Six years after Super Typhoon Yolanda, one of the world’s deadliest typhoons in history, reduced the Eastern Visayas region to rubble, the public seems to have already forgotten the deaths of thousands and the catastrophic amages running in the billions that the disaster has wrought.
The ‘Tacloban Five’ never did. And for persistently crying for justice from a government that continued to neglect them, they were imprisoned last February 7, 2020, in treacherous raids and arrests in the dead of zero-dark hundred.
Marissa Cabaljao, a dimnutive peasant woman who serves as secretary general of disaster survivors alliance People Surge, was arrested along with her 1 year-old baby. Marissa, whose family lost an entire year’s harvest to the super typhoon, has long been the face and voice of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors who came together in the afermath of ‘Yolanda’ to demand justice over government negligence.
Like Marissa, all four other detainees were victims-turned-justice seekers in People Surge. But all four came from the University of the Philippines Tacloban campus, a bastion of youth activism in Yolanda ground zero like its Diliman counterpart.
Dr. Efleda Bautista, a retired educator who is currently president of People Surge, recalls how Mira Legion, a student leader in UP Tacloban who is now a staff member of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Eastern Visayas, worked hard with her to secure the long-delayed emergency shelter assistance for the teachers who lost their homes to ‘Yolanda.’
Frenchie Mae Cumpio, alternative media practitioner in Eastern Vista and radio program Lingganay Han Kamatuoran, and Marielle Domequil, staffer of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – Eastern Visayas, were both former officers of People Surge who led their various relief missions and researches.
Frenchie is a familiar voice to many Taclobanons as the anchor of Lingganay, where she gave disaster survivors all the air time they need to discuss their multitude of problems ranging from floods to crop failures.
Marielle, meanwhile, has taken the path of prophetic mission as a lay worker in RMP to bring relief and rehabilitation programs to underserved communities.
Alexander Philip Abinguna, ‘Chakoy’ to his close friends and colleagues, served People Surge’s members who confront reprisals from police and military as a human rights worker under Katungod, the local chapter of Karapatan.
We recall how it was only in 2018 when People Surge was recognized in the 5th Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan (Environmental Heroes Award) precisely for winning their battles for disaster assistance and government accountability in the face of climate disruption—the very gains that Marissa, Mira, Frenchie, Marielle, and Chakoy continued to work for up to the moment of their arrests.
The plight of the Tacloban Five is but the latest case in a deepening human rights crisis faced by people working to protect their lands, the environment, and our climate. The Philippines was declared the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders in 2019.
We thus join the mounting calls for the immediate release of the Tacloban Five. Let us call on the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to end the climate of impunity amid this era of climate emergency.#