After the Deluge – Election Violence and a Tropical Storm in Mindanao

By Eva Wu, KF9 Philippines

The world has been abuzz with Monday’s news of the election “massacre” in Maguindanao, Mindanao. About 50 lawyers, journalists and relatives of local politicians were abducted and brutally killed because of their affiliation with an opposition politician. This horrific event is being followed closely by the international media, including the New York Times and CNN, because it made Monday “the deadliest single day for journalists anywhere in the world” and was also “the worst politically motivated violence in the Philippines’ recent history.” The U.S. Embassy in Manila issued a travel alert on Wednesday as a result, because of “heightened tensions” and “significant military presence” in Maguindanao.

Ironically, while news of the Monday killings shocked the world, it hasn’t physically affected people here in Northern Mindanao quite as much as another news event which, in contrast, made just a small blip among international media outlets – tropical depression Urduja, which hit the area on Tuesday and caused flooding and landslides in Northern Mindanao. (Incidentally, no U.S. Embassy alert on the tropical storm thus far. Not one that I’ve received, anyways.)

The water had a bit abated by Wednesday morning, but across the street from the office people were wading in water up to their hips. A HSPFI colleague said the traffic island was completely flooded over when he looked outside at 3AM.

To be honest, after the initial shock and sadness of hearing about the Monday massacre, I shrugged and went about as usual. The murders happened relatively far away, and I’ve always felt pretty safe in Northern Mindanao despite the fact that there’s been a travel alert against U.S. citizens traveling to Mindanao for years. Ongoing conflict between the Philippines Government and Islamic militant groups such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf have resulted in sporadic clashes and kidnappings. (Having a very cursory understanding of this ongoing conflict, I was fascinated when I first learned that HSPFI, a Christian MFI, also serves Muslim clients. Unfortunately visiting those clients are largely off the table for me as a Kiva Fellow because of the safety concerns in those areas.)

The Monday killings however were NOT instigated by Islamic insurgents, but was instead (per the New York Times) “rooted in rivalries among local clans that the government had empowered as a way of combating the insurgents.” Sadly, news of violence between political clans aren’t new here. While the news was shocking, nobody seemed to be really surprised. People tell me that widespread corruption that occurs here, on all levels of society and government. Slip the cop a few hundred pesos to get out of paying a couple thousand pesos for a traffic ticket. Haggling over taxes on large businesses is an art form to be perfected. Local politicians who are in power aren’t individuals, they’re family. That’s just the way it is. It happens all the time here.

It happens all the time here. Just like natural disasters happen all the time here. Mindanao was lucky to be spared from the typhoons that hit Luzon/Manila in October, but that doesn’t mean that people here are immune to the whims of nature. I’ve met HSPFI clients who were affected by flooding this past January. Ms. Gilda Campeña stood in front of her lush garden and thanked Kiva lenders for her loan as my HSPFI colleagues told me that she had to rebuild her garden after it was destroyed by the January flood. How long did that take? Is she ok right now? Are all of the other HSPFI/Kiva borrowers ok? On the way to visit clients in certain villages I’ve passed treacherously bare sandy cliffs, that looked like they can swallow up the nearby landscape with the slightest provocation of rain. As other Kiva Fellows have shared, borrowers are vulnerable, and they’re often just one random event away from falling into additional hardships. Thoughts like this drove the election killings out of my mind and made me feel sick with worry.

With the worry came some anger as well. This was just a tropical depression. I’ve gone through many tropical storm landfalls without a thought or worry about after damage. How much could the damage from this storm have been avoided? Granted I lived out those tropical storms in developed countries, with good infrastructure that could channel storm flow and limit the damage. Maybe this is too much to expect from the government of a developing country though. Corruption, financing of political clans, power, violence. How high is providing good infrastructure on that list?

My HSPFI colleagues told me that the various branches are checking in with clients now and surveying the amount of damage that’s been caused by the storm. At least three branches were hit by Urduja. Hopefully everyone is ok, but it’s hard to say for sure right now. After this past January’s flood, HSPFI solicited food and clothing donations for affected clients; this might be done again now. Another HSPFI co-worker added that, in the worst case scenario hopefully the Hagdan’s life insurance programs would help. This is pretty dismal context for introducing HSPFI’s life insurance programs, but they’re very good and are worth mentioning here. The in-house mortuary aid fund (MAF) covers clients between the age of 18 to 60, spouses, and four beneficiaries/children (below 21 years of age, not married or employed) for natural and accidental deaths. For a one-time P50 registration fee and a P100 MAF contribution, the client’s family will receive a burial fee P10,000 if the client dies. If a spouse or one of the children dies, the client will receive P5,000 for each death. Coverage ends when the client’s loan ends.

The second HSPFI program, linked with insurance company UCPB, is even better. $300 pesos covers clients between 18 to 60 years of age, their spouses, and up to four children (below 20 years of age, again not married or employed) for a whole year, even if the client’s loan term ends or if the client leaves Hagdan. If the client dies in an accident, his or her family can receive a P100,000 claim plus a P7,500 burial fee. If a spouse dies accidentally, the client can receive 25% of P107,500; and 10% for a child. If the client dies a natural death, his or her family can receive a P50,000 claim plus the P7,500 burial fee. The same 25% and 10% of the P57,500 total applies for a spouse or a child’s natural deaths.

As the project officers survey damage from the storm, work and life continues as usual. This happens all the time here. I’m thankful that MFIs like Hagdan and microfinance can help in these situations, in whatever small ways possible. But still, it drives me crazy to think about the what-ifs. If things could somehow be different. How wonderful it could be.

Eva Wu hates asking questions that don’t have good solutions, and being angsty on Thanksgiving week despite the fact that it’s not a holiday in the Philippines! She’s trying Twitter as another way to get more up-to-date news out. Support her host MFI, Hagdan sa Pag-uswag Foundation, Inc. and Kiva borrowers in Mindanao through tough times by lending, or by joining the HSPFI lending team.

Posted in blogsherpa, Hagdan sa Pag-uswag Foundation, Inc. (HSPFI), KF9 (Kiva Fellows 9th Class), Philippines Tagged: blogsherpa, election violence, Eva Wu, HSPFI, KF9, Kiva, Kiva borrowers, Maguindanao, microinsurance, mindanao, Philippines microfinance, tropical storm, Urduja

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