Typhoon Yolanda and its aftermaths
Typhoon Yolanda (local name: Haiyan) is one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. It hit a vast area of the Philippines in 2013 causing 6,000 deaths, more than 30.000 injured and almost one thousand disappearances . The national provinces affected by the typhoon were 60 over 80 for a total number of 1.2 million houses destroyed, with a 4 meter surge in the sea level . A local survivor affirms, “It was apocalypse experienced in just a few hours, with everything - people, homes, every semblance of life and structure - devastated. And what was left after that scale of destruction? The men and women of Basey would say "Waray," , which means 'nothing'" .
Extreme events, such as natural disasters and crop failures, exacerbate existing global inequality, stretching the resources of vulnerable states already struggling to provide for their citizens . Post typhoon Yolanda recovery work was frustratingly slow, especially in Tacloban City where post-disaster relief seemingly became mired in political contestations and general disarray. In Haiyan-affected communities, the high vulnerability rates were largely a result of Leyte’s approach to urban planning, changes in the demography due to displacement and migration, ineffectual post-disaster government services, and the insatiable livelihood opportunities especially among the marginalized sectors . Small makeshift houses have been built among the ruins along some of the city's coastal villages. These are no-build zones, but residents said they had no choice to but settle there again as they continue to wait for houses promised by the government 2 years after Yolanda struck .
LGBTQIA's differential recovery
In the aftermaths of Typhoon Yolanda, transgender and gay people not only had their lives been forever changed with the shock of a super storm that tore apart their household, belongings, and people they knew and loved, but they also faced discrimination and challenges like no other, as people who were just trying to survive and get access to the same basic human rights as anyone else . Despite the special focus on gender, programs and services offered in the disaster rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Philippine setting are bound by the man-woman binary. This idea reinforces an essentialist view on femininity and masculinity that portrays men and women as one, homogenous group where all members have the same capacities and vulnerabilities in times of natural hazard. It must be taken into consideration that intersecting and diverse power relations exist in these groups of people who have diverse needs . Existing disaster policies and practices foster ‘compulsory heterosexuality’  where sexual minorities are stigmatized and discriminated due to their sexual orientation and gender identity . In particular, sexual minorities are disregarded socially, economically, and institutionally in dealing with vulnerability and resiliency in increasing capacities. Existing DRR policies embody heteronormative norms and values in both the everyday life and during disasters, making people outside the man-woman framing more vulnerable when faced with natural hazards . They do not have access to cultural, social, economic, and political structures, which worsens their vulnerability . In post-disaster contexts, the most pressing need, particularly for LGBTQIA people are suitable livelihood options. The usual options open to LGBTQIA people are limited and gender-stereotypical, falling between carpentry or fishing for men (which are dominated by straight men) and cooking for women. Trans women’s needs are just not suited to the current offerings. As Pierce Docena – a Professor in Social Sciences at the University of Philippines – stated, these heteronormative expectations are so deeply entrenched, not even Haiyan could disrupt them . Disaster events have different powers. They can reveal and accelerate already existing processes and intensifying pre-existing inequalities. The political choices and the territorial conversions put into practice in the aftermaths of natural disasters can fall into so-called Disaster Capitalism outcomes . The combination of all the previous elements can, however, also lead to the birth of social movements committed in local struggles and claims for human rights and justice. In any case, natural disasters change lives and territories, especially those who were suffering already existing conditions of vulnerability.
LGBTQ activist and Professor Pierce Docena affirmed: [The disaster] opened my eyes to the realities confronted by various LGBT people as they worked to rebuild after such unthinkable loss and devastation. [...] Meeting other LGBT people and hearing their stories taught me valuable lessons about intersectionality and how privilege works especially in times of disaster. For those advocating for the environment, we need to understand that climate justice is not separate from social justice. Everything is connected and all forms of oppression are systemic and linked .
Another personal story coming from Nityalila shows the importance of combining the LGBTQIA struggles with the ones of the climate movement. Growing up in the Philippines, we are familiar with experiencing storms. In 2002, my family’s business suffered greatly due to typhoon Milenyo. The hard work that my parents built for 35 years was severely crippled in a couple of hours. […] Since then, climate change has become very personal. As a musician, I use my voice as a tool to raise consciousness on the lives at stake due to the climate crisis. But when I personally witnessed the impacts of Haiyan, I realised that raising awareness was not enough. It was time to take collective action. […] I believe that both the LBGTQIA and climate movement are about fighting for our lives. The LGBTQIA movement struggles with its own impacts such as discrimination, mental health issues, and suicide. Aside from extreme weather events, the climate movement struggles with unnatural disasters fueled by denialism, inaction, and greed, and apathy. Both face enormous challenges, but there is hope when people on the frontlines act together .
Arthur Golong: an LGBTQIA activist between local and global
Arthur Golong was originally from Timex, one of the 14 zones of Barangay 88, San Jose district in Tacloban City. A coastal community of 142 households and 170 families, Timex was one of the hardest-hit zones when the mega-storm Haiyan brought havoc to Eastern Visayas in November 2013. For the residents of Barangay 88, the question of survival was critical in the weeks after the disaster. While there was adequate influx of support from both local organizations and international communities, however, socio-political issues coupled with the growing demand for relief rendered the delivery of basic needs and services problematic. Arthur’s proactive character has been most helpful in addressing this issue of getting relief to those who needed it. As she was known to be an active community member, humanitarian agencies desiring to come to the aid of her village were often referred to her to facilitate their entry. She recalls how she, dressed in a miniskirt, met Hilary Clinton who had come to ask the residents how they were doing after the typhoon . Eight months after the disaster, Arthur and her family were among those who transferred to the government-constructed transitional shelters in Duplex 1, New Kawayan. They were not allowed to go back to their old neighbourhood because it had been identified under the no-build-zone policy, which prohibits the construction of any structure 40 meters from the coastline. Thus, they could not rebuild their home there. The transitional site is 17 kilometres from the city center. When the displaced were moved in, it lacked a potable water source and had yet to be energized. Livelihood opportunities were scarce. After Haiyan, my life changed. We lost our home and everything in it. My siblings who had their own families also lost their homes and other possessions. My sister-in-law who was pregnant also died. Since I was the one staying with my parents, I had to build a makeshift house before we were transferred to a transitional resettlement site. In that site, I was considered a leader . Uprooted from all things familiar, the first 149 households that were relocated in the transitional site seemed to exist in a limbo. A month later, Arthur moved in with his parents. “When I arrived there, there were only two organizations we relied on. […] The officers seemed lost. Some of the residents found work in the city. The rest would just wait for what help arrives,” she said.  Someone had to take charge. And so Arthur did. Sanctioned by the elected community president who recognized her leadership, Arthur started presiding community meetings and representing Duplex 1 in public hearings, supposedly, to address economic and living conditions issues in their community. She organized night watch groups to address security concerns, systematized the operations of community facilities and planned village activities where new neighbours can get to know each other and become friends. A true leader, she would be the first to pick up a spade to make drainage ditches or haul stones to cover the muddy path between houses. Transitional site management has proven to be a challenging subject in disaster response. Conditions in transitional communities are rather unstable and especially fluid, adding an onerous burden to community leaders there seeking government response to the people’s needs for basic services. Arthur was often nominated to speak for the Haiyan survivors, especially in official public hearings and consultations. But she affirms: Despite being in this position, I still experienced different forms of discrimination. In disaster risk reduction management practices, I noticed that rescuers put gays as among the last to be rescued. Even in trainings for residents in transitional resettlement sites, the gays were considered the laughingstock. But I and two gay men really wanted to learn precisely because we would like to rescue gays who might be in situations of crisis . Climate activists take on fossil fuel companies Arthur's story is a clear example of those global human voices committed to the struggle against climate catastrophe. In fact, Arthur was one of the witnesses called to testify in the Climate Change and Human Rights Inquiry, testifying climate change's impacts on Filipinos and especially focusing on how climate change compounds existing social issues like gender-based discrimination. In 2016, a group of Filipino campaigners joined environmental organisation Greenpeace in asking the Philippines’ commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the responsibility of major fossil fuel companies for the impacts of climate change on the human rights of the Filipino people, considering Typhoon Haiyan . The Climate Change and Human Rights Inquiry in the Philippines turned into the world’s first investigation into corporate responsibility for the climate crisis. The Commission called for a probe into the possible human rights violations of the 47 biggest fossil fuel and cement companies (“Carbon Majors”) resulting from climate change . The hearing in which Arthur had a central role with her testimony took place in August 2018.
The event was part of a landmark inquiry linking the actions of fossil fuel companies, and their contribution to climate change, to the resulting natural disasters and their impact on people’s human rights . Arthur spoke about the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines in 2013 and how she spent hours after the storm clutching a tree trunk in floodwaters to survive, losing her home and possessions in the meantime. She also talked about the discrimination the LGBTQIA community faced in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, with the distribution of aid prioritizing heteronormative families. The CHR’s national inquiry has clearly shown that people affected by climate change and whose human rights have been dramatically harmed must have access to remedies, and access to justice. Simply put, the Carbon Majors and other corporations have responsibilities to protect human rights as we face the climate emergency. The petitioners and climate advocates around the world are awaiting the outcome of the landmark inquiry in 2020 . Even if the case is unsuccessful, the process of hearing from experts and people affected by climate change and amplifying their stories to a global audience – from Tacloban City to Manila, New York and London – will be incredibly powerful . Filipinos from various walks of life and parts of the country – farmers, fisherfolk, transport workers, students, community leaders, Indigenous Peoples – took to the stand and shared their experiences of super typhoons and slow-onset climate impacts. They narrated how these have caused them and their loved ones more suffering daily. Their testimonies also show how climate change compounds existing social issues and increases the risks for the most vulnerable sectors . To date, none of the respondent companies to the petition have made an appearance or acknowledged the jurisdiction of the commission to investigate the complaint. Shell's management told shareholders at its annual general meeting last year that the company did not consider the national inquiry to be the correct forum to discuss climate change issues . Fossil fuel companies need to start seeing communities affected by climate change as a key stakeholder group in human rights due diligence. If fossil fuel companies do not act rapidly, we can only expect a world in which human rights are severely affected, and more people like Arthur will have no other avenue than turning against fossil fuel companies to seek remedy for the harm suffered .