In the aftermath of Yolanda/Haiyan’s devastation, many are now asking about the apparently slow pace of government’s response to the needs of the hundreds of thousands of storm victims, especially in Eastern Visayas. Just last November 11, Aquino went on national TV to appeal for understanding amid the apparent inadequacy of government’s efforts.
The November 11 speech is a far cry from the November 7 speech, delivered on the eve of Yolanda’s landfall, and apparently drafted to assure the nation that government was doing its job to prepare the people for the impact of the storm.
From his November 7 speech, we can get the following points.
1. The National Government was aware of the strength of the storm and its impact on the communities. Aquino said they were monitoring the threat (banta) of a storm surge where water levels can rise 5 to 6 meters in some areas. However, the National Government thru the NDRRMC, apparently left it to the LGU’s to interpret the information that was being given them, and to make plans according to their interpretation. Gawin na po natin ang ating magagawa habang hindi pa lumalapag si Yolanda. Uulitin ko po: Seryosong peligro ito, at maaaring mabawasan ang epekto kung gagamitin natin ang impormasyon upang maghanda,” Aquino said. The apparently decentralized and not-so-hands-on approach would later on prove to be problematic. In an interview by CNN, Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez said that “if authorities had given a different sort of warning before the storm, comparing it to a tsunami instead of merely calling it a typhoon, more people may have survived. We’ve done drills on tsunami. And we do (tsunami) drills, almost 80% of them really get out. Storm surge, they don’t understand,” Romualdez said.
2. The National Government said that it already prepositioned relief goods and that its air and naval assets were already on standby. “Fully mission capable po ang tatlo nating C130 upang rumesponde sa nangangailangan. Naka-standby na rin po ang 32 na eroplano at helicopter ng ating Air Force. Nakapusisyon na po ang 20 barko mula sa ating Philippine Navy sa Cebu, Bicol, Cavite, at Zamboanga. Ang mga relief goods ay naka-preposition na rinsa karamihan ng mga apektado o maaaring maapektuhang lalawiganFive days after the storm hit the first coastal town in Eastern Samar, relief has not reached many of the devastated villages. Hunger is on the rise. PNP Chief Allan Purisima in one interview said that the prepositioned relief goods were also flooded and swept away, indicating that the government may have underestimated the impact of the storm.
3. After leaving it to the LGU’s and concerned people to interpret the information, the National Government seemed prepared to lay the blame on the people if there are many casualties. “Marami na po tayong pinagdaanan sa taong ito; tulungan na po sana natin at huwag nang pahirapan ang ating mga Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils at kanilang mga personnel,” Aquino said.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Aquino faulted the LGU’s a day after the storm hit, describing Tacloban as ill-prepared for the storm surge.
However, two days after the storm, it became clear it was the National Government who had not done enough. In the days after the first footage of the devastation were aired on national media, the National Government sought to highlight looting and downplay the number of the deaths, the acute shortage of supplies, widespread hunger and the inability of government to respond to the needs of many of the victims. And the promised aid contained in the President’s November 7 speech did not materialize.
Aquino went on air again to deliver a speech to the nation on November 11. He starts off with praising the National Government’s efforts and downplaying the impact of the storm on several provinces. “Nagpapasalamat po tayo sa mga dalubhasa mula sa PAGASA, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Phivolcs, at DOST, na kumalap at nagbigay ng tama at detalyadong impormasyon na naging dahilan upang makapaghanda nang maayos ang ating mga kababayan. Ito ang nagbigay-daan para sa iniuulat na mababang casualty count mula sa ilang mga probinsyang dinaanan din ng bagyo, tulad ng Oriental at Occidental Mindoro, Negros Occidental, Palawan, Aklan, at Romblon, kung saan maagang nakapaghanda ang lokal na pamahalaan. How the president can still claim credit for lower casualties in some areas while there’s a mind-boggling number of deaths in other areas is truly unbelievable. The president can use this statement to feel good about what he’s done, but the people are hardly convinced and their worries hardly assuaged.
“Bagaman nakapagtala ng mababang casualty count sa maraming mga probinsyang dinaanan ni Yolanda, sa mga lugar naman na tila naembudo ang bagyong ito, talaga naman pong malaki ang pinsalang nasaksihan nati,” Aquino said. Not only is the statement a form of pampalubag-loob for the people, it also provides a way out for the national government. When the casualty figures are low, government claims credit and says it is due to the timely information they provided to the provinces. When casualty rates are high, government blames nature. But as Romualdez mentioned, there may be a disconnect between the information being provided and the capacity of the local government units to interpret such information.
As pointed out by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, the National Government failed to prepare the nation for the storm surges brought about by Yolanda despite the available information. The national government could have laid down clear, unequivocal guidelines and enforced these guidelines rather than leave it to LGU’s on how they choose to interpret data. It is not enough that the President refer the people to websites on the eve of the storm (Para sa dagdag na kaalaman, pumunta po tayo sa mga website ng PAGASA, Mines and Geosciences Bureau, at ng Project NOAH upang makita kung gaano kaapektado ang inyong komunidad sa pagdating ng bagyo). It is not enough to say on national TV that his speech was the last warning (Magsilbi rin po sanang babala ang pahayag na ito sa ating mga LGU: Seryosong peligro po ang kinakaharap ng inyong mga nasasakupan).
In his November 11 speech, gone were the references to air and naval assets or the supposedly prepositioned relief goods. Aquino instead makes references to the distribution of family food packs, saying that as of that date, 24,000 packs have been distributed to 8 of the biggest baranggays in Tacloban City. Problem is, Tacloban has a population of more than 220,000. And there were many more people outside Tacloban who were reeling from hunger and sickness.
The mass movement in the Philippines and abroad is currently undertaking a massive relief campaign for Yolanda victims. Thousands of activists are being mobilized to raise funds, resources and distribute relief goods and supplies for victims. Private organizations have been helping in a huge way. However, these efforts do not change the fact that the primary responsibility for relief and rehabilitation still rests with the government. So as we do our share to help the victims, we must also continue to call on the Aquino administration to do its job and do it right.
The people of Eastern Visayas are now victims several times over. By the poverty from the unequal socio-economic relations, making the region the 3rd poorest in the country and number one when it comes to incidence of hunger even before the typhoon hit. By the corrupt politicians who looted public funds as seen from the pork barrel scam. And by super storm Yolanda and the slow and inadequate government response.
The news reports are becoming frustrating as the days go by. Everyone but the national government seems to know something is not right. CNN’s Anderson Cooper had this much to say of the situation. “As to who’s in charge of the Philippine side of the whole operation, that is not really clear. I’m just surprised that on this day 5, maybe I’ve gotten here late, that things would be well in hand. It does not seem like that.”
Yolanda is to Aquino as Katrina was to Bush. And at some point after things start to stabilize, there must be an audit of the government’s preparation and response to the super storm. As Cooper went on to say in his November 13 report, “The people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten.”###