‘Disaster Capitalism’: Corporations cashing-in on typhoon tragedy in Philippines
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‘Disaster Capitalism’: Corporations cashing-in on typhoon tragedy in Philippines

FIVE years after the devastating Typhoon Haiyan ripped through central Philippines, vulnerable victims are facing another threat from the very corporations tasked with helping them.

A report from Al Jazeera’s 101 East has uncovered evidence that those people who lost their homes are being forced from their land by private developers looking to cash in in the wake of disaster.

Haiyan was the biggest typhoon recorded in almost a century and destroyed large swaths of the archipelago as it slammed into the Philippines in the early hours of 8 November 2013. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) it killed thousands and affected nearly 9.8 million people, displacing some 4 million people and destroying 500,000 homes.

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Sicogan Islands in the Philippines was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Source: 101 East

The storm also devastated the country’s infrastructure, hospitals, schools and public services, causing US$12 billion in estimated damages while also laying waste to the agricultural sector.

One year on from the disaster, the United Nations declared the country to be well on the road to recovery; but it seems that wasn’t the case for all affected Filipinos.

“What happened on Sicogon is disaster capitalism,” Village chief Wenefred Gonzales told 101 East reporter Drew Ambrose.

“They took advantage of the situation after the tragedy and left the people with nothing,” he said, referring to Ayala, one of the 20 government-enlisted corporations brought in to help rebuilding efforts.

SEE ALSO: Philippines promises nature, business balance as Boracay prepares to reopen

Gonzales is from Sicogan where 6,000 people were left homeless after the super storm. They now face a new struggle to keep hold of their land in the face of mounting pressure from one of the wealthiest and oldest conglomerates in the Philippines.

The village leader claims the company restricted food rations in a bid to drive people off the island and surrender their land.

“Their goal was to make the people lose hope from the hunger, so that we will have no other choice but to leave the island,” Gonzales said.

Those who were determined to stay, found that rebuilding their lives wasn’t going to be easy with big corporations standing in their way.

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Village chief Wenefred Gonzales is a survivor of Typhoon Haiyan on Sicogan Islands in the Philippines. Source: 101 East

Al Jazeera’s investigation found, that months after Haiyan struck, Ayala and SIDECO the company which already owned most of the island, sent out a memo to boat owners and nearby village chiefs instructing them that construction materials were banned on the island.

While both SIDECO and Ayala have denied those claims, a security guard who worked for them disagrees.

Anecito Mercurio Jr, a Sicogon island storm survivor, claims he was given specific orders to stop supplies from reaching villagers.

“We made sure nobody can bring in any materials to rebuild their house. All materials, including cement and tin roofing … they don’t allow to dock near the port,” he told 101 East.

SEE ALSO: Philippines: What is happening on Boracay?

Mercurio also says residents were harassed and intimidated to sign deals to hand over their land.

In response to the allegations, Ayala’s Ruel Maranan said he will investigate the claims of materials being barred but denied that residents have been treated unfairly.

“I think the term ‘exploit’ might be too harsh for us because we are very authentic and transparent with our plans… such disasters are way beyond business initiatives. In Ayala’s case, actually what we saw was an opportunity to respond to those who were affected.”

That “opportunity” has seen Ayala develop the Sicogon Island Tourism Estate development which includes an airport runway, jetty port and resort accommodation on the idyllic island.

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Fishermen on Sicogan Island, the Philippines. Source: 101 East

The development plans to extend to 250-room accommodation, and eventually include retail areas and other resorts as well as being a tourism hub for the region.

A March press release said the company planned to provide “inclusive growth and economic development through long-term recovery and livelihood programs and job creation.”

They estimate around 20,000 jobs will be created and about PHP1 billion (US$18.7 million) in earnings will make its way back to the community.

But many of the Haiyan survivors are yet to see any of this benefit and instead have had their lives torn apart for the second time.

“You can see how the typhoon will destroy you,” Gonzales said. “But you don’t see how they are going to destroy you.”

You can watch the full 101 East investigation here