When Anderson Cooper of CNN reported that help was slow in coming to people in the provinces battered by Haiyan, the government and its supporters immediately went on the defensive. Instead of coming out with admissions of some lapses in leadership while reassuring that help is coming, they instead came out with defenses of their slowness. One of the more common defenses they came out with was, “look at Hurricane Katrina, they were slow too, some victims waited five days before help came. So don’t criticize us because we are slow.”
OK, let’s do our homework now.
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After Hurricane Katrina hit, many people died and response was slow indeed. But here’s something the apologists don’t mention: the response to Hurricane Katrina also received much criticism. In fact, there is a report by the Homeland Security Department of the United States which concluded that the emergency response to Katrina was a failure and the criticism was well-deserved (you may find the report here, along with another relevant report here). President George Bush even apologized for the slow response. So what are the apologists saying… if others were failures and slow, then it is all right for us to be failures and slow?
Disaster preparation in Tacloban was actually done, I’ll give them that. But it seemed that personnel underestimated the storm’s strength. It doesn’t help that several times, Tacloban had been hit by powerful storms in the past and thousands of people died. The lesson should have been learned there. Perhaps for the future, hopefully, it will be.
Thus, it is a current expectation that delivery of help to disaster areas should be rapid. Slowness deserves criticism. People who use this “Katrina defense” are in effect saying that we should accept mediocrity and incompetence.
Bus Hostage Crisis Blooper
I mentioned that the Bus Hostage Crisis in 2010 was the main predictor of how the government would act in any emergency situation. That proved true after Typhoon Haiyan. Remember that after the incident, the Department of Justice came out with the famous IIRC report that admitted failure and suggested key steps to make corrections after the incident, similar to the Homeland Security report on Katrina. Even the Hong Kong government supported it.
Unfortunately, the report was junked, and that infuriated Hong Kong. The junking of that report seemed to carry the same mentality as the current reaction on Haiyan/Yolanda – it’s the fault of the local people, not ours. The principle of command responsibility was deliberately tossed out.
I also remember this big blooper. Remember when a Filipino flag was draped on Rolando Mendoza’s coffin. Flag-draping is an act of honoring the person as a hero. But the guy in the coffin was no longer a hero. He became a terrorist, a murderer. Thus, the flag should go.
But making things worse was then-Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan’s asisine statement on the flag-draping. He said, “We ask for China’s understanding in that we live under different systems and what may be prohibited and banned in their nation may not be so in ours.” Oh, so he means honoring criminals may banned in China, but is a tradition in the Philippines (perhaps it is with the crook-as-hero movies of the 70s and 80s)? That was a big blooper which sent a message to the world: that Filipinos may actually be defending wrong and immoral practices.
You see that? That was an attempt to justify a wrong action. This is similar to using the Katrina response failure to defend one’s own failure.
Perhaps this reflects one of the bad practices of our people; when we have a failure, we look for another failure to make us feel better. But we almost never try to rectify the error. I forget what they call this; scraping the bottom of the barrel or going for bottom dollar to justify their incompetence (somebody else might know the right idiomatic expression for it).
It’s really bad when people use the wrong example for justifying their actions. But that people in government do this means that we have always been in serious trouble. We have bad leadership (if you could call it “leadership” at all). And there, people died because of it. How many more will after this… I hope none.
But Who’s Complaining?
Now let me clarify something.
The government uses a strawman argument. Many apologists believe the critics were criticizing the relief efforts. But no; they were hitting the government’s all too obvious lack of leadership. Also, hitting Cooper for telling the truth about the situation on the ground was infuriating. It was a low blow. Cooper was only reporting how it looked from the ground. He did not even criticize the government. So Korina Sanchez’ and other apologists’ reactions were based on a really weak strawman argument.
A friend was saying on his Facebook wall that the military had been prepared in Tacloban, but the storm was so strong, it washed away fuel and other supplies, so help had to come from Metro Manila and other bases. True enough, I’ve been hearing turboprops overhead (the air transports) since the day after the typhoon struck. Relief efforts were going on… but the government people had to ruin it with their glib and careless answers to reporters’ interviews. Those answers were a strong giveaway that they did not know what they were doing.
This “sssshh, tumulang ka nalang” campaign is a classic in fallacious thinking. First, it was based on something that the supposed critic actually didn’t say, and it tries to silence people from delivering much needed criticism and expression that educates people on properly calling for true service from government. It thus suppresses freedom of expression, and thus is a clampdown on our democratic rights.
And note this observation from a colleague of mine:
It is a recurring theme – or nightmare – in the media’s coverage of the Yolanda aftermath: Roxas complaining they had no trucks; National Defense Secretary Volt Gazmin complaining there was no transport and communications infrastructure; Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman complains that there was nobody around when they arrived; President Benigno S. Aquino complained that the local government units were unprepared despite their warnings and that the first responders were absent in the immediate aftermath.
National government officials were complaining that others weren’t working and blaming them for the disaster – even if these others were probably wiped out by the storm. In fact, the national officials may be among the first to complain and throw blame. So the “ssshhh, tumulong ka nalang” and “stop blaming” lines should be told to them.
And don’t forget Benign0’s point: roads were bad in the province and there were few military assets to deploy, simply because the current national government neglected necessary development in these areas.
So here’s the question that should be asked now: who’s really the first to complain and blame? Also, the point should be said in the flesh: if Hurricane Katrina relief efforts were criticized, and rightly, according to Homeland security, then our own government’s Haiyan efforts should not be shielded from criticism either.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.