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Aquino could have done more to speed up relief

/ 08:26 PM November 26, 2013

In interviews with foreign and local media, President Aquino kept on repeating the line that in case of a calamity, it is the local government that should first respond, and only when it fails to do so will national assistance be made available.

Only on Day 3 did he go to Tacloban. He must have seen that there was a total breakdown of local governments. But what Mr. Aquino did was the unthinkable: He left the devastated city without even leaving anyone effectively in charge.

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There was no question that assistance was available from the beginning; the only problem was how to get the relief aid to the people. As early as Day 2, dozens of medical personnel belonging to the private sector were ready to go to Tacloban, but they could not be accommodated in the planes going to the place.

Why was relief aid not brought to the affected areas with utmost speed possible. Again, there was no question about capability. On the day of the calamity, nearly a thousand vessels of all kinds, from passenger and cargo ships to motorized bancas, were stranded in the Visayas. Why weren’t they mobilized at once to ship relief to Tacloban? We know from history that the British people sent all kinds of ships to Dunkirk during World War II to rescue their trapped soldiers. Why couldn’t we do likewise to help our distressed countrymen?

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On the day of the calamity, the Philippine Navy had 20 ships on standby. Tacloban, a seaside community, could have been reached. The airports in Guiuan and Maasin were reported operational. By Day 2, Tacloban airport was already open, in fact Mr. Aquino had reached Tacloban? Private contractors were working to clear the roads especially those leading to San Juanico Bridge. Where was the Department of Public Works and Highways? According to administration spokesmen, the roads were impassable. But the Philippine Air Force alone had 32 military helicopters. Why were the helicopters not used?

On Day 6 after the calamity, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported from Tacloban: He expected to see the government in charge of everything on the ground. He was met instead by hunger and sickness. In Japan, he noted, defense forces were already going through every nook and cranny of the areas affected by the tsunami, “within a day or two.” In Tacloban, he did not see a single feeding center for the typhoon victims, and medical assistance was visibly hampered by the lack of medical supplies and personnel. The situation must have been worse in the outlying areas.

Today people are convinced that something could have been done to save the typhoon victims from all the unnecessary suffering. A UN official could not hold back the remark that we have let people down. If the national government believes that it did its best, it must answer with specific figures instead of engaging in finger-pointing and buck-passing. The average Filipino is not an expert in relief operations, but he knows when a tragedy has struck and whether the aid could have been given sooner than was the case. It is in his response to the emergency where, as CNN’s Christiane Amanpour told Mr. Aquino to his face, his presidency will be defined.

—MARIO GUARIÑA III,

former associate justice,

Court of Appeals, Parañaque City

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Guiuan, Leyte, Maasin, President Aquino, Tacloban
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