Quite understandably, cabinet secretary Rene Almendras said all the right things about the government’s super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief efforts during a surprise meeting yesterday (Nov. 19) at the consulate with the Pinoy media and community leaders in Hong Kong. For those unfamiliar with Almendras, he is President Benigno Aquino’s alter ego in Malacanang.
In the course of Almendras’ freewheeling dialogue with HK’s Pinoy media and leaders, he cited the following gains and achievements in the government’s relief efforts:
1. It (government) is stepping up distribution of relief goods, as well as restoration of supply of electricity, potable water and other basic necessities
2. It is mapping out provisions for temporary housing for Yolanda survivors
3. It is facilitating delivery of relief goods from different foreign governments and international aid agencies
4. It will earmark billions of pesos for rehabilitation, as well as emergency financial aid and eventually, livelihood
5. The Aquino government doesn’t steal and relief goods donations, local and international, are therefore safe in government hands
Without a shadow of doubt, the government has done many good things in Yolanda-ravaged areas. However, it also chalked up a litany of blunders and shortcomings. Unfortunately, Almendras was economical with the truth as regards these areas.
For the record, I don’t criticize merely for the sake of attacking the government. On the contrary, my criticisms are intended primarily to be constructive so as to help possibly in reducing the number of casualties the next time a super typhoon batters the Philippines. My heart bleeds whenever I hear Yolanda survivors speak in radio interviews about loved ones who died or who remain missing. My heart bleeds hearing heart-rending pleas for food, water, shelter – and even for corpses in their midst to be taken away, lest survivors get struck by a man-made catastrophe.
So, in which areas did Almendras provide half truths and omissions?
1. Almendras stressed that the government did and continues to do its best to distribute relief goods to affected areas. Wrong!
A] From the very start, the government relied almost exclusively on air transport to bring relief goods and volunteer workers initially to Tacloban. Until now, sea transport is used only to a limited extent, mainly via Matnog, Sorsogon. Thus, there’s a huge bottleneck at the ferry crossing in Matnog. Why wasn’t sea transport used heavily from the very start to bring relief goods to coastal areas, like Tacloban, Borongan and Ormoc? If large volumes of relief goods was stacked up in these 3 coastal cities in the first instance, bringing them inland would have been easier and would have benefited more needy people. Tacloban’s airport was inoperational a few days after Yolanda. And tens of thousands went hungry because officials miserably failed to bring in relief goods immediately – via sea transport.
A bit of history to put things in proper perspective. When tens of thousands of Allied soldiers were trapped by the Germans along the beach of Dunkirk, France in 1940, the British government called on its citizens to use all types and sizes of sea vessels, including fishing boats and pleasure craft, to sail to Dunkirk to evacuate the Allied forces. Tens of thousands of lives were saved by the unusual Dunkirk operation. Yolanda brought a grave crisis to Tacloban and other areas. Why did the government overlook the merits of using sea transport to bring relief goods to the three Visayan cities which didn’t have serviceable airports right after Yolanda? His assertion that ships couldn’t be used after Yolanda because of huge waves was simply illogical. Palusot!
2. Almendras said considerable progress is being made in clearing up debris and starting reconstruction. Not true!
ABS CBN’s Noli de Castro interviewed yesterday some Tacloban city residents who complained that corpses were still floating in the sea, while others remain uncollected in various parts of the city. It’s now two weeks since super typhoon Yolanda and all corpses have not been collected? Why oh why? This fact is certainly unconscionable and deplorable! Why hasn’t the national government coordinated well with the Tacloban city government to collect all corpses until now? Why didn’t the government see fit to mobilize as many soldiers, PNP personnel and other volunteers as possible from Negros and nearby provinces to travel by boats or ferries to Tacloban and other Yolanda-ravaged areas to speed up collection of corpses, clear debris and help survivors? Asking local governments in provinces close to Yolanda-affected areas for help is the quickest and easiest way of getting warm bodies on the ground to help typhoon survivors and retrieve corpses. Why fly soldiers and volunteers from Manila when nearby provinces are a quicker and better option?
3. Almendras denied not knowing anything about political differences between Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas and Tacloban city mayor Alfred Romualdez which are apparently a major culprit for the painfully slow distribution of relief goods within the city. This is bull! He’s one of Aquino’s closest confidantes and he should have been among the first to know. He should have helped persuade Aquino to resolve the political impasse for the benefit of crisis-struck Taclobanos. It was only on Nov. 17 when Aquino brought Roxas and Romualdez face to face to try and end the deadlock. The dispute reportedly continues to Taclobanos’ misfortune.
4. Almendras said the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program is successful and it is in fact helping scores of recipients put up businesses, like production of cacao and coffee, and become self-reliant. The government will therefore use its CCT program to help Yolanda victims become self reliant with steady income sources. A big bull! The CCT was set up to ease poverty, not set up livelihood projects. If CCT recipient families get only 500 to 1,000 pesos a month, how on earth can they save enough to put up even tiny livelihood projects? And how can very poor CCT recipients go into coffee or cacao production if they don’t have any large tract of agri land? This is crazy! A grower needs at least half a hectare to make money from cacao or coffee production. Anyone with a large piece of agri land definitely won’t qualify to CCT doleout. Thus, Almendras’ talk about CCT recipients being engaged in coffee or cacao production is a big insult to the intelligence of those who attended yesterday’s meeting with him!