They say people’s true character reveals itself under pressure. Super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) has certainly put Philippine politicians under pressure. This is something they are not really used to. They are more used to grandstanding under their own terms during scheduled press conferences with members of the local media and during mock hearings, which appear staged to give them the opportunity to vilify their political enemies.
One can say that Philippine government officials are more comfortable with the laissez faire style of administering their constituents. This is evident in their inadequate preparation before the arrival and their slow response to the disaster in the aftermath of typhoons that pass through the country every year.
Because of the intensity of Typhoon Yolanda, the attention of the international community has also put Philippine government officials under the global spotlight. Now the whole world is witness to the true characters of Filipino politicians. Unfortunately, what we are all seeing is not good. Some of them need to work on their ego and get a lesson in humility.
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One government official who does not seem to handle stress very well is Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Mar Roxas. His interview with Andrew Stevens, another CNN correspondent showed that he can be very defensive and abrasive towards other people.
At one point during the interview, Roxas was arguing over the treatment of dead bodies left rotting on the roads. Stevens pointed out that every day, he sees the same decomposing bodies when he passes by the same road on the way to the city. But Roxas vehemently denied they were the same bodies, stopping short of calling Stevens a liar. The DILG Secretary showed his arrogance in that instance. Suffice to say, it is evident that it would be another colossal mistake if he becomes the next President. Korina Sanchez as the next First Lady doesn’t sit well with a lot of people either, specially since she is beginning to show signs of irrational behavior. Another CNN journalist can attest to this.
The way Roxas kept interrupting Stevens during the interview gave viewers the impression that he is not a people person. His attitude was like “I already know what you are getting at but let me correct you now…”. Likewise, his use of banal metaphors to describe their relief efforts can be interpreted as an attempt to distract from the real issue. At one point he said that the government only set aside pails of water not realizing they needed a swimming pool of water. As if that actually excuses the government’s lack of foresight.
Stevens seems to share other international media correspondents’ observations and pointed out to Roxas the apparent lack of order in distributing relief goods. While he acknowledged what Roxas was trying to say — that the government could not handle the initial response — Stevens couldn’t help but remind Roxas that it has already been a week and yet the victims of the typhoon still beg for water from him and his crew.
Stevens appeared frustrated over not getting an accurate assessment of the relief and rescue efforts from Roxas considering they were both in the disaster zone. It was as if they were both seeing the same thing – chaos, survivors begging for food and water and dead bodies lying around – except that the DILG secretary still insisted that the situation was under control.
Roxas explained that nothing can be fast enough in a situation like the one he is coordinating now. The bottled water supply for example, is brought to the social welfare warehouse from where it then goes to the community. It’s probably hard for a veteran journalist like Stevens, someone who has been to many disaster areas, to comprehend why relief goods cannot be given straight to the people. He must be saying to himself that those relief goods do not belong in a warehouse, they need to be given to the people ASAP. He was slowly realizing though that in the Philippines, even the distribution of relief goods, which should be classified as “urgent” has to pass through a maze of bureaucracy.
Some say that the delay in distributing relief goods could have something to do with some government officials’ insistence to distribute the relief goods themselves in order to be seen as doing something and get brownie points from the voters. In the aftermath of typhoon Sendong in Cagayan de Oro in 2011, a typhoon that claimed over a thousand lives, there was a rumor going around that presidential sister Kris Aquino caused the delay of the distribution of relief goods:
Some even say that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) does have this tradition of holding on to relief goods for far too long in the past, which eventually results in relief goods not being given at all to the intended recipients.
Despite the glacial speed with which the Philippine government is moving, Roxas said that everything that the government has is already being deployed. Using another metaphor he said that “if this was a gun, all bullets are being deployed” and “if this was a fire hose, all hoses are being deployed”. What he was probably trying to say was, even though Stevens could not feel the presence of the Philippine government, in actual fact, all the resources of the country is already operating in the typhoon ravaged areas. In other words, as far as the Philippine relief operation goes, that’s as good as it gets.
Stevens or any of the members of the international community who were present in the typhoon affected areas must have thought the government is still holding out or hiding a special operations unit that could put order in the chaotic scene. It seems they held on to President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino’s promise the day before the typhoon that the government is ready with relief operations and that Manila is standing by, ready to support EVERYONE. This could explain why just like the rest of us, they keep wondering why the response is slow, when in fact; there was hardly any response team to begin with. Roxas confirmed this when he said that they were expecting the local government unit to respond in the first instance.
What Roxas was saying can only mean one thing. If the Philippine government does not increase its calamity fund or upgrade it’s relief and rescue efforts, which should include the acquisition of equipment for rescue operations, setting up of evacuation centers that can withstand extreme weather conditions and the modernization of the military, then the Filipino people will be seeing the same response the government is providing now – from slow to next to nothing in some parts of the affected areas – when the next disaster strikes.
Towards the end of Steven’s interview, Roxas made an appeal to the international community and gave a list of supplies he would prefer that donors send to the Philippines like tents and generators. This prompted the interviewer to ask “are you saying that the international community has not responded as generously as they need to?” to which Roxas quickly replied by saying that he is just trying to match the help that’s coming in with what he’s seeing in the ground as the need. It was akin to saying “thanks for the tea towels but what I really wanted was the new Ipad mini”.
Roxas’s general disposition towards the CNN correspondent and some Filipinos’ aversion to foreigner’s critical analysis makes one conclude that when it comes to foreign donations in times of crises, Filipinos are welcoming; but when it comes to foreign criticism of the country’s shortfalls, some Filipinos quickly give the middle finger.
Stevens did not mince words when he told Roxas his personal observation of the entire rescue operation. He said he got the impression that there is no effective chain of command and no structure in place. He added that the operation is uncoordinated; it doesn’t seem to be working nearly efficient enough. Roxas attempted to disagree with his view and gave a long drawn-out response but eventually admitted that it is very chaotic and supplies like body bags can easily gets lost, which essentially says there is no system or structure in place to prevent things from going haywire.
Yes, things are chaotic in typhoon-ravaged areas at the moment but when you think about it, even under normal circumstances, there is hardly any system or structure in place to keep things in order over the entire country. There is a general lack of order in the Philippines and this only gets magnified when disaster strikes. And this is the reason the country cannot progress.
In life, things are not always what they seem.