Yolanda and How We Mishandle Lives

Courtesy of El Huffington Post

Photo from: El Huffington Post

After the Cebu-Bohol earthquake came the spinning wrath of Yolanda. Earthquake shook Cebu-Bohol on October 15, 2013. Barely a month passed, Yolanda, the strongest recorded tropical cyclone hit southern Philippines, landing in Tacloban on November 8, 2013. Local and foreign journalists stayed along the path of the storm, specifically in Tacloban to cover the actual tempest whose strength proved to be beyond anybody’s guess. Footages captured the unbelievable strength of the typhoon. Locals report waves as tall as an adult coconut tree slam their town.

Scientists now question whether the typhoon Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) would be an indicator of the intensities of future tropical cyclones. They do not hasten though to project that such types would become a normal feature to cyclone prone areas, since Yolanda is a single event. We recall the typhoon Ondoy (international name Ketsana) on September 26, 2009 which brought with it a “month’s worth of rainfall” in a few hours which submerged Metro Manila. Most believed at that time that Ondoy was a sure indicator of the upping of typhoons. Incidentally, eight days later, typhoon Pepeng submerged Northern Luzon. Three years after, in August of 2012, we have the action-movie like coinage for another unforgettable (is there such a thing as long-term-Filipino-memory, I doubt though) flood-event known as Ang Hagupit ng Habagat or Ang Bagsik ng Habagat. Without contest mabagsik talaga ang hagupit considering that habagat is ‘just’ a monsoon. I don’t remember any horrifying childhood memory of monsoon in Manila; during my elementary years rains almost never deterred us from going to class, unless there was a clear signal number 2 or 3 alert raised. Now, the first drops of rain tingle the spine. And we are now in 2013. By way of tracing our typhoons of recent years, Ondoy could very well be the signpost for us of the palpable effects of climate change.

Workers clean a river full of debris from destroyed houses, caused by typhoon Ketsana in Manila on September 30, 2009. (NOEL CELISAFPGetty Images) #

Workers clean a river full of debris from destroyed houses, caused by typhoon Ketsana in Manila on September 30, 2009. (NOEL CELISAFPGetty Images) #

Counting 2009 we have four years of definite awe rousing natural calamities. We barely have a complete picture of what happened in Cebu and Bohol when suddenly we were faced with snapshots of dead, hungry, homeless, orphaned, clueless Filipinos in the wake of the super tropical cyclone Yolanda. Forewarned of a 300+ kph cyclone, it casts serious doubt as to whether we were entirely clueless of its magnitude considering our experiences with Ondoy, and a series of typhoons after, as points of reference.

BBQ – the grilling of Sec. Roxas

Not singling him out – for we are all implicated in this one way or another – the infamous event called the “grilling”of the DILG secretary Mar Roxas by CNN’s Andrew Stevens (Roxas’ wife Korina Sanchez had CNN’s Anderson Cooper for her part), shows a general attitude I think prevalent in the government. Stevens introduced the DILG Secretary by way of defining his work “An absolute key figure in the recovery and / in the immediate aftermath of restoring law and order and also of getting food and water out……to all of them (victims)”. After a short greeting Roxas joins him and Stevens briefly describes his experiences in the past few days he was in Tacloban and says to Roxas “I am hearing a growing anger on the streets about the government response…” That characteristically straightforward American way of addressing an interviewee could have dismantled anyone on the spot, well of course the DILG Secretary is of a different kind. There are things only foreigners could see, which the natives could not, as that what Stevens saw in the “growing anger on the streets.” If one were sensitive enough to what Stevens was conveying one could more or less sense the gravity of desperation of the people. For one familiar with the resiliency of Filipinos when it comes to disasters the statement means a lot. For the first few days both local and foreign media covering the disaster could not produce a face that could “smile” or could show that typical calm Filipino face amidst disasters. One could weigh how things are with the general mood exuded by Filipinos in those areas by their faces. Let us not downplay qualitative assessment here, for we ought to know how we are as a people, and such gravity must be equalled by a sense of urgency which our political system in operation could not deliver. Now let us follow a particular trend by way of going over the crises in the south this year.


Photos from: sjapc.net


Remembering Sabah and Zamboanga incidents

Let us turn to the Sabah and Zamboanga incidents. Both happened just a few months ago! And yes, with our key figure, the DILG Secretary Mar Roxas in tow. Just keep in mind here how Andrew Stevens understand what a DILG Secretary is as we review these incidents. Questions linger, and ought to linger as to why such high profile regions and groups, Sultan Jamalul Kiram III in Sabah and Nur Misuari with his MNLF in Zamboanga, could just burst out of nowhere without the government noticing them? Richard Gordon for example questioned “And how about our intelligence officials? How is it that no one even knew that a large number of Filipinos was headed to Sabah?” Compounding the incident was what many critics saw as an inappropriate conduct of Mar Roxas who called Sultan Jamalul Kiram III as “hardheaded”. A lash from the opposition: Toby Tiangco rants

Secretary Roxas’ reckless remarks reflect his arrogance. Being the one in charge of peace and order, his high-handed dismissal of the legitimate issues raised by the Sultan is unacceptable. The mishandling of the Sabah incident clearly reflects the political failure of the administration and the utter lack of leadership displayed by Roxas and Malacanang.

This high-handed dismissal of the issues according to Tiangco is seen in Malacanang’s apparent disregard of Kiram’s letter.

Flipping the coin: where, many asked, was the President who should have handled the situation personally? Raymond Palatino said “He’s out there campaigning with his party and basically not performing his duties as chief executive.” President Aquino was indeed busy campaigning for his Team Pnoy senatorial slate in Pampanga. Carolyn Arguillas reports how President Aquino briefly mentioned Sabah during the campaign. Here she quotes the President in her report under the subtitle “May nangyayari sa Sabah”,

Pasensya na ho kayo kung kanina paakyat at baba ako ng entablado. Alam naman po ninyo may nangyayari sa Sabah. Mukhang patapos na po yung pangyayari. Syempre, hindi pa ho kumpleto ang detalye, medyo magmamadali ho tayo pabalik dahil inaasahan natin na pagdating natin sa opisina ay handa na po yung kumpletong impormasyon, alam naman po natin na yug nangyari ng may katiyakan at naaasikaso lahat ng dapat maasikaso. Pero hindi ho yun ang pakay natin ngayon. Puntahan na po natin ang talumpati.

And while the Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak expressed sadness that the standoff in Sabah ended in bloodshed, President Aquino’s emphasis was on “this will surely affect our economy.” According to Balita.ph “He (the President) again blamed those who instigated the Sabah invasion for their own self interest.” Yes, the finger, it points.

The bottomline, and to the dismay of many, is this: it could have been avoided. And the possibility for a peaceful negotiation was great. But the mishandling of the situation led to the death of 15 people, displaced families and rights violated – where were the feminists? Busy with reproductive health issues while women’s and children’s rights were being violated in Sabah.

A few months later, in September, we have Zamboanga city raided by Nur Misuari’s MNLF. Sec. Roxas flew to the area with Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin and AFP chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista on instructions of the President. On September 9, 2013 Jaime Sinapit reports for InterAksyon.com:

“Roxas described the prevailing situation as “stabilizing,” with soldiers and policemen keeping a “healthy distance” from MNLF forces in at least four barangays where they kept their hostages.

“We’re here to stabilize the situation. We assure the people that the President is monitoring closely. Everything is being coursed through the city’s crisis committee pursuant to protocol,” he said.

It was an internal affair but with a standoff reaching to more than 16 days. On September 24 death toll records reached 140, with 12 civilians killed according to AFP deputy public affairs chief Major Angelo de Guzman.

Again there was a great possibility that it could have been avoided. The incidents were baffling. Roughly we have 145 people dead in the Sabah and Zamboanga incidents this year. Lives lost to mishandling.

Handling Yolanda

Now comes Yolanda. A report by Kim Arveen Patria posted about two days ago on Yahoo says that General Elmer Soria the chief regional director of Eastern Visayas Police is gaining support from many Filipinos. We recall that General Soria was the first to give a death toll estimate to the media, saying that 10, 000 people were killed during the typhoon. He was sacked for that. Pres. Aquino in turn issued the statement that only 2, 000 to 2, 500 people were killed. General Soria, purportedly was under the spell of an “acute stress reaction” therefore his 10, 000 estimate was illusory. However, as of November 18 the number of people affected by Yolanda number 9.074 million. Definitely, way, way beyond anyone’s expectation! With that number the estimate of General Soria may not be far from possible. Not that we want a rise in death toll, but that we want, and we ought to have, in this crisis, are sincere reports, estimates, words, events….no more of that excessive concern for ‘image’ and “everything’s under control” statements. One could generally observe that everytime a press statement is released there’s always this air of assurance, in word and poise, that everything’s being addressed. If not for the probing of Stevens, relevant questions could have not been raised. For such assuring-interviews answers are always formulated in such a way as to end the conversation immediately. Cut. They will not tell you that armed men had already blocked a truck of relief goods and looted a town, all because AFP personnel did not arrive to take control of the crisis the day after the typhoon. That would not tell you that the central government points to LGUs, and LGUs pointing to the central government, for how many hours or days, with people needing urgent help?…  and so on. Projection first more than an honest appraisal of the event? We must not be surprised, we have seen this many times over.

CNN’s Jake Tapper expressed surprise that, at this time, Philippine media, (in the person of Korina Sanchez) is still concerned with the image of the government. Jake was corresponding at that time with Anderson Cooper who was defending the accuracy of his report. The kind of international media attention we get is something we ought to be thankful for. Teddy Boy Locsin tweeted, “Thank you Anderson Cooper for existing. Without you we would be in dreamland.”


Photo from: El Huffington Post


Photo from: El Huffington Post


Photo from: El Huffington Post

Resiliency and Corruption

An article on the net says that we should no longer be proud to be called “resilient.” I think on one hand it has a point, corruption breeds on Filipino resiliency. After every disaster, and after everyone has shrugged off unbelievable tragedies, natural or otherwise, corruption in our governmental system continues. Same people run for elections. It is common knowledge that Philippine corruption rests on bad company: on the evil networks of “friends and relatives”. Thereby every election simply calcifies already established padrino system. As one of its results, according to many sources, relief goods in the hands of local politicians were distributed compadre first. Filipino resiliency does provide irresponsible politicians a platform to stand on – and say “everything’s in control.” But on the other hand we should not dismiss resiliency as a kind of naïve Filipino trait which lends us victims to the manipulations of politicians. I mean crooked politicians. Resiliency is a gift to us. A person who has lost his family and livelihood, a pregnant woman who had to fight her way out of the storm, an old and weak person who had to tie himself up to a post so as not to be carried away by raging waters, a mother who lost her children in a flash flood, a son or daughter keeping watch over their dead parents amid the stench of a rotting body……you need resiliency.  You need all the strength you got to be sane, to live. But most of all, they should not be alone in their resilience; we all need to be resilient for them – our brothers and sisters. But this time we have to couple our resiliency with vigilance, with memory. We must, hereon, remember that collective neglect leads to loss of lives. We must hereon remember that voting for the wrong persons means death for many of our beloved brothers and sisters. Let us be resilient, but we must not forget. Mabuhay tayo.


For Sabah

Carolyn O. Arguillas. Malaysian Prime Minister: “Very sad over the incident;” death toll at 15. MindaNews. http://www.mindanews.com/top-stories/2013/03/02/malaysian-prime-minister-very-sad-over-the-incident-death-toll-at-15/

Jose Rodel Caplano. UNA bets criticize gov’t in handling Sabah standoffhttp://www.philstar.com/headlines/2013/03/03/915214/una-bets-criticize-govt-handling-sabah-standoff

Christine F. Herrera. Solons gang up on ‘absentee president’. (March 4, 2013). http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/03/04/solons-gang-up-on-absentee-president/

For Zamboanga

Nikko Dizon. Aquino declares Zamboanga City crisis over soon, jets for Manila. Inquirer. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/492721

Dennis Carcamo. On 10th day of Zambo crisis: 14 killed, 117 wounded gov’t forces. (September 18, 2013) http://www.philstar.com/nation/2013/09/18/1224901/10th-day-zambo-crisis-14-killed-117-wounded-govt-forces

Jaime Sinapit. Zambo City shuts down after heavy fighting; curfew imposed amid hostage crisis (September 9, 2013). http://www.interaksyon.com/article/70298/heavy-firefight-between-mnlf-soldiers-breaks-out-in-zambo-city-1-dead-6-hurt

Kim Arveen Patria. Pinoys rally behind cop who claimed 10, 000 people died due to Yolanda. http://ph.news.yahoo.com/pinoys-rally-behind-cop-who-claimed-10-000-people-died-due-to-yolanda-032324341.html


http://www.zambotimes.com/archives/news/76426-Death-toll-in-Zamboanga-City-crisis-now-at-140.html (September 25, 2013)

Zamboanga soldiers and aftermath photos from downloaded from http://sjapc.net/content/jesuit-response-mindanao-crisis


Pete Spotts. Typhoon Haiyan: Is an era of super storms upon us?


http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/09/typhoon_ketsana_ondoy.html photos courtesy of the The Boston Globe, The Big Picture

Totel V. de Jesus. Anderson Cooper’s report irks Korina Sanchez. (November 14, 2013). http://entertainment.inquirer.net/120857/anderson-coopers-report-irks-korina-sanchez

Photos of Yolanda aftermath / victims courtesy of El Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.es/2013/11/12/muertos-tifon-yolanda_n_4261616.html#slide=3111074


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November 20, 2013 · 10:28 am

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