Did the Filipino people elect their leaders so that they could be given a “break” in times when their leadership is needed the most? It seems that’s exactly what they did. Many Filipinos are already quite aware of the embarrassingly cringe-worthy manner with which Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III and Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas responded to the pointed queries of CNN journalists Christiane Amanpour and Andrew Stevens respectively. Rather than state exactly what the situation was, the focus was more on making excuses and trying to look busy in the midst of all the chaos.
But of course Typhoon Yolanda (a.k.a. Tropical Storm Haiyan) was one of if not the most powerful storms in the planet’s recorded history to hit land. And of course the Philippine Air Force only had just three C130 cargo planes at its disposal. Of course the only road connecting Tacloban Airport to the city centre is a “narrow cement road of one lane in each direction”. Of course the Philippines is an archipelago and that Leyte in which Tacloban is situated is an island with no road link to other major cities. And of course the local government of Tacloban was itself a victim of the calamity and that some sort of “protocol” cited by Secretary Roxas gave the National Government reason to defer first to the resources of that local government before it acted.
Those, as the apologists insist, are the “realities” that need to be considered when regarding the speed and quality with which the Philippine state responded to the disaster. When we consider these “realities”, they say, we find enough reason to find it in our hearts to give the government of President BS Aquino a “break”.
Trouble is, there are questions more obvious than the questions of why the Philippine government response was slow in this instance. For that matter, it has always been slow if not virtually non-existent. Typhoon Sendong (a.k.a. Tropical Storm Washi), which hit the northern part of the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao in 2011 was itself a piece of work. It was the deadliest storm of 2011 killing more than 2,000 Filipinos most of whom were impoverished squatters living on flood plains that were engulfed by swelling river waters. In 2012, Typhoon Pablo (a.k.a. Tropical Storm Bopha) also a Category 5 super-typhoon made landfall on the east coast of Mindano near Davao City. Pablo eclipsed Sendong in terms of power making it the strongest ever storm to slam Mindanao.
In both cases, the Philippine government was just as inept. Cadavers remained uncollected for days, relief goods rotted in warehouses, and bureaucracy and fragmented governance prevented a proper chain of command from being put in place rapidly. But there were two main things that helped President BS Aquino’s Teflon government escape widespread condemnation: (1) faraway Mindanao is usually the least of the concerns of Imperial Manila’s chattering classes, and (2) those storms did not attract the same sort of high-profile international media coverage that Yolanda’s victims enjoy today.
So when we ask more overarching questions, like why there is only a single two-lane road connecting Tacloban Airport to a city of more than 200,000, or why for heaven’s sake there are only three Air Force C130 planes serving a vast archipelago populated by 100 million potential victims of future calamities, or why such “protocols” exist that gives reason for Malacañang to defer to local-government response when such units clearly cannot manage their domains properly and honestly even in the best of times, the true reasons behind the horrific scales of this disaster emerge.
Funny enough (though nobody is laughing now), Yolanda hit just as the nation was transfixed by another world-class crisis — the pork barrel corruption scandal that implicates just about every one of the country’s legislators to vast thievery of funds virtually immune from audit that all originates from the office of President BS Aquino.
When you step back far enough from the noise of the current melee we give ourselves a good enough vantage point to connect the dots at a macro level.
Oh, so that is why only a two-lane rinky-dink road connects Tacloban Airport to the city!
Oh so that is why the Air Force is equipped with a measly three C130 planes!
Oh so that is why the National Government seems hamstrung by local-government politics!
It suddenly makes sense why top honcho Filipino “journalist” Korina Sanchez suddenly has her claws out following a grilling copped by her husband in the expert hands of CNN International journalists.
Oh, so Korina Sanchez’s husband is the DILG Secretary!
Ohhhhhh… now I see….
Lots of Filipinos, it seems, were born yesterday — which is why they act like so whenever they troop to the polls to select the people who will go on to “lead” them and “represent” them.
It really does not take much brain power to ask the right questions. But often we need brilliant minds applying an outsider’s perspective to provide that sort of insight (or at least plant the seeds from which these sorts of insights emerge). So we should be thankful that the world has now taken notice of just how impoverished the Philippines really is. It is the worst kind of poverty. Not just a poverty of resources, but a poverty of intelligence.
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