Redress for negligence, incompetence in handling disaster
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said it will seriously and thoroughly study legal recourse against President B.S. Aquino and other government officials whose gross negligence and unforgiveable incompetence exacerbated the losses in lives and property due to Supertyphoon Yolanda (“Haiyan”).
“When the loss and suffering could have been reduced, prevented, and avoided, we cannot simply look past the bumbling, inept and self-righteous disaster response by the Aquino administration,” said Atty. Edre U. Olalia, newly-reelected NUPL Secretary-General. “The trail of 6,000 dead on the streets and shores of Eastern Visayas leads to Malacanang.”
“Along with relief and rehabilitation, we will seek redress for the errors, oversight, neglect, and yes, even, crimes, that may have been committed by the very persons responsible for minimizing risk in the face of disasters. We have to answer the question: Have our government officials caused more deaths and losses than they should have averted?,” he said.
The NUPL, a 300-strong nationwide organization of human rights lawyers, upon motion from its members from Visayas, resolved and began preliminary discussions during its Third National Congress December 1, 2013 in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, on possible criminal, civil and administrative suits against government agencies and officials for their handling of post-Yolanda affairs.
Initially, members during the plenary cited Republic Act No. 10121, or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, as one source of potential liability. Section 19 of RA 10121 penalizes, among other acts, “dereliction of duties which leads to destruction, loss of lives, critical damage of facilities and misuse of funds”, “forcibly seizing relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities intended for or consigned to a specific group of victims or relief agency”, and “misrepresenting the source of relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities.”
The NUPL 3rd Congress also resolved to look into the international law aspects of governmental responsibility and would seek the assistance and support of international groups, even as it pointed out that the appropriate charges have been made at the proper time in the proper venue against present and former leaders.
Atty. Olalia said taking stock and finding accountability must make responses to future disasters more expedient, intelligent, cohesive, and methodical. “To just move on and forget,” he said, “is to lose the lesson. To believe that bayanihan and Filipino resilience will be a long-term solution to disaster management is to perpetually wallow in the frustration that we have put the wrong people in government who are morally, if not criminally, responsible for all these unnecessary horrible deaths and devastation. It cannot just be business as usual.”
NUPL, which has raised funds for victims through several activities, also demanded an accurate accounting of donations coursed through government agencies. “This is an administration that has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar already,” said Atty. Olalia, referencing the recent pork barrel and presidential pork scandals. “The sign is clear: The Aquino presidency has been one big disaster in itself.”
During the NUPL Congress, the organization staged a concert to support a rehabilitation program in Escalante, Negros Occidental. NUPL has also secured a grant from an international aid agency for relief operations in Eastern Samar and Leyte, and house-rebuilding in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental.
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