I have been going to and from the cities of Tacloban and Ormoc lately, and from what I have experienced, our national and local leaders or the civil society or business community in the areas devastated by “Yolanda” should launch a campaign among the residents that may be tagged as “Tabang-tabang ta” or “Tulong-tulong tayo” (Let us help one another), in contrast to just “Tabangi mi” or “Tulungan nyo kami” (Help us).
Such a campaign is necessary, even urgent. In my last trip to Tacloban, at the hotel where I stayed, I witnessed two foreign volunteers of a foundation based in the United Kingdom asking the front desk staff why they were being charged for an extra bed when they did not use one, and the staff insisting that they did. They were also seeking a 20-percent discount from the hotel where they had stayed for almost a month. The hotel owner had earlier agreed to a 10-percent discount only, but as one of the volunteers correctly pointed out to the front desk staff, they should be given consideration because they came to Leyte to help set up something that would benefit Leyteños and Samareños, and the room where they stayed had none of the usual amenities and freebies.
The volunteers wanted to talk to the hotel owner but were told he was not around. However, the hotel is owned by a family, and I observed that other family members were actually around and could have easily talked to them.
In this regard, owners of hotels and pension houses should be careful in dealing with foreign and local volunteers who are in Leyte and Samar to help. They should strive not to create a wrong impression that they are not honest. They should also be more considerate of foreign volunteers who had availed themselves of bare accommodations for weeks or a month. Those volunteers were right: They came to our country to help. They will return to set up something that will help Leyteños and Samareños. They deserve some consideration. What is an additional 10-percent discount when, prior to Yolanda, hotels and pension houses in Tacloban and Ormoc may not have had the kind of business they are having now? That the hotel was using a generator from time to time during power outages, which I heard the front desk staff mention, is no excuse at all.
Then there is the car rental business which is very critical to foreign and local visitors to Tacloban and Ormoc. The daily rental for a vehicle used to range from P2,500 to P3,500 before Yolanda, but it rose to P8,000 to P10,000 (or $200) after Yolanda. Locals like me are charged P6,500 for a one-day use that includes a drop-off in Ormoc later in the day. One is charged the same P6,500 even if one uses the vehicle for a little more than half a day. Visitors like me really have no choice because we need a vehicle to enable us to do a lot of things during our limited stay. Besides, there are few taxis in Tacloban, and one seldom sees them in the downtown area. The other available means of transport is the tricycle.
Worse, not once was I issued an official receipt by the car rental company (receipts are very important to visitors who need to liquidate their expenses).
There’s also the matter of honesty. In my last trip to Tacloban, I was being charged the same P6,500 a day even if I would only use the vehicle in the city. It was only after I reminded the owner that she was charging me P6,500 for a day’s use including a drop-off at Ormoc that she lowered the rate to P5,500. I later decided not to use the car rental on my second day because I had an early-afternoon flight. This turned out to be a bad idea because I almost missed my flight.
In retrospect, I would have readily spent P5,500 for a brief use of a car just to make sure that I would be home for New Year’s Eve. The night before my departure, with the “help” of the security guard in the hotel where I stayed, a taxi driver showed up and I contracted him to collect me at a specified time the next day. He said it would be P500 for the 15-minute drive to the airport. I agreed, just so I would not miss my flight. But I never saw him again. I surmised that someone may have offered him more for the use of his taxi.
With no means of transport to the airport, I found the hotel staff unhelpful. When I asked the lady guard to call a taxi, she said she did not have the numbers of taxi drivers. When I asked the front desk for the contact number of any taxi company, I was told that the hotel records had been damaged by the flood. But that was more than one-and-a-half months ago, and the hotel staff or management had plenty of time to get the necessary numbers for their guests’ use. Also, the woman at the front desk did not indicate in the slightest that she could or would help in some way, except that after some time, she suggested that I take a tricycle to the airport.
I would have missed my flight had I not done so; the airline counter was about to close when I arrived. It was also a difficult ride to the airport for I had luggage and it was raining, and portions of the garbage-lined streets were flooded. The tricycle driver charged me P300 for the 20-minute drive but lowered it to P200 when I said it was too much. I gave him P240, which included the tip, and he grudgingly accepted it without looking at me and with no thanks.
Such incidents may be also happening in other areas devastated by Yolanda. If experienced by our foreign guests, these incidents will surely give a very bad impression of ourselves as a people. Worse, these may impact on the desire and determination of foreign volunteers and organizations, and even local ones, to help our people at this critical time.
Thus, our national and local leaders should launch a campaign that will exhort everyone not to take advantage of the devastation wrought by Yolanda and not to profit from it at the survivors’ expense. Local residents—especially transport operators and drivers and owners and staff of hotels and pension houses—should be encouraged not to take advantage of visitors and to be honest, pleasant, hospitable, helpful, courteous and considerate. A simple “thank you” will go a long way.
Hotel and pension house owners and staff should also exert utmost effort to make the stay of foreigners and locals in their establishments more affordable and comfortable. Yolanda should no longer be an excuse for shortcomings that can easily be remedied by a little more effort and consideration. It is not enough that hotels and pension houses provide a room with bed and bedding; they should accord their guests the hospitality that Filipinos are supposed to be known for.
Also, the Department of Tourism can be more active in the devastated areas even if these areas are not Boracay or the usual tourist destinations. Besides, there are so many foreign visitors going to and from these areas, and their impressions of us as a people will certainly matter.
I am very concerned that we might be driving away local and foreign volunteers and groups who want to help the typhoon survivors. There is an urgent need to address the situation right away, especially now that rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts involving their help are about to start.
Let us help one another, as well as those who came to our country to help us.
Ernesto B. Francisco Jr. heads the Francisco Law Office.
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