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Hell from Tacloban

/ 05:27 AM November 26, 2014

“Hello from Tacloban” was the cover title of a reputable magazine’s anniversary issue on Typhoon “Yolanda,” in which Tacloban City was among the very worst hit.

The greeting immediately connotes an upbeat, light and sunny disposition, an ironic juxtaposition of levity on a morose issue which counts among its morbidity countless dead approaching the original estimates of 10,000 and the fatal bungling of an inept national leadership that insisted on tainting rescue and relief operations with politics and politicking.

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Central to the magazine’s cover was a photograph of the secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). It is no secret that, despite coy denials and even more coy falsehoods surrounding a drive toward the presidency, the public knows who, indeed, would like to be president in 2016. The Liberal Party, through one of its officials, has already declared its front-runner in the face of all counterarguments from episodes of gross ineptitude, to revelations that the “Mr. Palengke” brand might actually be the diametric opposite of all it connotes.

Note the evidence. In a spat on the greens of an upscale golf course, a lowly employee, subsisting not far above the minimum wage, was treated to a vicious and uncontrolled tantrum. Not long before that, amid a ravaged Tacloban, while deliberating on rescue efforts, the interior and local government secretary introduced into the equation the dysfunctional variables of politics, political patronage and partisanship that, in a very real sense, bordered on political blackmail, ending with the shibboleth “Bahala kayo sa buhay ninyo!”

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From the trivial to the tempestuous, these illustrative episodes are far from the kind of caring behavior expected from a benevolent and fatherly landlord or scion of landed and learned gentry. Far from the stereotypical “Mr. Palengke,” these are portents of a presidency detached from the requisites of the highest office. Instead, it is one inordinately focused inwardly, perhaps even selfishly and egotistically.

The resulting venom elicited by the “Hello from Tacloban” cover is understandable. At his highest ranking in surveys for the 2016 presidency, the DILG chief remains lightyears away from striking distance.

Again, the polls merely reflect a continuing record of ineptitude. As one victimized citizen eloquently stated, “Tacloban’s wounds remain open,” festering, in large part due to official bungling.

Some called the cover title journalistic “sarcasm.” It would not be a first for the magazine.

But sarcasm can backfire. Most of the criticism ranged from “unjournalistic” to “insulting and insensitive,” to suspicions that the publication had allowed itself to be used as a public relations tool by a politician with sights set on 2016. While we personally subscribe to the “sarcasm” notion where the cover might have actually mocked, the greater public disgusted cannot be blamed given the record of serial ineptitude.

Most glaring is the manner by which the anniversary was recently remembered. Rather than visit ground zero in Tacloban, where thousands were killed by the typhoon and then later by government incompetence, the national leadership marked the commemoration in a place where only 107 fatalities were recorded as against Tacloban’s 2,678.

Allow us to comment from the perspective of the victims to understand government’s effective cowardice. While we fall prey to Monday morning quarterbacking, the following remains relevant lest we install the inept in the highest offices and there allow them to escalate in perhaps deadlier degrees.

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Note the concerns of victimized fisherfolk. Last month a nongovernment organization asked the Department of Justice to determine criminal liabilities committed by agencies in aggravating the humanitarian crisis from Yolanda.

They noted that two days before Yolanda struck, the government bragged that C130 aircraft were “fully mission capable to respond to those in need” and that 32 planes and helicopters were on standby together with 20 prepositioned ships.

In the first week following the typhoon, the aircraft were nowhere to be found. The ships arrived more than a week later. Worse, without coordinating with meteorologists, officials scheduled conferences and evacuations for the late morning and noon of the very day the storm struck, totally disregarding earlier weather bulletins that the typhoon would hit well before dawn.

How many died because of that fatal mistake?

In the aftermath, relief efforts were continuously marred by excessive politicking and partisanship that only the most ambitious can effect in times of calamities.

To be fair, perhaps the title “Hello from Tacloban” was a typographical error. As one reader suggested, the title should have been “Hell from Tacloban.”

Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a consultant to the Joint Congressional Power Commission. He authored a book on energy governance tool kits and teaches finance, investment mathematics and corporate strategy.

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TAGS: Haiyan, Mar Roxas, tacloban city, Yolanda
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