It’s been more than three decades since I last visited Tacloban, and although I had prepared myself for the worst, it was simply overwhelming to see the aftermath of a super typhoon like Yolanda – everything almost completely wiped out. Last Thursday we arrived in Tacloban on board a United States C-12 aircraft piloted by US Embassy Air Attaché Colonel Rick Matton and Naval Attaché Captain Jack Sutherland to see the ongoing relief operations, and it was gratifying to see the many volunteers particularly from foreign governments who came to aid the survivors — sending in military assets, medical personnel and disaster response teams, air dropping and distributing relief goods and items, repairing damaged structures, treating the wounded and evacuating survivors. (See photos on “This week on PeopleAsia” in the Allure section of The Philippine STAR today).
Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Israel, Canada, Germany, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Taiwan and of course, the United States have generously given aid. It is during these worst of times that we discover the best in people, and Filipinos are truly touched by the compassion, the sympathy and the kindness shown by many of our friends from all over the globe.
The ongoing relief operations in Leyte are now well coordinated at the relief center with the DZR airport in Tacloban serving as the command post for various volunteer groups working alongside locals. I give credit to our own Philippine Armed Forces particularly Navy Captain Roy Trinidad for the tremendous job being done. As the debris is cleared, we see hope gradually getting restored and the people’s spirits being lifted. Rehabilitation and recovery — and we mean this not just in the physical sense — will take a long time and will require massive resources. Humanitarian relief from private aid groups and organizations cannot be sustained forever, so now the major task ahead is reconstruction – a job that both the national and local governments must work on.
Leytenos are counting on the promise of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla who staked his job and said that electricity would be restored by December 24 — something that businessmen are looking forward to since power is a key element in getting the local economy going again. But I must say Filipinos have this admirable ability to bounce back from any kind of disaster with an amazing resilient attitude that has earned the admiration of foreign journalists and disaster relief groups.
Weather experts from all over the world have concluded that this super typhoon leaves no question that no amount of preparation could have prevented the kind of massive destruction inflicted on Tacloban, Guiuian, Ormoc, coastal communities in Panay and other areas. Even US forces at “ground zero” in Tacloban – like Air Force Col. Thomas “Doc” Livingston who trained specifically for relief operations and had been to countries ravaged by natural calamities and humanitarian disasters that include Somalia, Indonesia, Haiti – tell us they have “never seen anything like this.”
No doubt Yolanda leaves us with a lot of painful lessons that we must all learn from, considering that the Philippines is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world and the most exposed to typhoons and tropical storms. Metro Manila is ranked as the second most vulnerable city (out of 600 global metropolitan centers) when it comes to natural disasters and is again in the Top 10 of Maplecroft’s latest 2014 Annual Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas of cities at “extreme risk” of climate-related hazards. Just imagine what can happen to 14 million residents of Metro Manila. So remember the saying “forewarned is forearmed.”
Many mistakes were made before, during and after Yolanda but we can learn from disaster-prone countries like Japan as pointed out to me by STAR CEO Miguel Belmonte who went around Central Visayas to distribute relief goods. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we can get good advice from the Japanese on what similar steps they took after the 2011 Fukushima tsunami.
While Filipinos feel heartened by the outpouring of help from friends all over the world, the pork barrel scandal has made the public very suspicious and are demanding full transparency and accounting of the donations and pledges that have reached over P14 billion — and that does not even include the aid from individuals and private corporations. People want to see where the money is going, and there are proposals for an open website that would publish details on actual spending and activities or projects in real time and in a machine-readable format.
If the President is inclined to investigate what happened, and if it is true that politics indeed caused delays in the deployment of vehicles, resources and personnel for clearing operations, delivery of goods, even the recovery of bodies, then let the axe fall where it may. An independent body with no political affiliation should be formed.
Playing politics with people’s misery is the worst kind of evil that will reap karmic consequences made heavy by the grief of people like this poor man whose baby boy was wrenched from his tight grip by the powerful waves. The man could only watch helplessly as his wife and son were swept away by the storm surge. “What did I do to God to deserve this?” he asked. Only faith in God can answer that for him. But people who played politics, whether from the administration or opposition, must answer for taking advantage of the wretched situation and politicizing the suffering of survivors. They will surely get their karma — if not in this world then certainly in the next.