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PDI editorial erred: Leadership failed in Guiuan

/ 12:58 AM April 03, 2014

INQUIRER’S March 19 editorial, “Junket,” suggested that local leaders skip “costly” disaster-related conventions and, instead, just “trek to Guiuan (Eastern Samar) and learn from someone like (Mayor Christopher) Gonzales.”

Allow me to set the record straight:

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First, before the Guiuan landfall of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” Gonzales “forcibly evacuated” only those within the town proper. He left on their own the residents of coastal and island barangays facing the Pacific amid warnings of a storm surge.

Resulting statistics reveal that around 95 percent of the “101 deaths” the editorial cited came from storm surge-hit Pacific coastal barangays like Sapao, Pagnamitan and Victory Island. This excludes the 100 plus missing, now reasonably presumed dead. Coastal and island residents should have been prioritized for forced evacuation. Was this “error in judgement” not indicative that Gonzales prepared only for the strong winds, but not for the surge? Indeed, a zero storm-surge casualty in Guiuan was feasible had Gonzales not been complacent.

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Second, for hours after Yolanda, our town was in total chaos. Looting and stealing ran rampant; house break-ins were attempted. No peace officers (and media men) could be found on the job. Gonzales moved only when outside help—from the military, provincial office of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, rescue organizations, etc.—arrived.

Like me, President Aquino and the editorial team perhaps missed businesswoman Susan Tan’s account that her “friends, government employees and even policemen (in uniform) ransacked her grocery store and warehouse” (“Guiuan grocer forgives looters,” Front Page 11/18/13). Is this not a failure of leadership as this happened only in Guiuan (and Tacloban)?

Third, that the municipal government of Guiuan and Gonzales did not prepare/preposition relief goods before Yolanda made landfall became more evident in the ensuing days. As folks in the poblacion resorted to looting, coastal and island barangays had to wait for the US choppers’ food packs delivery. I wonder if Guiuan’s local government tapped its funds for disaster preparedness and quick response. How much was expended, or does the lack of prepositioned goods explain the looting?

Fourth, Gonzales’ ability to deal with conflict of interest was tested. His family’s Guiuan Motors Store jacked up the prices of construction materials. The mayor did nothing to control the prices of basic commodities.

Now, four months after Yolanda, I hope Gonzales will be up and about in his job. After all, he has had his rumored more-than-a-month-long US vacation. This should have refreshed him.

To end, allow me to thank P-Noy for making Guiuan a relief distribution hub for our province using the World War II airport there. Also, Manny Pacquiao’s visit certainly lessened my town mates’ depression. Indeed, all my town mates are forever grateful to the first responders from neighboring towns, and to the various organizations, local and foreign, and everyone who filled in the local government’s defects exposed the more by Yolanda.

—RAMON E. BERONIO,

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TAGS: Eastern Samar, Guiuan, Storm Surge, Yolanda
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