27 November 2013
Typhoons, aid corruption, and the arrest of Professor Kim Gargar
Rev Barry Naylor, Honorary President, CHRP-UK
Rafael Joseph Maramag, Secretary, CHRP-UK, 07958482753
While thousands of people continue to suffer from the destruction caused by typhoon Haiyan and with the emotional speech of the Philippines representative at the COP 19 climate change talks, it has been easy to overlook how the Philippines government treats its own citizens concerned both by climate change and by the way that the government conducts disaster relief. Today friends and colleagues of Professor Kim Gargar will be gathering outside the Department of Justice in Manila to protest against their colleagues arrest by the military last October.
On 4 December last year Typhoon Bopha hit the Southern Philippines with winds of more than 160 mph causing nearly 2,000 deaths. At the time there were many reports that the death toll was far higher due to landslides and flash floods that were triggered by deforestation from mining and logging concessions in the area. Complaints accompanied government relief efforts which arrived too little too late and which became a feast of corruption with shelters for victims being costed at vastly inflated prices and aid funds for evacuation equipment putting money into the pockets of local police and government officials. Community leaders complained that scarce aid supplies were distributed along political lines as local elections approached. The UN refugee agency UNHCR told reporters “perception of inequitable distribution is creating tensions”.
One local councillor, Cristina Jose protested about officials refusing to distribute relief goods, being held in a government warehouse, to her community. In January, 5000 local residents barricaded the national highway to protest against the government’s “selective” relief delivery system. The government brought in soldiers. On 4 March this year councillor Cristina Jose was shot dead on March 4 this year, by unknown gunmen aboard a motorcycle.
In April this year, Professor Kim Gargar, a scientist, and teacher at the University of the Philippines, who works for the Centre for Environmental Concerns, and who sometimes works for the Asian Development Bank, was a member of a mission to the area which was shocked to find the level of militarisation by soldiers whose presence seemed to be more about dealing with dissent and government concerns about communist insurgency than to assist with any relief efforts. The mission also interviewed witnesses on the assassination of Cristina Jose and about abuses by the 67th Infantry battalion in the area.
In late June this year, Professor Gargar returned on another mission engaged in a six-month resource mapping programme for the rehabilitation of the devastated areas and in particular for the recovery of rainforest environment. On 1 October government troops got into a fire fight with a local unit of the rebel New People’s Army (NPA). Later in the day they came across Professor Gargar who was working in the same area. The soldiers arrested the scientist claiming he possessed explosives, firearms and ammunition. The troops were from the 67th Infantry battalion. They further claimed that Professor Gargar joined the NPA in 2012, whilst Kim was clearly in Europe completing his PhD.
The arrest of Professor Gargar is providing some uncomfortable lessons about how disaster relief works in the Philippines, and about how the government deals with those who raise their voices on behalf of the disaster victims. His case is becoming a symbol of impunity for government aid corruption and human rights abuses.
To add your name to the campaign to free Professor Kim Gargar go to www.freekimgargar.org