Could more have been done to save the victims of Yolanda?

Over at Vietnam where Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda) is now headed, “more than 600,000 people” have reportedly been evacuated. This raises the question over whether enough had actually been done by local authorities in areas along Yolanda’s path to prepare for the worst.

Tacloban was a prosperous city until Yolanda destroyed it.

Tacloban was a prosperous city until Yolanda destroyed it.

The extent of the devastation in Tacloban City has gone beyond people’s worst nightmares. Earlier, National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) executive director Eduardo del Rosario reported that “Tacloban City is 95% devastated.” An unimaginable tragedy considering the vast promise exhibited by that city in the past. In an extensive survey conducted by the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center and released in July 2010, Tacloban City was ranked among the top ten most competitive cities in the Philippines. Tacloban ranked fifth overall, and second in the emerging cities category. Tacloban was one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines. It had one of the lowest poverty incidence rates in the country (at roughly 9%, while the national poverty incidence stands at 30%), and was governed by the richest local government unit in Eastern Visayas.

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Over the years, however, environmental degradation has increasingly put at risk the safety of the province’s galloping population. Population growth over much of the Philippines has put pressure on food production in Leyte, one of the most productive rice-growing provinces in the country. However, the demand for more land to cultivate has also resulted in increased risk of flashflooding and landslides as hilly terrain is cleared of forest cover in favour of rice paddies. According to a study conducted by Beatriz Jadina of the Department of Agronomy and Soil Science of the Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte, progressive encroachment of human habitation and agriculture has altered the landscape of Leyte significantly to the detriment of its residents’ safety…

In 2010 the forest cover further retreated to only 14 percent, meaning that the former geologic integrity of the area had been compromised, and a sharp departure from the previous character of the provice as largely covered by tropical rainforests, save for swampy areas.

“Logging had depleted the forests of Leyte and Southern Leyte. In fact, a significant portion of the hills and mountains is devoid of vegetative cover. The current land use in Southern Leyte is dominated by coconut, abaca, banana, grasslands, upland crops [originally under dipterocarp forests] and rice in lowland areas,” Jadina stressed.

Whilst the wrenching effort to come to terms with the vast human tragedy that befell Leyte and surrounding areas continues, many have since recognised that not much could’ve been done in the short term to save more lives. Indeed, Leyte province was pretty much a sitting duck. Like a cat frozen in the middle of the road, dazzled by the headlights of an oncoming car, all that residents in these areas could do as ominous reports of the power and size of the coming storm trickled through, was assume the brace position and hope for the best. Bahala na. There was nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Gone were the trees to offer shelter from the winds and surging floodwaters.

One really cannot take seriously the expressions of regret and sorrow being exhibited by people who as a matter of habit generally pay no attention to preparedness yet possess the resources and influence to champion those focus areas. The Philippines’ lack of a credible military capability proportionate to the size of its population, for example, speaks heaps about an entire society’s lack of concern for its own security and safety. And so, once again, the country turns to its big-time ally across the Pacific for help. By some accounts relief is coming through very slowly if at all thanks to this lack of military resources.

The Philippines does not have sufficient resources on its own to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, and the US and other governments and agencies were mounting a major relief effort, said Philippine Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon.

At the request of the Philippine government, the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, directed US Pacific Command to deploy ships and aircraft to support search-and-rescue operations and airlift emergency supplies, according to a statement released by the department.

Indeed, President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III, no less, should’ve known better than to throw his usual royal tantrum at what he preceived to be a failure of regional local government units (LGUs) in the devastated areas after the fact. Perhaps his presence there would have been a bit more useful before Yolanda made landfall — so that he could personally evaluate the state of preparedness of the government there pre-emptively. Had he found lapses in preparedness there before the disaster, his tirades and finger-pointing today would likely have come across as a bit more justified.

For that matter, tragedies at this scale are common in the Philippines. Yet there is little evidence that Filipinos collectively learn from these disasters and apply them towards mitigating future risk. Tens of thousands of Filipinos, for example, have died in preventable disasters. In the 1980s, the sinking of a Sulpicio Lines vessel claimed the lives of several thousand people. Yet in the subsequent years following what was recorded as the biggest peace time maritime disaster in the world, several more Sulpicio ships sank under similar circumstances claiming thousands more. Every couple of years, hundreds of Filipinos die in election-related violence. Many more die in floods and mudslides whose causes could be traced to preventable human activity — illegal logging, indiscriminate property development, and lack of enforcement of compliance to building codes.

Life is cheap in the Philippines. And preventive measures to minimise loss of life in times of calamity are expensive.

The business case for adequate disaster preparedness in the Philippines is quite simply not investment grade.

* * *

America has long been the Philippines' most reliable saviour.

America has long been the Philippines’ most reliable saviour.

Like Bohol, also recently devastated by an Act of God, Tacloban has a rich history. Leyte province was the first to be liberated by the combined Filipino and American troops as the tide turned against Japan towards the close of World War II. General Douglas MacArthur’s assault troops landed in the Tacloban and Palo beaches (White Beach and Red Beach, respectively) and in the neighboring town of Dulag (Blue Beach) on 20 October 1944. These landings signaled the eventual victory of the Filipino and American forces and the fulfillment of MacArthur’s famous promise: “I Shall Return.” Three days later, on 23 October, at a ceremony at the Capitol Building in Tacloban, General MacArthur accompanied by President Sergio Osmeña made Tacloban the temporary seat of the Commonwealth Government and subsequently the temporary capital of the Philippines until the complete liberation of the country.

Has the Philippines really been “liberated”? The answer to that question becomes more and more debatable with each passing year.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the article “Tacloban” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site. Photo of Tacloban courtesy]

26 Replies to “Could more have been done to save the victims of Yolanda?”

  1. The number of people evacuated in Tacloban means they have at least done what they knew to be the best decision, within their resources. Could more have been done? Yes. Evacuating people to a basketball court could have been better if they evacuated them in a more secure location, maybe about 50 km out of the way of Yolanda, I presume, would really give a different ending to this story.

  2. Severing ties with the U.S. after WW2 was one of the worst mistakes made by wealthy filipino politicians. One need only compare Hawaii to the Philippines to validate that proposition. It seems the wealthy were more concerned with carving up the country among themselves; than they were with building their peoples’ future.

    1. Perfect factual views expressed Sea Bee….& they who says that population is the reason for poverty…are those most happy for the multitude of lost what else would they use to blame for poverty of the people..certainly not the corruption to the max of our present leaders/politicians….

    2. I have written this for many times now on different sites and I’m actually am finding this a bit tedious so but still, I never really cared for doing this repetitively if some people will finally have develop some sense of realisation.

      I’ll start with this. It’s utterly laughable to consider USA as the Philippines’ good saviour. Considering that to begin with, it was them that dragged the islands into three unnecessary wars (Spanish-American War, Philippine-American War and WWII) just to honk their glory and satisfy their greed.

      Up until now, I still couldn’t understand why most Filipinos still consider the US Government as good, altruistic people. Even in the past, if one would just read a proper history book, US has already a largely untrustworthy government that took control of the islands by declaring a false-flag (yes, USS Maine explosion was false-flag) war against the crumbling Spanish Empire and double-crossing the Filipino revolutionaries then after. The truth is, the Spanish were even a lot better than them, albeit the rampant religious hypocrisy, at least they mostly only punished the rebels. However, during the Philippine-American war, by just being a Filipino, you’re screwed. This was a lesser-known genocide, an unpaid US war crime… sadly, it’s not even mentioned in most Philippine History books.

      Not to say, they were also the reason that the islands were caught up in destruction during WWII. If only the islands remained Spanish territory at least up to 1946, best case scenario (under Franco), they would’ve escaped war by being a respected neutral territory.

      [Note: Spain was part of the Axis powers only turned neutral because of some military support disagreements with Germany. However, the two countries still remained in good diplomacy that if Japan would attack still-Spanish territory Philippines, there would be a huge mess on diplomacy within the Axis. If they’ll allow that, it would certainly be very troublesome.]

      But then in that case… USA… Wait, would the US even respect this neutrality?

      In short, don’t easily trust the US Government. Learn from the past. They are the master of deception.

      In the first place, the US just wanted to build bases in the Philippines because of its strategic location. (Yeah, they left Cuba independent but took Philippines in their pockets)

      “When the Spanish was gone, Philippines was left a graceful lady. When the Americans left, she was a war and disease-ridden wreck of a woman.”

      To those people who vehemently says that Philippines should’ve not broken away with USA. A little shame on your part. Remember your ancestors’ plight.

    1. That is exactly how a spoiled brat acts when cornered to a fault. hahah, Cry idiot, cry.

      You completely missed the point of the article, still not smart enough, huh?

    2. @john c. jacinto

      What you sow is what you reap. Since AbNoy has been “sowing” blame as alibi for his shortcomings, he should expect to “reap” blame in return for all his “sowing.”

  3. “The Philippines does not have sufficient resources on its own to deal with a disaster of this magnitude…”

    Any person who is aware of the kind of mindset the Filipino politicians, government officials and employees have cannot buy this kind of justification even a bit.

    Looking at the tens of billions of pesos of PDAF and DAP being squandered by those in the government would prove that the government have more than enough resources to cope with this magnitude of calamity.

    One of the major facts is that those in the government do not want to spend any money even if over half of the Philippines population would be annihilated. They need almost every penny of the annually allocated budget only for themselves, their families and their cronies.

    The other major fact is the mindset of majority of Filipinos: they are very “smart and very resilient”.

    For them, they know everything and could cope with any catastrophe.

    If ever they and their families get devastated, they can easily blame it on others, even their saints.

  4. I wonder if meteorologists could have benefited from a better support from the government. I hear that PAGASA was not remiss in their duties but how come the locals in Tacloban seem uninformed? Reading @ExtremeStorms tweets before the typhoon hit, it seems that people did not understand the gravity of the situation.

    1. I do not understand sometimes comments like yours.

      Those that believed they were in high ground to avoid floods stayed indoors which is a given, those that evacuated moved to evacuation centers and they did.

      What happened is even with these actions, they still got hit.

      A video showed the hotel where TV5 stayed had the roof peeled off and the lower level had flood waters. I mean, what are you really supposed to do other than really make the whole area/island/province a literal ghost town with no warm bodies left before the storm hits, which you can’t really do.

      It is not about not understanding the gravity of the situation but not really being able to do anything more aside from what you are already able to do, with the exception of leaving the whole place.

      This wasn’t just 1 area like say creek easement with squatters, this was on a much bigger scale.

      If I was living in a solid structure and I heard of a signal 4 will hit the area, I wouldn’t leave my house, I would stay and hunker down as with the normal course would be, unless there was something special about where I was like say a flood plain or catch basin.

      But when I hear signal 4, I am reminded of Rosing back in the 90s (I think is when it happened). I would not have expected storm surges of waves reaching 2 storeys in height to come crashing down on you.

      So maybe we should now put in place a rule that when signal 4 is to hit the area, automatic forced evacuation to areas signal 2 or lower? I don’t really know how that works as well because the path of storm wasn’t even final until the last few hours before it made the first landfall. If you vacated the whole area to cover any possible path, the safe spots would be Ilocos Region/Cagayan Valley and southern/central mindanao right?

      1. I’m sorry if you don’t understand *sometimes* comments like mine. I’m just genuinely curious about the lack of urgency that Mr. Extreme Storms relayed.

        In Mr. Storm’s tweets, he said that somebody even showed up for work which is alarming. Yes I know that they probably did the best they could but WHAT IF given a comprehensive warning, would many people leave the island? I’m not saying that they were negligent, I’m just saying that they could have helped themselves more if they knew what could happen.

      2. Good commentary regarding perpetration, Sphinx. I have pondering the same questions. I was thinking if a small island like Siquijor was in the direct path of Yolanda, what could have been done to avert disaster? There is not enough shelter for 100,000 people in the high ground areas and the island is so small there would be nowhere far enough away to evacuate to. They would have just had to stay put and take what the storm was going to dish out. It is not like the people could have kept running around the island to dodge the storm.

        I am sure the personnel in charge of typhoon preparation are now doing a lot of “shoulda, coulda, woulda” right now. I am confident they did the best they could under the circumstances based on their experience and the sheer logistics.

        1. preparation, not perpetration! lol. I guess I was thinking about the “perps” in Manila trying to figure out how to plunder the billion plus pesos of aid pouring in.

    2. Only CNN meteorologists was able to report with emphasis the great danger the storm surge will bring in Tacloban. I saw it myself how they demonstrated it on TV days before it made a landfall. They got an awesome extensive weather forecasts. The stupid arrogant national government here simply did NOT prepare period!!!

        1. Why? Was the president being FAIR when he blamed the local officials for not preparing enough for a storm that strong?
          How the f*ck can anyone prepare for a storm that strong?
          It’s already clear that he wasn’t being even FAIR to the local government because his bet in the elections there got his ass kicked hard.

          Seriously, all you malacanang trolls can ever do here is get humiliated with your lousy arguments.

          TROLL HARDER

    3. I understand your question and was following @ExtremeStorms as well on Twitter. I’m not sure it would be the meteorologists’ responsibility, but maybe better education or knowledge dissemination as to what a Category 5 typhoon means would’ve helped a great deal. Regardless of where the typhoon hit, devastation would’ve occurred. Thus it seems that the best solutions would have been to (1) hide in a cellar (this is what they do in North America when tornadoes strike), but we can’t have cellars in lowlands, else you’d end up in a well; or (2) move away from the path of the storm. We had about five days warning from various weather stations, so that was ample time to evacuate people far from the path of the storm.

      I read also either from @typhoonfury or @extremestorms on Twitter that just a day before the storm, there were no people lining up in stores to purchase food supplies. In the states, when there’s a blizzard warning, people stock up on supplies, just in case power goes out or snow is piled up so high you get stuck in the house for days. So you make sure you have enough food to last you a few days or a week. I haven’t heard or seen on tv any advise about stocking up on supplies for storms, what more for a Category 5 storm.

      So, yes, information for storm preparedness is lacking.

  5. The Battle of the Leyte Gulf, was very historical for us. American Armada fleet under , Adm. Halsey, defeated the superior Japanese Fleet, under Adm. Kurita, in World War II. The Battle of the Leyte Gulf, dealt a very stunning blow to the sea and air powers of Imperial Japan.
    It was a combined lack of concern of our officials , to protect the environment. Compounded with, the failure of leadership of Panot Aquino and DILG Mar Roxas. It had caused this massive tragedy. These people simply don’t care. And cannot do their jobs well. They seem to lack common senses , also. Mother Earth will fight back, if you alter its resources. The forest area are denuded by “kaingeros”, and logging, done by high government officials. The soil in the area, is affected , for the need of cultivated lands and for housing development. It is a loss-loss situation.

  6. Sabi kasi ng marami, di importanteng matalino ang presidente kaya hayan, mahina ang operations in times of disaster.

    Maybe next time we should learn how to choose our leaders.

    Matuto na kaya mga pinoy dito sa masamang karanasan na ito?

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