Back at the ranch …
On Wednesday when Supertyphoon “Lawin” made landfall in Northern Luzon, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos was in Beijing, apparently a member of President Duterte’s official delegation in his state visit to China, along with her brother, former senator and vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The siblings have no official positions in the Duterte administration, so certain questions naturally arise: What were they doing there? Who paid for their air fare and expenses?
But those questions will have to wait for another day. Back at the ranch, as it were, the most urgent task in the immediate aftermath of Lawin—the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year and said to be one of the most massive on record—is to attend to the needs of the survivors and begin the rebuilding of devastated communities. Governor Marcos’ place is here, in her home province, which was one of the five areas—along with Cagayan, Isabela, Kalinga-Apayao and Northern Abra—that were directly in the typhoon’s path.
Pagasa put those five areas under Typhoon Signal No. 5—an unprecedented designation issued by the weather bureau. While Lawin’s maximum sustained winds of 225 kilometers per hour were a tad weaker than the 235 kph of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” its massive 800-km diameter was twice in size than Yolanda’s 400 km, thus affecting a bigger area—in fact, nearly all of Luzon.
Yolanda killed some 6,300 people when it slammed into the Visayas in November 2013. Apart from its terrible winds and torrential rains that tore apart everything in its path, the destruction was compounded by a storm surge that washed over and obliterated coastal communities. The total damage to infrastructure is estimated at a staggering P9 billion. But the bigger damage was political: Then President Benigno Aquino III was heavily criticized for the slow, inefficient response to the disaster, marking it—along with the Mamasapano tragedy about a year later—as the biggest debacle of his administration.
Reports are still trickling in, but Lawin’s devastation appears, thankfully, to be of a much smaller scale than Yolanda’s. Because of Northern Luzon’s mountainous terrain, the storm weakened over land and no dreaded storm surge was reported. Eight persons died and two are said to be missing. According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, some 80,275 people, or about 18,277 families, are housed in 209 evacuation centers. Tuguegarao in Cagayan also reported that up to 80 percent of the city’s houses and buildings were damaged.
All across the rest of Northern Luzon, power lines and trees are down, houses are gone, roads are impassable, rivers remain swollen, and thousands of people need to be fed and clothed. The local government units are the frontline responders to such disasters, but, as Yolanda showed, it’s the national government that is expected to take on the bigger and primary responsibility of providing succor to Filipinos in need.
It’s not only Northern Luzon that stands prostrate at this time from Lawin’s wrath. Typhoon “Ferdie” lashed Batanes last September and wrecked some 1,224 houses—a heavy blow to the tiny province. Reconstruction is still ongoing, and now more relief and resources are needed to extend aid to its neighboring provinces as well.
But in Beijing, the spotlight was focused on the political theater that has characterized President Duterte’s face-to-face with the China brass—from the lavish red-carpet welcome accorded him to his dramatic announcement of a “separation” from the United States to form a trio with China and Russia.
It’s too early to tell exactly what the President’s latest zinger will amount to. What’s more urgent at this time is for his administration to come back to earth and refocus on aiding Filipinos who’ve just been through another calamity.