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