Tuesday, November 19, 2013

After Haiyan, Philippines Faces Tough Road

Photo by Aly Yap, used with permission
Repacked goods for Haiyan relief, ready for transportation at the Ateneo de Manila University. 

By John Eroll Yabut
MANILA, Philippines – Death toll estimates have risen to the ten thousands. Billions of pesos worth of damage are all over the news.
Thousands of people are hurt and hungry in my country and law and order have faded to the background.
The world’s eyes are on the Philippines. Just as international aid flowed generously into the nation, so did international media probes. There is political unrest, a disparity between government and media, and issues of pride, public image and misinformation.
Typhoon Haiyan departed and dissolved, but the Philippines still suffers her wrath.


Thousands of lives were taken and interrupted as disaster struck the Philippines last week. The storm left Tacloban city in ruins. Houses, commercial buildings and old churches went down as the winds and storm surges washed the coastal regions of the island group Visayas.
There are a lot of stories being run by local and international media about families that died together in their homes and children who died in the school that served as an evacuation center when the tsunami-like storm surges hit.
These are the darkest days of the Philippines in 2013. And the days drag on, as the survivors stay hungry for food and aid due to the slow transmission of relief from the cities.


Government response has been criticized by international media groups like CNN and the BBC. CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported for several days at ground zero in Tacloban city and one of his reports resulted in a tiff with popular Filipino news anchor Korina Sanchez, who is also the wife of the Interior and Local Government Secretary. In the report, Cooper noted the state of disorder in Tacloban five days after the typhoon left, which was mistakenly taken by Sanchez as a direct criticism of the Philippine government’s response to the situation.
The arrival of relief goods and effort to the affected areas has been notably slow due to transportation constraints. The use of RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ferries take 48 hours for each truck of relief goods. AirAsia has partnered with presidential sister Kris Aquino in order to deliver relief faster.
In the midst of all this, the Aquino administration has received a lot of criticisms. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Philippine President Benigno Aquino said the 10,000 number on the death toll has “no basis” and is influenced by “emotional trauma.”
Photo by Jenny Orlina, used with permission
Ateneo de Manila University Student Council President Dan Remo, left, and Ateneo de Manila University President Fr. Jett Villarin and Philippine President Benigno Aquino during the Ateneo relief operations. 

Aquino also said that things are fairly in control, with the exception of the island of Leyte and Tacloban City, which are the most severely affected areas.
Interviewed by CNN’s Andrew Stevens, the Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas – and the husband of news anchor Sanchez – plainly said that the situation is under control and that “nothing is fast enough in a situation like this.”
Criticism is rooted in the government’s response – reactive as opposed to proactive – given that reports of Haiyan’s strength and threat had been widely reported days before it hit the country.
Pointing Fingers
“In our framework, the local government unit is the first responder, the national government is supposed to come in on day two or day three,” Roxas said in his interview with Stevens.
But what went wrong in the Haiyan situation was that the local government units were also victims of the typhoon, leaving only the national government to respond.
Despite this, Aquino said in a briefing at the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council that he felt the local government of Tacloban was not as prepared compared to other areas. This drew the ire of Filipino netizens, and a public response from Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez noting that Metro Manila can say it felt ready for the typhoon because it was not hit, but who can comment on Tacloban’s preparedness?
It should be noted that it was not only the storm that killed and wrecked Tacloban, but the surprisingly strong storm surges which came through the city’s sea walls.


Photo by Allison June Lagarde, used with
Typhoon Haiyan relief operations at Ateneo
de Manila University.
Haiyan caused a chaos still evident in the Visayas region, but it also gave rise to people helping other people. The generous flow of international aid into the Philippines is the major player in the relief operations. Millions of dollars have been donated from governments and private corporations alike. A lot of help in-kind and human resources also came in.
Relief operations also began in colleges and universities. Lacking manpower, the Department of Social Welfare and Development delegated the task of repacking relief goods into usable family packs to schools.
According to Ateneo de Manila University Alumni’s Facebook page, the social welfare department asked the school to act as a satellite relief center for the government.
Photo by Allison June Lagarde,
 used with permission
Volunteers wait in line at Ateneo
de Manila University. 
The goods come from the government and the university provided the manpower. Staff from Malacanang, the presidential palace, visited on the second day of operations and were so impressed with Ateneo’s process that Aquino also visited.
The president thanked the volunteers and his fellow alumni. He observed how Ateneo conducted the relief operations. The government is to replicate the process in other relief centers such as at the Villamor Airbase manned by the Philippine Army.
Students, teachers, staff and even people from outside the school contributed greatly to the relief effort in Ateneo.


There are heartbreaking news stories of people watching family members decompose on the streets, of church ceilings and chandeliers succumbing to the strength of the wind. Still other stories tell of children dying in the waves that came without warning, of political strife and chaos.
The day when peace and order will be restored is far from today, and it may be true that things will never be the same way again. But there are also stories of survivors, of the ones who remain alive to build a new Tacloban, a new Leyte, a new Visayas, after Haiyan.

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