the president asks, “what else could we have done?”

25 November 2013

as one who trained in psychology, i cannot but be dismayed by the president’s question because it reveals, at best, sincere cluelessness, at worst, a rather cold heart.

at least in tacloban, where national government was present, there was a lot else that could have been done — kahit pa walang koryente, tubig, phone signals — had the president and his people been more flexible and creative and caring, with a sense of urgency, about meeting people’s needs in a horribly hellish time, instead of fixed and unyielding on the implementation of pre-yolanda disaster policies and strategies that were simply unimplementable and unresponsive to immediate needs.

what pained me most in those critical first three days were news reports on tv and first-person accounts and video via social media of dazed victims wandering the streets looking for food and water, many having walked miles, hoping to find provisions for families back home… this while the dswd repacked goods in some warehouse, but, no, not for distribution to these hungry and thirsty people walking the streets, rather, meant for distribution in barangay centers where they would be properly distributed to registered residents, so the precious bags were loaded in trucks, and then natl government waited for information on where these barangays were, are, located, and waited some more for the roads to be cleared.

asked why, sec almendras said something to the effect that they could not simply distribute the precious bags to people in the streets because what if some of them had received relief goods already; another report had the same official (or maybe another one) asking who these people were ba, were they all from tacloban?  hello.

what i’ve gleaned from first person accounts is that private relief efforts then were very few and small and far between; government itself had hardly distributed any substantial amount (correct me if i’m wrong).  and really, so what, if one or two out of a hundred had received something already?  surely it wasn’t much.  surely what should have mattered were the many more who had not received any.  and so what if some of them were not from tacloban, maybe visitors from manila or nearby provinces — they were hungry and thirsty and in shock, too.  in a time like post-yolanda, it is best to err on the side of compassion, rather than on the side of caution.

i’ve been trying to wrap my head around this, and hindi ko maarok, matarok, where these government officials were coming from, being so swapang with relief goods, coldly withholding sustenance and support from victims immediately around them.  paano, bakit, nila natiis ang mga kaharap nilang kapwa na nagugutom, nauuhaw, nasugatan, namatayan…

not wishing to think politics, i can only suppose that there was a fear of running out of relief goods for the distant barangays?  if so, i suppose it can be called a kind of foresight, looking ahead and all that.  but their foresight pre-yolanda had failed them, why trust in foresight now.  in fact, what those first hours, those first days, called for was a zen (a la alan watts) kind of seeing and acting, meeting the needs of the here-and-now, the needs of the moment, without being daunted, nay, paralyzed, by the lack of communication signals and electricity, and without losing sight of the needs of tomorrow.

it was a time for improvisation, thinking out-of-the-box.  limited pa ang relief goods?  on the one hand, dswd could have given out small packs muna, paisa-isang bote ng tubig muna, at konting biskwit, sabay communicate with, talk to, the people, heto muna, pantawid sa gutom at uhaw, meron pang darating, huwag kayo mag-alala, in the process acknowedging, rather than ignoring, the victims and their suffering.

walang koryente, so walang public address system, at wala ring megaphone?  they could have talked to small groups of people at a time, assuring them that help is coming, confessing that government was caught by surprise too by the ferocity of yolanda, and asking for patience, and help in spreading the word to other taclobanons…

and on the other hand, while urgently appealing to country and the world for relief goods and medicines and doctors and psycho-social workers, the ground commander could have at once called in the troops for urgent rescue operations, sabay clear the roads para madaanan for distribution of relief goods.  that there were no rescue ops to speak of is reprehensible, unconscionable, disgraceful.  lives could have been saved, pain alleviated, misery abated, kahit kaunti.

beginnings are crucial, setting the tone and pattern of events in the new cycle unfolding.  warmth, caring, kindness, no matter if extended only to a relatively limited few at that most crucial time, would have gone a long way toward inspiring confidence in the national government.  sana makabawi pa sila.

13 Responses to the president asks, “what else could we have done?”

  1. November 25, 2013 at 11:10 am
    GabbyD

    ” meant for distribution in barangay centers where they would be properly distributed to registered residents, so the precious bags were loaded in trucks, and then natl government waited for information on where these barangays were, are, located, and waited some more for the roads to be cleared.”

    how do you know this? ive been following the news recently, and i havent read/seen anything to this effect.

    if its IS true that the government had the goods, the transportation equipment, the manpower to reach a barangay, but DID NOT, then that is something wrong.

  2. November 25, 2013 at 1:34 pm
    Bert

    Oh, how I wish the president of the Philippine be Superman in times of great disasters. All problems solved in a jiffy, relief goods delivered to all victims in a second, and most of all, no unreasonable complaint of delay.

    • November 25, 2013 at 2:15 pm
      andrew lim

      I wonder if Ms Katrina Stuart Santiago is a devotee of Padre Pio? He is supposed to be gifted with the ability to bilocate, or appear in two places at the same time. That power would have satisfied her “dapat ganito, dapat ganoon…”

      As for the paragraph with the most naivete or sheer ignorance this wins it:

      “walang koryente, so walang public address system, at wala ring megaphone? they could have talked to small groups of people at a time, assuring them that help is coming, confessing that government was caught by surprise too by the ferocity of yolanda, and asking for patience, and help in spreading the word to other taclobanons…”

      • November 25, 2013 at 2:42 pm

        Hey Andrew, maybe you start with your own ignorance: you’re talking to the wrong person, in the wrong blog.

        and as for your notion of bilocation. no the president did not need to be in two places at once. he needed to be in one place AT ONCE, and in control of the situation. to imagine that he was doing exactly that, begs the question: how do you know? how do you know EXACTLY what the president does at any given time? or is it that you just believe fully in what he says, no questions, no ifs and buts? now that’s what the faithful are made of. Padre Pio would be proud.

      • November 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

        hindi bilocation ang hinihingi. multi-tasking lang.

  3. November 25, 2013 at 3:40 pm
    andrew lim

    This is just hilarious. I bring up bilocation, and I end up addressing the wrong hyphenate,resulting in two seemingly bilocated responses.

    Now I wonder if those who certified Padre Pio’s powers were dealing with near namesakes or look-alikes.

    LOL

    • November 25, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      in fact only one is hyphenated

  4. November 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm
    lola oya

    ‘that there were no rescue ops to speak of is reprehensible, unconscionable, disgraceful’ are words right out of my mouth, anj!

    The fact of no search and rescue operations became doubly reprehensible, unconscionable, and disgraceful when Roxas’ admitted ‘that looking for survivors under the rubble was not a priority of the government at the moment.’

    After 3 new dead were found, when possible survivors were hopefully waiting for rescue, Roxas’ monumental indifference should go down in history as the height of insensibility!

    Already incredulous as i was, Roxas saying “I think the three who had just died were from recent causes. Maybe they had a heart attack, pneumonia or something, but not because of Yolanda” floored me! Napaka-apathetic ng dating: just simply so uninvolved. i cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could be so cold-heartedly uninvolved.

    Though it is not unusual for one to choose to stand apart from a situation because of fear, or other pressures, I cannot imagine how anyone can be so unmoved, given how he was assessing recent dead.

    But hmmm… ‘other pressures.’ Even when ‘lives could have been saved, pain alleviated, misery abated, kahit kaunti,’ could it have been that ayaw lang madagdagan ang number of fatalities, hang-up as the leadership has been on keeping the death toll down?

  5. November 26, 2013 at 1:04 am

    OSCAR LAGMAN JR.: True, our leaders should have been at the forefront of the relief and rescue operations from the beginning. But they were dazed by the tremendous force of Yolanda and blundered when they tried to carry out damage control in the days following Yolanda’s destructive sweep over the Visayas. But this is not the time to play the blame game. There will be time for that, in fact, an eternity of it. Those remiss will be chastised over and over again, not only during their political life but during their entire lifetime. History will immortalize their failings. But let us not distract them now as they struggle to do the best they can to help the nation get back on its feet, as we should not let their detractors distract us from our relief work.
    http://www.bworldonline.com/content.php?section=Opinion&title=Help,-help,-help!&id=79849

  6. November 26, 2013 at 10:36 pm
    joji

    Yes, everybody is shocked that with instant communication and advanced technology, you cannot escape to feel frustrated while watching catastrophic events right at your own living or bedroom by the miracle of TV via satellite transmission. One is so affected that he feels sorry and helpless for the delayed govt response as if we are there vicariously experiencing the pain and suffering of helpless people, Hence, we demand “instant” succor from the authorities, specially, the national govt who can marshall the manpower and instant resources to immediately and execute emergency rescue operations according to contingency plan. But, hey, are these “instant” quick deployment of limited resources that easy to implement given the hazy and massive destructions on the ground? Just wondering if one can think immediately and intelligently which are priorities and not during such calamities. True the govt is there to protect the people, but is it liable to respond quickly to acts of God like earthquake and tsunami?

  7. November 27, 2013 at 3:11 am

    “Typhoon Haiyan: How a Catastrophe Unfolded” … Wall St. Journal http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304465604579217671422015220?mod=e2tw

  8. November 27, 2013 at 3:31 am
  9. November 27, 2013 at 10:53 am
    john c. jacinto

    mas marami ang matutulungan kung kongretong tulong ang gawin at hindi ngawa, reklamo at kritismo. oo, karapatan natin ang ngumawa, magreklamo at mag-criticise sa mga taong gobyerno na may pagkukulang at pagkakamali. pero mas maganda isantabi na muna yan at tumulong na lang. TABANG!

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