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Commentary

‘Storm swords’ and politics of the Platters

/ 03:35 AM November 29, 2014

I understand the bitter resentment and popular perception of my fellow “Yolanda” survivors that the national government is handling the rehabilitation efforts with the speed of a turtle dying of the combined affliction of cancer (stage 4) and Ebola.

In reality, however, the meager achievement in the rehabilitation phase is not just the fault of the national government. It is largely attributable to snags in finding suitable sites for housing settlements, the hesitancy of some survivors to abandon their dwellings in no-build zones, and the strict guidelines that must be followed prior to disbursement of public funds in a post-DAP/PDAF setting.

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Worse, some local government units are hesitant to allocate their prime lots for housing projects because these are earmarked for sale or lease to big businesses, which could generate much-needed funds, not to mention commissions and kickbacks. Thus, some LGUs would rather go through the tedious legal process of expropriating private lands, which, of course, would be met with the stiff resistance of the affected landowners.

I should know. Our law office was recently embroiled in an eminent-domain case which was filed by an LGU that wanted to summarily use our client’s land as a resettlement site. An international nongovernment organization and a few LGUs hired us to review and make recommendations on contracts involving housing resettlement projects.

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What I found out is that most of the contracts came in the form of a tripartite memorandum of agreement involving the LGUs (city or municipality and the provincial government), the national government agency concerned, and an NGO. For the project to bear fruit, each party assumes a significant role which requires them to perform specific tasks. It goes without saying, therefore, that if two of the contracting parties would rather make motherhood statements in interviews and press releases instead of working together, then we can expect that the project will advance painfully slow, if not be scrapped altogether.

Of course, we typhoon survivors, especially those who are still jobless and living in cramped temporary shelters, want concrete results, and no amount of explanation can douse our burning rage and boiling anger.

Nevertheless, if we continue to add fuel to the already blazing inferno of finger-pointing among our politicians, we would only be making things more difficult for the real victims of this tragedy—the displaced, the homeless, the widowed, and the orphans of Yolanda. Their wounded pride and bruised ego notwithstanding, our politicians can take care of themselves, so quit worrying about them. While most of us are struggling to survive, our politicians will continue to thrive and can still afford to buy our votes come 2016.

And so amidst this deafening political noise which I call the clanking of post-Yolanda “storm swords,” I pray for cooler heads to step in. Instead of sponsoring a Binay-Trillanes debate (which petered out even before it could begin), perhaps the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas can rechannel its energy to inviting all stakeholders in the Yolanda rehabilitation to a televised dialogue where all can air their grievances, find solutions, and get their acts together.

That is why I am saddened that some local politicians are riding the wave of P-Noy protests as if they, too, don’t have blood on their hands and are not part of the collective blame. In the early days and months after Yolanda, their lame remark—that instead of them being made to account for what has happened, everyone should instead focus on burying the dead and helping the displaced and the injured—seemed reasonable, albeit a bitter pill to swallow.

But one year has passed, and if we are really steadfast in our quest for justice, maybe it is about time we also started seeking answers to some nagging questions, such as: Where were our public servants on the crucial days and hours leading to Nov. 8, 2013? If they were out of their province, city or municipality, when did they return to their respective kingdoms given the megadisaster that was then fast approaching our shores?

Did they choose to err on the side of caution or on the side of comparative inaction? Were they on top of the situation—meaning, did they personally preside over disaster-preparedness meetings and visited communities at risk, or did they just leave the matter to their deputies? Did they even prepare for a worst-case scenario and devised not just a Plan A but several alternatives—a Plan B and a Plan C, for example? With access to critical information and with the resources and personnel at their disposal, did they perform the extraordinary diligence required under the circumstances, which could have minimized the loss of lives?

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More importantly, as their constituents’ first line of defense and given the predicted magnitude of the perils that would be brought by the coming supertyphoon, did they even coordinate with the national government as to how and where its pertinent agencies could position themselves, so that they could be of immediate assistance? Or did they link arms with these agencies only after Yolanda—that is, after they realized that they had nothing more to gain or profit if they continued ruling their respective turfs with an iron hand and a closed fist?

To be honest, I am quite puzzled as to why these issues were swept under the rug and not a single soul has raised such questions in the open. Kung sabagay, given that most of us received bribes in exchange for our votes, perhaps we are resigned to the idea that our local leaders don’t owe us an explanation because mga bayad naman kita.

The bottom line is this: I wish we can be discerning enough to distinguish the Yolanda survivors who are genuinely searching for justice from those who have mastered the art of “Platters politics” and are just using our pain and anguish for personal and political gain. (The Platters was a great rhythm-and-blues band that sang the 1950s hit song “The Great Pretender.”)

To those who would disagree with my opinion, my apologies. I am just an ordinary person freely expressing his views on a Sunday night (when I wrote this). I am busy, such that I have neither intention nor time to engage anyone in a debate. It’s just that recent events remind me of a man named Jesus who walked the cobbled streets of Jerusalem some 2,000 years ago. He welcomed and bestowed forgiveness on the prostitutes, the taxmen and the petty thieves. But there was one class of people in his time whom he could not stomach and had zero tolerance for: the hypocrites.

Roy P.M. Perez is a former president (2011-13) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ Leyte chapter.

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TAGS: Binay-Trillanes debate, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, LGUs, Platters, politics, Yolanda aid, Yolanda Survivors
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