by October 3rd, for immediate assistance to affected communities in the Philippines.  They also committed gathering in-kind donations to follow.   An inspiring response has met FiRE’s efforts.  FiRE has raised more than $2,000, surpassing their immediate goal for immediate relief.  Donations are still coming in and are being gladly accepted.

“It is definitely amazing,” says Irma Bajar, Secretary General of FiRE.  “That even in the midst of disaster, Filipinos can come together like this.  Even our non-Filipino friends, co-workers and family have given us a lot of support, from clothing drives to financial donations.”

However, humbled and grateful as Bajar is, she is also angry, citing the Philippine government’s inaction before the typhoon and their suspicious response afterward.  “You can see how broken, how corrupt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration is.  Before, she spent all of the Filipino people’s money on her trips to other countries.  Now, she wants all donations to go through her government.  Does she think we’re stupid, that we can’t see what she’s trying to do?”

Bajar is referring to a Philippine Star article that came out in August 15, exposing the overbudget spending of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on her diplomatic trips abroad.  Arroyo had rerouted Php 800 million ($17 million) from the government’s contingency fund for emergencies, such as the Typhoon Ondoy calamity, to cover her visits to other nations.  After the typhoon, Arroyo had also set out directives that relief goods and donations from that do not go through the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) would be taxed.    She recently backtracked and claimed that only aid from “unaccredited” organizations would be taxed.

However, the effect is tremendous on grass-roots, community-based organizations independent of the government.  The directives of Arroyo keep much-needed relief from getting to communities. Grass-roots organizations, such as GABRIELA working on the ground with poverty-stricken communities and guarantee that aid will go to directly go to these communities, are being restricted by the government.  With the Arroyo administration’s track record of corruption scandals, handing donations to Philippine government agencies is seen as particularly foolhardy.

Filipino-Americans and Filipino immigrants view Arroyo’s response to the typhoon as a cover-up for her administration’s criminal negligence and corruption.  Jackie Mariano, Deputy Secretary General of FiRE and a student at Hunter College of the City University of New York (CUNY), comments, “This disaster wasn’t God-sent.  This was man-made.  It’s not just the lack of government preparation for typhoon season that comes every year; it is also the government’s policy in allowing corporations to acquire Philippine land and use it however they want, without any oversight on how they might weaken urban infrastructure.”

Mariano mentions Marikina, a part of Metro Manila that was heavily hit by the storm.  Land use conversion of Marikina has been rampant and the area has housed export processing zones, which are free trade zones exempting businesses from taxes or government regulations.  An unintended effect of land use conversion is the restructuring and weakening of the land, making it more vulnerable to flooding in the rainy season.

This has made community workers such as Bajar more determined to get in-kind donations and aid straight to stricken communities and people’s organizations in the Philippines, without being held up by government officials.  “People who were displaced by Ondoy deserve better.  We all know it.  This is why so many people in the community responded.”

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