It’s a kind world
The generosity of the world in coming to the Philippines’ aid has been outstanding and rapid. I particularly liked the Canadian government’s offer of $1 for every $1 a citizen donates. A couple of my clients are doing the same, matching employee contributions. But I shouldn’t single anyone out; everyone (some 43 countries) has gone out of their way to help. Everyone, that is, except the Chinese government, whose reaction (it donated only $1.6 million, after criticism of its initial donation of $100,000) is quite frankly disgraceful. So I’m pleased to see that the local Chinese-Filipino community has been so supportive.
I’ve seen some criticism of CNN because of its critique of the Philippine government’s response to this calamity. CNN had nothing to gain by such criticism. But remember, the media do need to sensationalize to gain attention. Maybe it’s the wrong reason, but the end result is what was needed. Because what the media did gain, and what was of inestimable value, was worldwide publicity. For a week CNN devoted almost all its news to bringing the heartbreak of the Visayas to the world. It was a major factor in the huge outpouring of support from the world. So let’s not worry about a little criticism.
I’m sure that the Philippine government is confident enough of itself to take it. But I hope it does take note of that criticism so that some real systems are now put in place, not just promised, to better handle catastrophes in a country that is third in the world in suffering them.
You all read about the little Japanese boy, Shoichi Kondoh, who broke open his piggy bank to donate. But we don’t read of the hundreds, thousands, of others that have put their day-to-day life aside to step in and help. There are countless stories, and the wonder of social media is helping all of this to happen. Every meeting I’m in, the discussion is on how to help. Filipino workers all over the globe are organizing their own relief drives. Local corporations have pitched in cash, relief goods and even needed services, such as the transport of relief goods to affected areas. The multinational companies among them also have their head offices sending support to add to the local contribution. People are connecting and moving to help. My clients, every one of them I’ve spoken to, have contributed in some way. This is a time when bureaucratic red tape must be set aside. The President has declared a state of calamity, and calamity it is. It is not a time to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s.”
The Bureau of Internal Revenue, particularly, must err strongly on the side of compassion. It is not a time to tax or even audit everything. If there are some unconscionable bastards taking advantage for personal gain, well, God will punish them eventually. Now every centavo of donation must go to the survivors as quickly as possible. The same with the Bureau of Customs: There must be no delay. If a container says “donation,” it’s a donation, speed it through.
The criticism of the Philippine government’s response may or may not have been fair, but this catastrophe highlighted once again that the country is not prepared to handle disaster despite the fact that it happens with predictable regularity. Over just the past 12 years, there have been around 200 earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, and other natural disasters in which nearly 13,000 people have lost their lives. One can predict with absolute certainty that there will be more. So prepare. The government has P11.7 billion of donated funds (at last count) to spend for the purchase of all the necessary equipment, facilities, and supplies, and, most important, the training to minimize the impact of disasters in the future.
This money should not be spent on the reconstruction that should come from the cancelled pork barrel (what a wonderful decision by the Supreme Court) and general appropriations. The country needs nationwide satellite communications, a fleet of C-130s (not second-hand fighter planes), cargo-carrying helicopters, bulldozers, cranes and trucks. It needs the energy bars that the United Nations stores, and water-purification systems. It’s an endless list that the UN or any advanced country can provide.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council needs to be completely reconstructed, adequately funded, and staffed with a tough, no-nonsense action leader such as Dick Gordon, with the Cabinet-level power to get all that is necessary done.
As to reconstruction, every town should have a disaster-proof, fully concrete (including the roof) building large enough to accommodate all the townspeople. But reconstruction isn’t only buildings, it’s also lives. People have lost their future; we need to give it back to them. The business sector can help here by helping small businesses start again. I have one client who is about to refleet; management will give the old trucks to those who need these to restart their businesses. Consumer-goods suppliers can give for free an initial restock for sari-sari stores that are no more.
Let’s help the people who’ve helped themselves, and who’ve proved they can responsibly run a business.
On the government’s side, it should put up houses for free, or on terms so favorable everyone can afford them. It should hire the people who now have nothing to build them, so they have a job, at least for a while. This is not a time to stick to normal commercial practice. It is a time to help those who’ve lost everything—even, doubtless in many instances, the will to live. Let’s give them the will.
“Yolanda/Haiyan” must not be a two-week headline, but the trigger to change the future. I will judge President Aquino on his ability to do that.
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