Coping with ‘Pablo’

WIth the death toll surging past 900 and with some 600 people still missing, “Pablo” has proven to be the most destructive typhoon this year, belying many assurances from the government that it had prepared well for the disaster and that the damage had been minimized. But this may not be the time for blame-pinning. And it is also true that no one was prepared for the magnitude of the destruction, however much that Pablo had been touted as a superhowler. To be sure, with Tropical Storm “Sending” hitting the south at around the same time last year, leaving 1,500 people dead, authorities should have been prepared for more of the same erratic weather pattern affecting Mindanao and the destruction it could
bring in its wake. But storms have a way of defying the worst scenarios.

If Metro Manilans are still in denial about Pablo, they should take a look at dispatches and images from Compostela Valley. The secluded valley had sheltered its banana plantations not only from storms but also from the communist and Muslim insurgencies. Its produce has contributed to the global reputation of Philippine bananas and helped raise our country’s export earnings. But Pedro, with wind gusts of up to 200 kilometers per hour, flattened farmlands and triggered landslides, wiping out the banana industry in the blink of an eye. Now its farmers are destitute and starving. Ironically, the hardest hit in Compostela Valley is a town known as New Bataan! Its fall is as horrifying as that of old Bataan at the start of World War II.

Pablo has cut a wide swath of destruction, but two weeks into the disaster, there seems to be no final tally of the body count
and the damage. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Manila has so far put the death toll at 902, with 567 identified and 335 unidentified. As many as 415 have reportedly been rescued from the disaster zone. But the Office of Civil Defense in Tagum City said that 592 had been confirmed dead in just two provinces — 316 in Compostela Valley and 276 in Davao del Norte. In addition, there are disagreements about the number of people rescued. Dino Barrientos, executive director of the Umbrella Fish Landing Association, said only six of the 310 originally declared missing from General Santos City have so far been found. He said that 296 was the initial number of confirmed missing, and that the number rose to 310 on Dec. 10. It is now 326, as more people have come up to report lost kin. The NDRRMC should “immediately correct data” , Barrientos said.

Not only are the official tallies confused; relief operations are neither
here nor there. There were reports of riots breaking out as a result of alleged uneven distribution of relief goods. Civil defense and social welfare officials denied this, insisting that they are on top of the situation, but even President Aquino has admitted that “some communities” remained “isolated” as the government is “having difficulty in penetrating [them] due to [bad] weather and the closure of various roads due to landslides.”

According to a dispatch by an online news agency, some victims complained of not being given relief goods unless they were able to show some identification. “Many of us had to go home empty-handed,” one said. “How can we possibly show a document when we failed to secure even our personal belongings from the flood?” The fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya and party-list group Anakpawis have slammed the Aquino administration and local governments for slow rescue-and-relief operations. Artist Kiri Lluch Dalena, who
has visited the disaster areas, said it was disheartening to see many people in dire circumstances and falling prey to desperation and even violence because of government inaction and red tape. It behooves the government, local and national, to act quickly and provide relief to the victims and not exacerbate their desperate situation.

The international community has pledged billions of dollars in aid for those ravaged by the typhoon. With government rescue-and-relief efforts in shambles, the pledge of aid does little to inspire hope for the future of the victims. Nevertheless, if the aid pledges materialize, as some in fact have done, the public expects utmost transparency and judiciousness in their use. Let not insult be added to the victims’ injury and grief.

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