Typhoon Haiyan – An Opportunity for Transformation?

Typhoon Haiyan – An Opportunity for Transformation?

 By Robert McElhinney

Last November, Toronto residents joined the local Filipino community in responding to the tragedy caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Fundraisers were organized to help the millions left without homes, and vigils mounted to mourn more than 6000 dead. Four months later, most of us have already forgotten.
Devastation after typhoon Haiyan hits Sout East Asia

In the Philippines, however, the work of reconstruction has only just begun. In the days and weeks following the disaster, the government struggled to rehabilitate the national north-south highway, and to add the additional ferry services needed to accommodate the flow of relief supplies.

Later, the focus shifted to building bunk houses for the homeless. Amidst outcry at the poor quality of the construction, there has been a commitment to modify and rebuild to international standards.

Public debate over mismanagement of development funds is not new to the Philippines. Right at the time that the typhoon hit, organized opposition to “porkbarreling” was ramping up. The issue here is continuing presidential discretion over 1,134.8 billion pesos in public funds [$28 billion Cdn].

A small portion of these funds – 25.2 billion pesos in the proposed 2014 budget – are Priority Development Assistance Funds. These PDAF funds are allocated to legislators for purposes which they determine in their regions.

In one recent scandal, allegations are that 100% of this PDAF has been lost to kickbacks – 50% to legislators, 10-15% to local governments and implementing agencies, and 35-40% to a prominent business woman named Janet Napoles.

Typhoon Haiyan has drawn new critical attention to the porkbarreling system. On the surface, it would seem that this crisis presents an opportunity for President Benigno Aquino to direct discretionary lump sum funds to the purpose of rebuilding the devastated regions of his country.

However, this top down approach to spending has historically favoured the rich over the poor. Already grass roots organizations are expressing concerns about the government’s plan to develop a public-private response to the crisis. To date, there has been no organized consultation with victims or organizations supporting them.

What are we in Toronto to make of this convergence of major disaster with public outcry against a corrupt system of managing public funds in the Philippines? It should be transformative. It is a time for momentum to bring about real change.

In 1986, people power removed the corrupt regime of President Marcos. Sadly, removing the man did not transform the system. This time people power in the Philippines must target the very workings of governance itself.

We here in Canada can support the grassroots movement for change. If we do not, we become part of the problem, because our own corporations are there.

The Philippines government allows Canadian mining companies to extract tremendous natural resources, while exporting up to 100% of their profits. This permissive environment has led to complaints of environmental destruction and human rights abuses.

Canadians have a responsibility to pressure our government to regulate the activities of our mining companies working abroad. At the same time, we can support people power by raising the porkbarreling issue with our government representatives and partnering with community based organizations in the Philippines.

Can a leopard change its spots? When the people of the Philippines rise up again in a collective cry for change, and when we their allies abroad are with them in the struggle, it is possible.

Robert McElhinney is a retired United Church minister, whose daughter and her family live in the Philippines. Over the last six years, he has visited the Philipinnes three times. In 2012, Bob and his wife Dorothy participated in an exposure tour to learn about the impact of large scale mining on local communities and the environment in the Cordillera region of north Luzon in the Philippines. His last visit to the Philippines fell one month after Typhoon Haiyan.




Ice Storm Left Many Residents in the Dark

The ice storm in December left many without lights.
A freak ice storm, Toronto’s worst on record, caused more than 300,000 people to lose power just in time for the holidays.

Freezing rain during the Dec. 21 storm produced a blanket of ice stretching from Southern Ontario all the way to New Brunswick. In Downsview, the weight of that ice caused many trees to snap and knock over power lines, leaving residents in the cold for days.

“We had people who were without power in some cases for six days,” said Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West). “The most difficult situations were in apartment buildings. Whole apartment blocks lost power and they only had some emergency elements that worked. They basically lost heat, lost hot water. They only had their elevators working and some emergency lights, but not much else. That left people stranded in a really, really difficult way.”

The last twelve months have seen a series of extreme weather events in Toronto. In July, a storm and flash flood caused power outages, transit interruptions and widespread basement damage. Following on the heels of the December ice storm, a January freeze brought record low temperatures, freezing pipes and bursting water mains. Flooding from one such break closed the subway station at Yonge and Bloor.

While the science is still debated, climate change experts suggest extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and more intense. Meanwhile, municipal governments are on the front lines of managing the resulting emergencies.

As the December ice storm unfolded, Perruzza and his staff worked diligently to ensure that the city’s crisis organizing committee and Toronto Hydro were made aware of all power outages reported to his office by constituents. They were constantly in touch with property owners and landlords to ensure that police visited to check for vulnerable people who needed to be taken to one of the two warming centres that had opened up in the Ward. Additionally, they worked to provide fuel and generators to buildings that were in desperate need.

“We also did a door to door, particularly with people whom we knew were elderly, to make sure that they either were ok, or needed to be taken to relatives’ or friends’ places who had power,” Perruzza said.

According to Perruzza, who lost power at his own house for four and a half days, the most difficult part of the whole ordeal was not being able to provide constituents with answers. More than anything, people wanted information. They needed to make decisions about whether to move or stay put.

Toronto Hydro, however, was unable to predict when electricity would be restored. With electrical demand already poised to outstrip supply, recovering from emergencies takes time.

“People were waiting it out hour by hour and the power wasn’t returning. They were sort of in the dark,” said Peruzza. “That was a very difficult thing for me to deal with and something we need to change going forward.”

Investing in our electrical grid, water mains and transit system is critical to being prepared for the next big storm.

A 2013 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives warns decision makers to pay attention a growing infrastructure deficit. One contributing factor, suggests the report, is the downloading of infrastructure responsibilities to municipal governments. In 1955, 75% of infrastructure investment came from federal and provincial governments. By 2011, municipal governments were responsible for almost 50% of infrastructure investment.

Overburdened municipal governments can`t plan for the future if they`re too busy coping with emergencies. It`s time to stop making decisions in the dark.

By David Ros

Welcome to the Downsview Advocate

In 2013, journalists told us a lot of uncomfortable stories about the mayor of our city.

The media faced criticism for reporting on a video that couldn’t be found, and for making allegations which had not yet been proven in court. And yet, without the pressure from reporters, police might never have released the evidence that prompted city council to withdraw most of the mayor’s power.

Sometimes, reflecting and shaping reality are one and the same.

As we launch this first edition of the Downsview Advocate, we seek to reflect and shape the life of our community. How many of us voted for Ford? How many of us will vote for him again? How many of us knew the TDSB tried to sell off the soccer field at Elia Middle School? How many of us signed the petition to save it?

Reality is always multi-faceted. For some, Downsview is a place with a reputation for violent crime and low voter turnout. For others, it represents a pioneering community of longstanding immigration, hard won successes, and vibrant development. What is it for you? A place you live because you can’t afford prices elsewhere or because you’re proud to look down on the city from its highest point?

Downsview got its name from its height, and its unique perspective on the cityscape. The Downsview Advocate seeks to offer readers a unique perspective on the life of their community, and to become a catalyst for social change and forward movement. We hope you’ll enjoy this first edition, and we hope you’ll become a part of reflecting and shaping Downsview.

The Downsview Advocate is your newspaper. Please write to us at: info@downsviewadvocate.ca

Send us your letter to the editor, promote your community event, publicize your business. Together, let’s help make Downsview a place we all can be proud of.

By Tanya Chute Molina