DAY 6 since Yolanda/ Haiyan hit, I wake up to BBC’s report that “people have been increasingly abandoned” in Leyte. Switching to CNBC, Bloomberg, CNN… and the theme is much the same: Relief has been pouring in from all over the world, but they have been stuck and piling up in airport warehouses in Manila and Cebu.
In local TV and radio, the reports have cabinet secretaries like Dinky Soliman and Mar Roxas saying that they are still “studying how they will release relief goods.” Their concern is how action can be done in the most efficient and equitable way.
In the Palace, President Benigno S. Aquino III is still arguing with CNN’s Christian Amanpour over inaccurate casualty counts, and insists that they are still gathering data.
In the midst of it all I get this urgent email from my lawyer – a trusted friend. It has a document attached and it reads:
RETRIBUTION AND POLITICAL AMBITION – Deadly combination for Yolanda Victims
RETRIBUTION: Pres. Aquino has made no effort to conceal his disdain for the Romualdezes. Despite it being dubbed as “the strongest typhoon in the world in recorded history”, PNoy has placed the blame on the death and destruction in Tacloban City squarely on the local government, which of course is headed by Mayor Alfred Romualdez. His slow response to the tragedy seems intended to drive Mayor Romualdez, and Tacloban, to his knees.
POLITICAL AMBITION: Sec. Mar Roxas clearly intends to use this tragedy to let his political ambition shine at its brightest, at the cost of hunger, thirst and deprivation of the typhoon victims where those lucky to have survived the typhoon are at high risk of dying from hunger, thirst, and from the gangs of looters.
Mar Roxas has ordered that all distribution of relief operation be centralized by the DSWD and all relief goods coming in to Leyte should be turned over to this agency where he can decide by himself when, how and where to distribute them, with him leading the distribution with doleful eyes, the better to sear his personal image into people’s conscious and maximize his media face time.
While we don’t give a damn what his political ambitions are, this is unfortunately creating a bottleneck in the distribution, with him sitting prettily in the middle of that bottleneck.
Even private flights coming in are required to secure clearance from NDRRMC, again on Roxas’ instruction. Is this to ensure, again, that no relief goods are distributed without going through him?
Small wonder why, despite the non-stop arrival of relief goods from local and international donors, people are still acutely hungry, thirsty, dying of infections from untreated injuries. This hunger has led to widespread looting, and bad elements are taking advantage by joining the fray not to loot for food, but for non-food items like tv sets and other appliances.
As local gov’t secretary, Mar Roxas’ role should be to ensure the safety and security of civilian population. The DILG Secretary is vice chairman for Disaster Preparedness of the National Disaster Coordinating Council. So what business does Mar Roxas have in arrogating unto himself the distribution of relief items and elbowing out of the picture DSWD Sec. Dinky Soliman, NUDCC vice chair for Disaster Response?
The answer is as clear as the hunger and thirst: Political ambition 2016.
This was written by a group of people who have family in Leyte. They are professionals, business people, civil servants working and living in Manila, trace their deepest roots in Leyte and spend every possible free time, vacation or break there.
They have moved mountains to gather resources for relief operations, organize transport by plane, boat and truck – some 90 tons worth so far I am told. They have arranged transport with assistance from contacts with the largest Filipino and multinational companies with the means to do so. And they have arranged security, many of them being in government and the military.
They know the lay of the land, being natives. And their surviving families have been providing needed intelligence on roads, access and operational points. They have advance teams on the ground.
Yet to operationalize their plan – especially to land the goods in Tacloban airport – they report that it needs Mar Roxas’ permission. Going over land, they say Roxas has to sign off on it.
The answer was simply: “No.”
Meanwhile, the BBC report shows children in Tacloban, standing in the rain and amid rotting corpses, waiting for any sign that food will come. “Are you hungry?”
“Yes we are,” answer the children, smiling and in perfect English.
That’s what got me up this morning, on Day 6 after Yolanda.