Pinoy-style ambag-ambag not enough: You need military might and precision to manage the Yolanda disaster

So was the disaster wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda God’s fault? That question and the whole topic of Filipinos’ faith in a Catholic god is of course a no-go-zone at the moment as we all need to be “positive” in the face of the appalling tragedy unfolding before us courtesy of “The Situation Room” set up by CNN in Tacloban. But nobody can ignore just how unlucky the Philippines has been. Just a few weeks before Yolanda laid waste to Tacloban City in Leyte, a Magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit nearby Bohol province killing hundreds and destroying cherished church buildings. And before that, in December 2012, another killer typhoon snuffed out more than 2,000 lives in Mindanao.

Truly reassuring: U.S. military personnel mobilising to aid Yolanda victims
Truly reassuring: U.S. military personnel mobilising to aid Yolanda victims
On the man-made front, equally appalling tragedies abound in the Philippines. Warlords who kill people and bury them with backhoes languish in judicial limbo, politicians who diverted tens of millions in Filipinos’ hard-earned taxes are likely to not just get away with it but get re-elected in the next elections, and company directors of a single shipping line that owned several ships that sank along with tens of thousands of innocent passengers remain at large.

But of course. Yolanda, a tropical storm that breaks all historic power records, is a “test” of the Filipinos’ “faith” and “resilience”.

The outpouring of compassion and the mobilisation and channeling of resources coming from Filipino benefactors all over the world is heartwarming. Facebook and Twitter timelines are flooded with charity appeals. Indeed, when it comes to responding to despearate need, Filipinos are champs. Pinoy Bayanihan rocks!

But then nothing beats the big supply- and equipment-laden C-class transport planes and dozens of navy ships and their crews of well-trained military personnel being sent by the United States and Great Britain when it comes to tangible hope for results. Even with a lot of money pouring in from Filipinos all over the world and volunteers packing relief goods in warehouses across the nation, doubts abound as to how much of all this goodwill actually gets to the people who need them the most. The grassroots relief effort (spurred by “social media” many would like to think) is a nice bottom-up approach that strongly appeals to the need for the warm fuzzy feel-good vibes people seek in times of grief.

As far as the sort of command-and-control needed to get things done effectively and efficiently, that sort of “crowdsourced” ambag-ambag relief just does not cut it. For the very same reason that emergency situations call for emergency — i.e. dictatorial — powers, you can’t manage a disaster at the scale wrought by Yolanda with mere prayer and good intentions. You need military precision and its rigid no-frills, no-debate, no-emo command-and-control leadership approach.

As Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte astutely observed, “God was somewhere else when the typhoon hit”. Perhaps, indeed, God should step back and let competent humans do the job that Filipinos had traditionally relied on him to do. Unlike God, Mayor Duterte makes no promises beyond what his resources are capable of delivering…

He had ordered a team of 911 relief workers and rescuers to bring medicine to Tacloban by land on Saturday afternoon. The team arrived in Tacloban Monday morning, after they hacked and cut their way through fallen trees along the way, and cleared some roads of debris.

Duterte said he was right in sending a medical team to Tacloban but said they would be useful only for three days because of the enormity of the need. He said the next team to be sent should be composed of people who know how to handle cadavers.

Indeed, there is no substitute for the institutional might of a competent national government. And that is why news such as this bring real hope to Yolanda’s hapless victims…

Britain is sending HMS Daring, which will be equipped with a device to convert sea water to drinking water, to Philippines to assist in rescue and relief work. Britain is also sending a Boeing C-17 military transport aircraft that would expedite teh transport of humanitarian aid to the typhoon-hit areas in dire need of supplies.

To expedite rescue operations, the US was sending an aircraft carrier USS George Washington to Philippines, which would reach there in 48-72 hours.

According to a statement, 5000 sailors and over 80 aircraft were onboard USS George Washington and crews were being recalled from Hong Kong to be on their way to the Philippines.

British Prime Minister David Cameron Britain said the UK is also sending a Navy warship with equipment to make drinking water from seawater and a military transport aircraft.

In just four paragraphs we get a relatively clear sense of the specific resources to be mobilised, the specific actions to be taken, and the specific capability to be applied to serve Yolanda’s victims. Certainly the prospect of this awesome contingent of world-class equipment and personnel (directed by a clear chain of command) reaching the Philippines over the next day or two is more reassuring than the sight of Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas directing traffic on the streets of Tacloban — or motherhood “assurances” coming from President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III.

The current Philippine national disaster response capability is to the approaching US/British contingent as the jeepney is to a modern public transport system. Whilst Filipinos patted themselves on the back for decades for the “ingenuity” of the iconic jeepney, the “system” built on that quaint “solution” eventually became the bane of efforts to build modern public transport. By all accounts, the same sort of thinking is what has turned the Philippines’ disaster response machine into the inutile excuse stammered incoherently by Filipino politicians and waxed poetic by Filipino “netizens” today.