A reflection on Mangkhut, Florence and the state of the Philippines

Canada must provide humanitarian assistance without conditions to the people of the Philippines | TONY SEED

My thoughts have been with all my friends and the fraternal peoples of the Philippines and South Asia threatened from super typhoon Mangkhut. My aim in this reflection is to analyze the news coverage of both Florence and Mangkhut and to inform Canadians about the reality facing the Filipino people.

(September 15) – Mangkhut is the 15th and strongest storm this year to batter the Philippines.

Mangkhut (also known as Ompong) has brought ferocious winds of up to 130mph and a storm surge of up to 23ft. The Category 5 typhoon greatly surpasses the strength of Hurricane Florence now striking the US Atlantic coast.

The typhoon mainly affects the northern tip of the main island of Luzon. (The weather today in Cebu in central Philippines is warm and sunny.) Initial reports indicate 25 people have unnecessarily died as of Saturday night (EST), which may be greatly understated. An entire TV5 film crew is also missing. Rice, corn and vegetable production is likely to be seriously affected, as Luzon is known as the “rice capital” and breadbasket of the archipelago.

The storm has already wreaked havoc on Guam and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, causing widespread flooding and power loss. It threatens Hong Kong, southern China and Vietnam as it moves westward.

“Disaster journalism” – moral relativism

The progress and devastation of the super typhoon is somewhat acknowledged by the Canadian media. A moral relativism comparing Florence and Mangkhut as “different as water and wind” reigns supreme, as in the AP report carried in this morning’s Toronto Globe and Mail and CTV.

Interestingly, the national broadcaster CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is reporting on the typhoon solely from its newsroom in Toronto, relying on feeds from wire services. It seems mainly concerned about the fate of some 3,500 Canadians who have registered with the Canadian embassy. The tens of thousands of Filipino Canadians who have families in the Philippines seem to be of little consequence. CTV has just now adjusted its coverage. The “news” is sketchy and sensationalist, featuring satellite shots. For its part, the much smaller Weather Network does have a reporter or stringer reporting from Manila.

On the other hand, the CBC has sent several reporters to North Carolina in the United States to gather first hand reports on the effects of Hurricane Florence – even to pets.

Viewers have been treated to close-ups of downed trees and power lines, interviews with storm chasers, and residents who have refused to obey “mandatory evacuation” orders, presented as individual “human interest” stories.

Every TV news clip of and American state governor or FEMA official features a military officer on the podium. This passes without comment – as does the denial of civil liberties in the “mandatory evacuation” areas and a possible “shoot to kill” policy.

The media fails to mention potential known environmental disasters from coal ash and hog manure in the waterways in the poorest areas, or that the majority of the nuclear reactors are also located in the poorest areas of the Carolinas and many of them are not ready for category 4 hurricanes. [1]

The media recipe is reminiscent of the 2017 hurricanes, such as Maria and Harvey. The Canadian media reported almost virtually from wealthy areas in Florida and Texas, home to the snowbirds, to the exclusion of the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico, which suffered far greater devastation and horrific losses of human life.

The casual indifference of this media and its formulaic “disaster journalism” to all human life is shocking.

In 2018, according to a recent study, Sunday TV shows in the USA have covered Hurricane Maria’s deadly impact on colonized Puerto Rico for a mere 20 seconds despite mass protests last fall in solidarity with the Puerto Ricans. The extent of the death toll had been suppressed to the satisfaction of the Trump regime. The island government raised the official death toll to 2,975 only on August 28 after maintaining for almost a year that 64 people had died as a result of the storm, which was never questioned. It is outrageous that Trump and some US media are claiming the death toll is a “conspiracy.”

Climate change

A second feature of the coverage is that the influence of climate change is undeniable, but rarely discussed. So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic, both regions more than 30 per cent busier than average years. (As for Canada, the month of April was the coldest in 140 years.)

Despite the fact that 2017 saw a flurry of devastating and “record-shattering” hurricanes, enormously destructive wildfires, and extreme droughts, a report by Public Citizen concluded that major American media outlets “largely failed” to connect these weather events to the broader global climate crisis. A 2017 Media Matters study found that neither ABC nor NBC aired a single segment on their morning, evening, or Sunday news shows from August 23 to September 7 that mentioned the link between climate change and hurricanes like Harvey.

Scientists are now warning that Hurricane Florence could be affected by climate change in some of the same ways Harvey was, leading to massive amounts of rain over North Carolina and adjacent states.

Environmental racism


Update. Typhoon Mangkhut Update. What I wrote on Saturday about the possibility of landslides in gold mining areas has sadly come true. Nearly 100 people, miners and their families, are feared dead in a landslide that buried a mining shelter in Itogon, Benguet. 34 are verified to have died. Mayor Victorio Palangdan told AP that “the villagers, many of them poor, had few options to survive in a region where big corporations have profited immensely from gold mines.” | The STAR/Andy Zapata Jr.

Another serious question is the danger of landslides. The main area being hit by Typhoon Mangkhut is the Luzon province in northern Philippines inhabitated by some 4 million people. Of 999 mining applications in the Philippines, 497 of them are in the mountainous Northern Luzon region.

Canadian monopoly mining operations in Luzon are raping and pillaging the lands and resources of the Philippines and in some cases using money funnelled via Canadian NGOs to help “pacify” the resistance of the Filipino people including the indigenous peoples to this plunder. The environmental destruction they have caused contributes to the deadly landslides, which are common during storms and typhoons. A Barrick Gold mine is located on the island of Marinduque, site of the 1996 Marcopper Mining Disaster. It remains one of the largest mining disasters in Philippine history. One village was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, causing the displacement of 400 families. Twenty other villages had to be evacuated.  Marcopper, a Canadian moonpoly, was later acquired by Barrick.

Central Luzon is one of the regions that is primarily affected by the neo-liberalization of trade in the Philippines, given that it is the “rice capital” of the Philippines, formerly the principal export product of the Philippines. Now it is a net importer.

Philippines’ preparedness

A fourth feature of the news coverage is the stress on the preparations of the Philippines government, highlighting the response of the military, or referring to previous record typhoons. These reports are as ahistorical, false and misleading as those about the disaster preparations of the American state and federal governments.

The previous record Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Typhoon Yolanda) killed 7,300 people and displaced more than 5 million when it swept across the islands of the central Philippines in 2013. The media fails to mention that the incompetency and neglect of the then Aquino government was manifest in the wake of this devastating typhoon, as $48 million of disaster relief money was found sitting in banks while victims were crying for help.

More recently, Typhoon Karding and monsoon buffeted Manila and surrounding provinces in August. The fisherfolk group Pamalakaya reported that people living along the coastlines were flooded due to overflowing of waters. Communities along or near the coastlines were also flooded.

In the coastal areas of Bacoor and Cavite, the Pamalakaya estimated that around 1,000 fishing families and urban poor who live along the shoreline were affected by floods. “We direly need help in the form of relief and livelihood support. We are not able to conduct fishing activities for days now due to bad weather and rough seas,” Fernando Hicap, Chairperson, said in a statement.

Militarization of emergency aid


US Marines work from the back of a KC-130J Super Hercules at Vilamor Air Base, Manila, Nov. 11, 2013

Another serious danger is the militarization of emergency aid in the Philippines no less than the United States which is never mentioned. In particular, the US covets military bases in Luzon.

In 2013, the US military cynically used “typhoon relief” to establish a stronger foothold in the country. It deployed elite Special Ops troops and US Marines from Okinawa to conduct “humanitarian operations in the Philippines to aid survivors,” as did the Canadian Forces.[2] In total, the US deployed 9,500 U.S. military personnel, the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group, two amphibious ships, aircraft, 15 USAID units – along with  imperialist “humanitarian” NGOs such as World Vision.

The US aimed to re-establish its military domination of the Philippines, which is geopolitically well-positioned to be a base for war and aggression in East Asia and the rest of the world as part of Obama’s Pivot Strategy initiated in 2011.

American military installations in the Philippines in 1990

US military installations in 1990

Since the time the US annexed the Philippines in 1899 following the Spanish-American War, the heroic Philippine people have been affirming their right to be against US imperialism. In 1992, the US military was forced to shut down its bases and leave the Philippines in the face of massive opposition by the Philippine people. The US military has a long history of committing crimes against the people including rapes, thefts, physical assault and other abuses with impunity.

Despite widespread opposition, the Aquino government signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in April, 2014. Evan Medeiros, the US National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “This is the most significant defence agreement that we have concluded with the Philippines in decades.” [3]

In April 2015, the US demanded access to eight military bases, four of which were on the main island of Luzon. They expressed interest in Laoag airport and Batanes island, both in the northern part of Luzon. US planes had landed on Batanes during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s.

Disaster relief and crisis response was a key pretext for the EDCA agreement. According to a March 2016 arrangement, it enabled the US to build five new military bases on the islands – including Basa Air Base and Fort Magsaysay on Luzon – if they serve both US and Filipino troops as a way to get around the people’s opposition, as well as increase the time US troops can remain in the Philippines in each rotation. [4]


This brings us to the current reality. The typhoon coverage is part of the suffocating silence around the real concerns of the Filipino people and to camouflage the move to a militarized state.

US military officers reinforced by Australians have been “advising” the Philippine military in brutal “counter-insurgency” and “anti-terrorism” operations in and around the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindinao, which has been placed under Martial Law. These are euphemisms for suppressing the forces of the New People’s Army led by the Communist Party of the Philippines and other progressive and democratic forces, including the Indigenous peoples fighting for their rights.[5] The military has been used against workers on strike or locked out, despite the fact that the sites were as much as eight hours distance by road from Marawi. By June 2017 US “assistance” morphed to include “boots on the ground.”

Mindinao itself is rich in vast untapped mineral resources and is the object of massive foreign exploitation. The US Dole corporation alone has a sugar plantation of some 50,000 acres, which includes its own airfield.[5] Imperialist agriculture aims to wipe out petty production but on its terms, using the abundant cheap labour on US controlled monopoly farms and treating the production as an integrated part of US “production.”

Threat of fascism

Instead of using political means to resolve internal conflicts, the Duterte government is using military means, reactionary violence and fascist law, causing a catastrophe and calamity greater than any super typhoon.

When the government declared Martial Law in May 2017 it was accompanied with disinformation that it was unlike the draconian laws of the old fascist Marcos regime, or that it was something just for Muslim area like Mindanao province in the south. The aim was to paralyze the people and split them on religious-cultural and ethnic lines. Internationally, some “alternative” media even presented the diversion that President Rodrigo Duterte was anti-imperialist. On the other hand, the European Union and the Trudeau Liberal government play the “human rights” card regarding the “war on drugs.”

The fact that Duterte seemingly does not obey every US dictate regarding relations with China or Russia does not mean that the ruling elite is not under the thumb of US finance capital. It is not monolithic. It is characterized by factions and family dynasties, who have sold out the country lock, stock and barrel and are wrecking the economy and food production with neo-liberalism. The Philippines is an integral part of the imperialist system of states. These contradictions are part of the deepening inter-imperialist, inter-capitalist rivalry which is posing grave dangers to the peoples of the world.

Further, the executive power does not have a monopoly of force in the Philippines. Facts show that the “ISIS terrorists” are linked arm and leg to rival factions in the government, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), who allow them to pass to and fro through its lines, and/or foreign patrons; Abu Sayaff, originally created by the CIA, and other regional affiliates, for example, have received much of their funding and support from Saudi Arabia.

The jihadist insurgency in Marawi forms part of the “strategy of tension” being implemented by the political police throughout the US empire to criminalize basic freedoms or to destabilize targeted countries such as Venezuela and Syria. It was launched right during the visit of Duterte to Moscow accompanied by half of his cabinet in May 2017, in part to buy a new modern rifle superior to American firepower. It is possible that the US wanted to use Duterte to obtain the technology for reverse engineering. Sensational and exaggerated reports of jihadist sightings and incidents on other islands were spread internationally on the eve of the lucrative tourist season – a form of psychological warfare. Canada, for example, issued a special “advisory” urging caution in travelling to and within the Archipelago.

In these murky circumstances, US troops were then reintroduced into Mindinao contributing to an escalation of conflict. On June 10 Duterte revealed “he was not aware the U.S. government was providing assistance to government troops” and also said he “never approached America” for help. “I am not aware of that until they arrived,” Duterte told a media briefing, according to Reuters.

In September 2016 Duterte had ordered all US special forces out of the southern Philippines, allegedly to protect them from insurgents. “To back his decision, Duterte also showed photographs of the Bud Dajo massacre where Moro rebels and civilians were killed by US forces during the Filipino-American war in the early 1900s. One photo showed US soldiers with dead Moros including naked women. About 1,000 Filipino Muslims were reported to have been killed in the conflict in Jolo in 1906.”

Educators under the Alliance of Concerned Teachers-Philippines (ACT) vow to fight historical revisionism amid efforts of President Duterte to rehabilitate the Marcoses and his emerging dictatorship.

Life reveals its own truth about the reality under Martial Law.

Since May 2017, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (Canada) (ICHRP) reports that “the US-Duterte regime has sown terror across Mindanao. This tyrannical regime has worsened the people’s woes by imposing Martial Law in Mindanao, death and destruction of [the city of] Marawi, deceptive peace policy, skyrocketing prices of basic commodities, injustices and plunder of the Moro resources.”

Thousands of people have been displaced by aerial bombardment of Marawi and nearby villages. Photo shows the entry to the masjid in Padian Bandara Inged, Marawi city | Bulatlat


The road towards Padian port and market in Marawi city | Contributed photo bulatlat.com

Martial Law was first implemented for 60 days but the Congress, upon the recommendation of the AFP, approved its extension until the end of December 2017. In parallel, the government arbitrarily suspended ongoing peace talks with the New People’s Army (NPA), which is active on a number of islands including Luzon. After declaring that the besieged city of Marawi was free from terrorist groups, the Duterte administration sought again for another extension of martial law in December 2017 to another year or until the end of 2018. This time, Duterte included the NPA as part of the “terrorist groups” that the government intends to eradicate.

2018.05.23.1st anniversary of Martial law Philippines

Different groups mark the first year of martial law in Mindanao. May 23, 2018. “The Duterte regime has targeted not only individuals, but entire communities, using bombs to threaten and intimidate hundreds of residents.” | Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat

In November 2017 US President Donald Trump was courageously met with spirited mass protests in Manila when he visited the country for the ASEAN Summit as part of the warmongering US offensive against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and China. The question of a modern Philippines and a nation-building project that is not subject to the warmongering interests of the imperialists of the United States or any other country is a central aspect of popular concern.

Since then, the US government has provided $85 million for counterterrorism-related equipment, training, and support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and $65 million to “enhance the Philippines’ maritime security capabilities.” Trump also pledged $2 million for Duterte’s “war on drugs” in which US military and DEA officers are intimately involved. Lands in Pampanga and Clark will be converted into military bases to be utilized by the armed forces of the United States. [7]

Step by step, using various scenarios from “disaster relief” to “war on terrorism” to “Chinese imperialism” to control of the strategic sea lanes of the South China Sea and imposing neo-liberal arrangements, the US imperialists aim to take the Philippines completely in hand, wanting to receive a completely controlled state and armed forces.

Mass protests in Manila against “visit” of U.S. President Donald Trump, November 2017

It is little known that the Canadian military, since the signing of the Military Cooperation and Training Program (MTCP) with the Philippines in 1998, have given more than 200 military personnel from the Philippines specialized training, including officer and “peace support operations training.” The ICHRP has been calling on the Trudeau Liberal government to end the sale of military equipment to the Philippine government, which is being used in military operations against the people. [6]

Canada’s duty

Rice and calamity support to the areas affected by Typhoon Mangkhut must be immediately provided to the people without cost.

During Hurricane Maria, Canada deployed a warship and military aircraft to bring aid to the US, British and French colonial islands, exclusive of the rest of the small countries of the Caribbean. Thus the Canadian government’s “humanitarian” intervention to “help” the victims of hurricanes should be seen for what it is – self-serving activity to keep the hooks of the Canadian banks in the Caribbean and to assist in domination by the US and the NATO bloc.

The Canadian government’s militarized “humanitarian” intervention in the Philippines in 2013 to “help” the victims of Typhoon Haiyan should also be seen for what it was – self-serving activity to keep the hooks of the Canadian mining monopolies in the Philippines and to assist in the US imperialist domination of the Philippines and East Asia.[2]

The Canadian government has a duty and responsibility to undertake genuine humanitarian assistance by mobilizing non-military assistance to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Mangkhut, if needed. In November 2013 TML Daily pointed out the principle that must guide such aide:

“It does not take soldiers to provide ‘clean water’ or ‘medical services.’ Doctors and health care workers, engineers and other civilian professionals can easily be deployed to assist the people of the Philippines and be withdrawn as soon as the disaster area is stabilized and life returns to normal.”


1 To take another example in terms of Florence: Lisa Hymas, director of the climate and energy program at Media Matters for America, reports on the online Grist website that,

“North Carolina is home to 31 coal ash pits where Duke Energy stores an estimated 111 million tons of toxic waste produced by coal-fired power plants. The state is also home to thousands of manure pits, known euphemistically as ‘lagoons,’ which hold approximately 10 billion pounds of wet waste generated each year by swine, poultry, and cattle operations.

“A handful of news outlets are reporting about the danger of coal ash and hog manure spilling into North Carolina’s waterways in the wake of Hurricane Florence…

“They’re missing an important part of the potential effects of Florence – that African-Americans and other communities of colour could be hit particularly hard by the resulting pollution. They’re also failing to note how the Trump administration has been loosening regulations and oversight in ways that could make coal ash and hog-waste spills more likely… Even if they’re not widespread, hog-waste spills can still be devastating to those who live nearby – and many of the unfortunate neighbours are low-income people of colour….

“As Hurricane Florence bears down on North Carolina, journalists should make sure that their stories include the people who will be hurt the most by waste spills and other impacts, as well as the businesses and lawmakers who have been making such environmental disasters much more likely to occur.”

2. As part of the US military intervention, on November 16, 2013 the Harper government’s Department of National Defence announced that two Royal Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon helicopters would be leaving from CFB Trenton aboard a military transport plane bound for the Philippines, to buttress the military’s Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) which was already in the Philippines. A third helicopter soon followed. According to the government, the military was there to provide “emergency relief” in the form of clearing roads, providing clean water and so on for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan – something that could easily have been done by civilian aid.

3. Juliet Eilperin, “U.S., Philippines to sign 10-year defense agreement amid rising tensions,” The Washington Post, April 28, 2014.

4. The agreement allows for U.S. forces and contractors to operate out of “agreed locations,” which are defined as: “facilities and areas that are provided by the Government of the Philippines through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and that United States forces, United States contractors, and others as mutually agreed.” [“Document: Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Official Gazette, April 29, 2014]

The Agreement hands over all operational controls of the “Agreed Locations” to the United States, and allows U.S. forces to preposition and store defence materiel, equipment, and supplies. On March 19, 2016, the Philippines and the United States government agreed on the five locations of military bases for the American troops under the EDCA: Antonio Bautista Air Base (Palawan), Basa Air Base (Pampanga), Fort Magsaysay (Nueva Ecija), Lumbia Airport (Cagayan de Oro), Benito Ebuen Air Base (MactanCebu).

5. For your information:

Indigenous children protest against continued attacks on Lumad schools during President Rodrigo Duterte’s Second State of the Nation Address | Anjo Bacarisas/Lente

There are over 11 million indigenous peoples in the Philippines, comprising at least 11 per cent of the population of the country, according to the National Commission on indigenous peoples (NCIP).

Almost 60 per cent of them live in Mindanao and are collectively known as Lumad. They are composed of 18 tribes which include the Manobo, Mandaya, B’laan and Subanen peoples.

The Philippines is a country rich in mineral resources, estimated in 2015 to be about $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral reserves in Mindanao alone. Most of these can be found within Lumad ancestral lands. Previous administrations have made extraction of these minerals a national priority, with the enactment of the Mining Act of 1995, and President Benigno Aquino III issuing Executive Order 79 (EO 79) in 2012.

The Mining Act allowed for large-scale foreign investments in the mining sector, while EO 79 gave the national government a final say in approving applications for mining permits.

The Liguasan Marsh, which is part of the ancestral domain of the Moro peoples in Mindanao, holds a large reserve of natural gas worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Some of the largest dams in the Philippines have also been or are currently being constructed in the island as well, including the Pulangi V dam, which threatens to displace thousands of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands and would destroy their means of livelihood and way of life.

Despite these rich natural resources, many Lumad and other indigenous peoples in the Philippines remain mired in poverty. Violations against their rights are also commonplace.

In 2015, 26 per cent of the country’s population lived below the poverty line, while 12 per cent lived in abject poverty and have to survive with less than $1 per day. Indigenous peoples make up a large bulk of those living in poverty. Many parents have to divide what little money they have for food, health and education needs of the family, with food often taking priority in household spending.

Indigenous children who do attend school, on the other hand, often have to endure walking many kilometers or crossing dangerous rivers and mountainous areas, exposing them to risks during travel. In addition, they often face deeply-entrenched discrimination in an education system that is not particularly responsive to the cultural needs and sensitivities of indigenous children, who are often treated as outsiders, outcasts, and second-class citizens.

6. The counter-insurgency operation, the misnamed Oplan Kapayapaan, like Arroyo and Aquino’s Oplan Bantay Laya, is characterized by extrajudicial killings of activists, trumped-up charges against development workers and dissenters, bombings and forced evacuation of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities, among others.

As of November 2017, human rights alliance Karapatan had documented 113 victims of political killings, 81 victims of torture, over 54,000 victims of threat, harassment, and intimidation. More than 364,000 civilians became victims of indiscriminate firing and aerial bombing, and over 426,000 of forced evacuation. The Duterte regime has also imprisoned 121 new political prisoners.

“Duterte has failed to learn from the mistakes of previous administrations. A militarist approach won’t end the armed conflict. Until the social and economic causes of poverty and underdevelopment are addressed, the raging war continues.

“As a Lumad student who lost her classmate and driven away from her home said, ‘It’s government that is teaching us to become rebels’.”


7. In parallel, the government has increased the military budget by 15 per cent. The army has been given “a green light to recruit an additional 20,000 soldiers for counterinsurgency operations and for acquiring towed and self-propelled howitzers, light tanks, and multiple launch rocket systems to develop its conventional capabilities.”

From a post on Facebook, September 15, 2018

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