There is now an ongoing battle for the truth about the real situation in typhoon-ravaged areas amidst the tragedy that is still unfolding a week after super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) left the Philippines. On one side, members of the international media are giving factual reports from the ground at the disaster zone. On the other side are people from Malacanang including President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino who are giving a much rosier update from a cozier distance.
While CNN journalist Anderson Cooper reporting from Tacloban City observed that he sees “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” effort coming from the Philippine government where he is at, the same day President BS Aquino was giving a “reassuring” report during an interview with CNN studio reporter Christiane Amanpour that the Philippine government’s relief and rescue operations were well on its way. The President even said, “all national roads have been reopened and most national airports are back to operating levels”.
Amanpour’s professionalism remained commendable despite her receiving some ambiguous responses from BS Aquino. Others would have asked for pictures as proof of the President’s claims, or else it hasn’t happened. In fact, ground reporter Cooper was actually reporting live and showing actual footage from the ruins of Tacloban airport. The picture he showed was grimmer.
From Cooper’s vantage point, there were hundreds of people sleeping at the airport because there was nowhere for them to go and if one would just walk three blocks away from the airport, there were also people sleeping in makeshift huts or out exposed to rains even lying next to the bodies of their loved ones because these had yet to be picked up. He said there was also very little water and food supply because there was no feeding station, which according to him, was what one would expect after five days. The journalist added that he only heard of talks about the airport being opened again by the US marines but it hadn’t happened yet. He warned that the situation is getting desperate and that sooner or later something is bound to give.
To make matters even stranger for outsiders like Cooper, Filipino news anchor Korina Sanchez who also happens to be the wife of Department of Interior and Local Government secretary, Mar Roxas became defensive and said that Cooper doesn’t know what he is talking about. Sanchez probably thought that her husband’s directing traffic on the streets of Tacloban could be considered a rescue operation. Thank goodness no one takes her seriously nowadays especially since she hasn’t even been to the disaster zone.
Cooper has covered quite a number of disasters overseas and he seemed to be in shock over the lack of real urgency in the Philippine government’s response to the tragedy. To quote:
When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation.
It is too sad to hear Cooper say that it is not really clear to him and some of the international troops who exactly is in charge of the Philippine side of operations. The lack of real leadership in times of crises is now becoming obvious to the international community. As one reporter from ABC news claims, the Philippine government has become paralysed in the face of the disaster:
Villeamor Airbase – home of the Philippine Air Force and the main staging area for relief flights to the disaster zone – seems to be operating at half-speed. There is no thrum of activity, no evidence that there’s a real sense of urgency among the Philippine troops here. Every once in a while a civilian car pulls up and unloads a few boxes of goods some neighbors have collected. They put them on the sidewalk and drive away. A little while later, some Filipino troops (or reporters) move them inside. No method. No organization. It’s as if an earthquake hit southern California and Vandenburg or Nellis AFB were quiet and half-populated.
The U.S. Marines have swung into action, certainly. But there are just 215 of them right now, and they must coordinate with the Philippine government. As one high-ranking officer told me here about the host government, “They’re paralyzed.”
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official confirmed that impression privately to me. The Israeli team is here to assess what their country can contribute and where. Over the years, Israel has developed excellent field hospital capabilities that they’ve brought to disasters in Haiti and elsewhere.
But the Israelis, too, need to coordinate with the Philippine government. “When we ask them what they need, they tell us to talk to the Americans,” the official said.
The lack of leadership in the Philippines makes some Filipinos wish that foreign troops could just take over administration of the country forever. The Philippine government has become irrelevant. Members of congress are only good at grandstanding during Senate hearings in the guise of “aiding legislation” that hardly ever result in any significant outcomes.
Hopefully, the deaths of thousands of Filipinos during the super typhoon will not be in vain because this disaster is finally exposing the incompetence of the Aquino government not only to the rest of the Filipino people, but also to the rest of the international community.
Even back in 2011, the Aquino government was already being held accountable for the deaths of over a thousand people in Mindanao during typhoon Sendong. Kabataan party-list Representative Raymond Palatino already highlighted the Aquino government’s refusal to allot funds for disaster preparedness in the 2011 calamity fund. Fast forward to 2013, the Aquino government is certainly even less-prepared and ill-equipped to handle a much bigger disaster than Sendong.
It must be a real mystery to the international community why year after year, the Philippines is never prepared for the arrival of typhoons when in fact, during the interview with CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, BS Aquino admitted that we get visited by at least 20 typhoons every year. It is as if the Philippine government has become desensitized to the people’s suffering when it comes.
The rest of the interview with BS Aquino was cringe-worthy as expected. Amanpour hardly got a straight answer even when she asked simple questions. When Amanpour asked, “How do you manage to reassure your people?” The President responded as if he was talking to someone stupid:
We have been able to demonstrate as a government and as a people collectively that we take care of each other and that the government’s initial response was reassuring to the vast majority of our people. Our ability to take care of our problems rather quickly…
I can imagine people shaking their heads in disbelief at BS Aquino’s claim that the “government’s initial response was reassuring”. The President doesn’t seem to be in touch with reality because chaotic scenes in video footage and photos being circulated around the world do not show a reassured public. Someone needs to inform BS Aquino that the Filipino public along with the rest of the world are actually worried about those who are starving and going mad with desperation.
In one of her final questions, Amanpour asked how BS Aquino would respond to people who will judge his Presidency on how his government responded to the crisis. His response seemed to trivialize the number of deaths caused by the super typhoon, which he claims is “only” about 2500. He kept emphasising that the government’s efforts to warn the public minimized the casualties and this time, did not include sinking ships:
I think you can ask all the governors of the areas that have been saying that our making them aware the dangers of the typhoon enabled them to move their population from danger areas into safer areas and thereby minimizing casualties. A lot of them with the exception of Leyte province, eastern and western Samar have reported practically of one or two or even zero casualties wherein normally when we have a typhoon, we will also have ships that were travelling that would have sunk casualties in the hundreds, probably merit too much attention. So the knowledge, the geo hazard mapping, the knowledge imparted to all of them enabled them to reduce the risk inherent in all the disasters that visit us.
It was hard to filter out all the bullshit, indeed. One death is one too many. For BS Aquino however, if the number of casualties is less than 10,000, it is an indication that the casualties were minimized and it is thanks to the efforts of his government. Never mind the fact that he is not even basing his statements on any formal statistics.
The battle to find the truth about the true state of the Philippines will continue. Let us hope the international community will not give up on the Filipino people and help win back the Philippines from the lies of the Aquino regime.
[Photo of US military plane courtesy Interaksyon.com.]
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