Noynoy, not God, was absent when Yolanda struck, says lawmaker

Nov. 15, 2013

By Tyrone A. Velez & Danilda L. Fusilero

DAVAO CITY — Criticisms continue to mount against the snail-paced delivery of relief goods and medicines to Typhoon Yolanda survivors in Eastern Visayas which was exposed in national and international television.

A week has passed since Yolanda’s wind fury and storm surge left thousands dead and cities devastated; and failure in logistics prevented relief from reaching starving and dying survivors.

As government appealed to groups and individuals to refrain from playing the blame game, a worried nation and international community however, pointed at chaotic and obvious lack of crisis management for starving thousands of victims going into their first week of ordeal without adequate food, water and medicines.

When President Benigno Aquino III appeared on international cable news and placed the blame on the local government for the chaos and non-delivery of relief goods, the nation pounced on the blame game that Malacañang started.

It did not help that a known female television broadcaster also came to the President’s rescue, only to spark wider netizen outrage.

Progressive lawmakers and opinion makers also joined in, questioning what Aquino has in mind in handling a crisis of such magnitude.

“It’s not God who was absent or was somewhere else when Yolanda struck. It was the Aquino administration that was and still is nowhere to be felt, found or seen by our hapless kababayans (fellow Filipinos),” said Davao-based lawmaker, Atty. Carlos Isagani Zarate of Bayan Muna Partylist.

Zarate’s statement was a take from Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s earlier quote saying “God must be somewhere else when Yolanda struck” after seeing the devastation in Leyte.

The lawmaker reacted on images from both international and national media showing lack of orderly distribution of relief to survivors and retrieval of bodies.

“As people are dying, some of sickness, many of starvation, it appeared that no one person or government official is truly in charge of the situation. Much of what we heard from these officials were all media sound bites as people are dying,” he said.

Zarate, who had witnessed slow relief efforts for Typhoon Pablo in Davao regions, said the government never learned its lessons.

“It appeared that the government is horribly clueless, badly inefficient or even criminally disorganized,” he said

Another Davao-based lawmaker, Rep. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women Partylist also said government should have staged more efficient strategies to ensure immediate rescue and relief, but their response has been “lousy”.

“Six days after typhoon Yolanda survivors continue to walk, sleep and scour for food among the dead in ruined structures. Why is it that no centralized shelter or even a tent city in these areas? Why are survivors left to line up for relief goods and rice when we know that they do not even have clean water or pots to cook them with? Why is it that no centralized socialized kitchen for food distribution has been set up? Why is it that there is no makeshift hospital to attend to those who need medical attention?”

Ilagan said this lack of system has diminished hopes among survivors that eventually led to violence including looting of goods.

“A humanitarian crisis of this proportion can and will spawn violence. It is high time that the Aquino government get its act together rather than waste time and effort defending itself from international criticism for its glaringly disorganized and incompetent response to the disaster brought about by Super Typhoon Yolanda,” said Ilagan.

Businessman Amado So, of the Davao Chinatown Association, said Aquino was indecisive since Day One that forced residents to “loot” goods from malls and stores out of despair.

The looting, he said, would indicate that food may have been immediately available had government only talked and arranged it with the business community in the locality.

“I think, that if Aquino had only told businessmen that government would pay all their goods and distributed it to the victims, there wouldn’t have this problem,” he said.

“Survivors wouldn’t have to wait for relief goods from Manila to arrive because the goods are right there in Tacloban. The businessmen there were willing to give their goods at a discount. But everything’s too late now, everything’s in chaos,” So said.

Maureen Villamor, head of a youth relief drive Tulong Kabataan in North Cotabato, was worried that their relief efforts would come to naught without a clear system.

“The reports are disgusting. Relief goods like food packs are lacking. Where are the government funds? Why can’t the government give substantial assistance to the victims?” she asked.

For now, it’s a race against time to save survivors and give them hope. The United Nations issued a global appeal for $300 million in aid, as the United States also deployed its troops to the Eastern Visayas, and who arrived on Leyte via the warship USS George Washington.

But questions remain on how all this would be put in place without a clear direction.

“The government is so incompetent that it even allowed the conduct of relief, rescue operations to be undertaken by foreign troops,” said Zarate. (Tyrone A. Velez and Danilda L. Fusilero,

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