President Aquino drew widespread flak when, in the immediate aftermath of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”, he offered remarks that appeared to blame Tacloban City and its residents for unpreparedness. The assessment, while apparently meant to call the attention of the local government, and despite its unmistakable if clumsily expressed humanitarian point—“Any casualty is an issue with me,” the President said—was roundly criticized in the social media for its perceived callousness and insensitivity.
It’s clear now that Yolanda was more powerful than any other storm to have made landfall in this country and elsewhere, and that the kind of preparations and hunkering down that local communities were used to doing in the face of yet another storm simply didn’t stand a chance against the scale of its fury and destruction. “Everyone was overcome,” said Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. “No one—not here or abroad—could have prepared for a disaster of that magnitude.”
Fair enough, but there is still a valid point to be raised concerning the authorities’ ability, if not to blunt the physical destruction, then at least to take control as soon as the immobilizing wind and rain have died down. Because what was made clear in the first hours and days after Yolanda’s landfall is that Tacloban was dealt a double tragedy: first a typhoon that’s been described as the deadliest in human history, and second a horrific lawlessness that, while arising from the desperation and chaos spawned by a natural calamity, is entirely manmade.
Authority seemed to have disintegrated as survivors broke into malls and shops in search of food and basic necessities. Predictably, the vacuum has also attracted the unscrupulous: The looting went beyond food and fuel supplies to include such items as washing machines and television sets that are otherwise useless and superfluous to basic sustenance in the now powerless, devastated city. According to reports, relief convoys were also hijacked. The absence of authority to reimpose order, issue directions, and organize relief deepened the sense of desperation and led it to anarchy.
Now that it has stepped in to take over the rehabilitation efforts of Tacloban, the national government must immediately put a stop to the looting and restore order and priority to relief efforts. That the local government appeared to have been overwhelmed not only by Yolanda but by the ensuing social breakdown as well, must also offer Malacañang sobering lessons in disaster preparedness and security. It’s a situation that can but have the direst consequences if repeated in Metro Manila, or on a national scale.
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