We must do better. The devastation wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” has given way to another, altogether manmade calamity: bureaucratic ineffectiveness. But because the lives of literally thousands of survivors lie in the balance, we must all do better.
Like many others, we understand the constraints. Some local government units in the affected areas lost their very capacity to govern, with only a fraction of their staff in a position to report for work. In Leyte and Samar, all power transmission lines are down; other provinces visited by Yolanda also suffer from downed lines. (This means that even though power plants are back up, the electricity they generate cannot be used.) Communication links in many areas have been destroyed, and restored mobile phone service has been patchy. Perhaps worst of all, considering the time that has passed since the storm, many roads remain uncleared. All this helps explain why relief aid is mounting at the Tacloban airport, why other hard-hit areas are clamoring for help, why in some places desperation is turning into anarchy.
But there is one more factor: Government response to the appalling humanitarian crisis has not leveled up. We use the phrase in exactly the way it is used in Philippine popular culture, as shorthand not only for raising one’s performance but also one’s standards.
We are not saying that the government has done nothing; indeed, as Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras made clear in a briefing yesterday, it has followed standard procedure. What we are saying is: It must recognize the unprecedented scale of the crisis, and do more.
As others have done, we would like to make a few suggestions—not because we know the answers, but because we believe every little bit helps.
Put someone clearly in charge. This is the most common complaint, not only from the international journalists who have parachuted into the country but also from aid donors and the survivors themselves. No one seems to be in charge. The need of the moment is to save the lives of the thousands of survivors; given the scale of the crisis, and the reduced governing capacity of many affected LGUs, the national government must step into the void. If the right person to coordinate rescue and relief operations, even if only for the next week or so, is a United Nations official or a US general, so be it. This won’t be a diminution of sovereignty, but an act of necessity in the nation’s highest interest.
Get that aid out, with the help of private-sector helicopters. Malacañang reported yesterday that five more military helicopters have been sent to “augment” the six already doing rescue and relief work in and around Tacloban. But given the lateness of the hour, and the scale of the devastation, 11 helicopters cannot be enough. The biggest companies in the Philippines, however, have their own helicopter fleets manned by some of the country’s most experienced pilots. Why not integrate them into the relief operations, even if only for a few days?
Some of these companies have already donated much, either in cash or in relief goods. But, six days after Yolanda shook the Visayas, their donations and those of others have not reached the people who need them the most. President Aquino can personally request the CEOs of these companies to lend their corporate aircraft, even if only for the next few days, to make short-run supply drops, to ferry stranded residents needing urgent medical assistance, to help establish communications facilities.
Channel volunteers’ energy. As time passes, the sense of uncertainty will increase. Even those who would like to help, or have already given some form of assistance, will waver in their commitment. The government must do a better job of communicating, not only what ordinary citizens can do to help, but what remains to be done. But aside from the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s call for volunteers to help sort and pack donations in its Manila and Cebu hubs, nothing much has been heard from the government about how ordinary citizens can pitch in. There is an enormous pool of goodwill ready to be tapped; sadly, unfortunately, it is being drained away, as the President quibbles over the estimated number of dead, and the barely living survivors wait yet another day for help, any kind of help, to arrive.
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