The best and the worst
Crisis, such as the series of powerful quakes that hit several areas in Mindanao these past two weeks, certainly brings out the best and worst in people.
For once, pictures of traffic-choked roads recently posted on social media brought on not the usual gnashing of teeth, but thousands of “likes” and similar emoticons of approval. The scene was of private vehicles loaded with relief goods crowding each other in the rush to bring their cargo to hungry and desperate quake victims.
In their individual capacities, motorists passing by the quake-hit areas distributed provisions and even cash to residents braving the elements and lining up the road with makeshift signs of what they needed most: “bugas, tubig, trapal” — rice, water, tarpaulin for shelter.
Private sector entities also pooled resources to extend relief to victims. At least 25 private groups have come together to form the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation, which has so far provided food and water, logistics support and communications services to quake survivors and rescue workers.
Three commercial airlines have volunteered to bring relief goods to affected areas as well, even while the country’s Air Force and Coast Guard ferry goods and rescue villagers stranded in remote areas.
Media companies, religious groups, local government units (LGUs) and civic organizations have started their own relief drives, soliciting help and finding ways to bring help to affected villages.
While some residents have complained of slow government help, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) assures that there are enough relief goods to go around.
So far, the agency said, it has provided some P4.2 million worth of aid to 28,656 families in North Cotabato province, while another P2.07 million was released to 6,984 families in Davao del Sur province.
DSWD staff have been deployed as well to assist local government units in managing the 30 evacuation centers currently housing 4,362 families or 21,810 individuals.
But while such heartwarming scenes play out and restore one’s faith in humanity, certain individuals and groups have chosen the occasion to score cheap points through partisan propagandizing.
Duterte supporters have rightly chastised a number of online government critics for characterizing the calamity as some sort of “retribution” for many Mindanaoans’ unstinting embrace of President Duterte’s governance and policies.
While such views by private individuals are reprehensible, their counterpoint narrative is even more appalling when heard from the mouths of government officials.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chief Ricardo Jalad, for instance, publicly doubted the veracity of pictures of victims begging for food and assistance along the roads.
“Duda ako dun, baka staged yun,” he said.
Jalad cited for his bewildering skepticism “reports of antigovernment groups seeking to use the quake to shame the government,” as reported by ABS-CBN’s Chiara Zambrano.
Think about it — hungry, homeless and traumatized residents forced to wave makeshift placards at passing motorists to plead for help in picture after picture, and Jalad thinks they may actually be enemies who had “staged” these tableaux of misery to embarrass the administration?
One of those residents, Myra Igienon, was quoted in a report as pleading: “Nasira na bahay namin. Wala na kami makain. Mga anak ko wala na makain. Kailangan namin bigas, trapal para may masilungan kami kapag umuulan” (We lost our home, we have nothing to eat, my children have nothing to eat. We need rice, and a tent for shelter when it rains).
And yet Jalad would discredit these victims’ manifest desperation with officious, paranoid zealotry, and would even prevent others from helping them, by setting up checkpoints along highways “to check the intent of motorists in proceeding to an evacuation center. If there is a vehicle and there are placards, then the checkpoints will stop them from entering.”
Those pictures must somehow cut deep, because, on top of Jalad’s callous words, Police Col. Maximo Layugan, provincial director of the Philippine National Police in North Cotabato, also threatened to arrest the hungry horde crowding the roads.
According to Jalad, there is no “humanitarian crisis” in the worst-hit areas — contrary to the assertion of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who’s been tasked to head relief efforts for Mindanao.
So why, then, must authorities use threats against people already battered by a calamity and doing what they can to survive, and against their fellow citizens who only want to help?
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