Foreign relief personnel including up to 12,000 United States troops who had participated in the relief effort following the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) are set to pull out of the Philippines soon reports Capt. Rafael Mariano, director of the multinational coordinating center.
This follows the appointment of former Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson as the country’s “rehab czar” (that’s right, another “czar”) by President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III in a move regarded as highly politically-charged and one that could possibly dim the prospect of an efficient rebuilding effort in the disaster zones as personal agendas begin to trump the whole point of it all…
“The U.S. was among the first responders here,” Mariano said. “Their unique capability to transport goods is really commendable. Without them, it would’ve taken a longer time.”
The main U.S. role was in restoring a runway at the Tacloban City airport and installing radar so planes could land at night, he said.
Some 150 Israeli troops also have left and British forces are expected to pull out next week, Mariano said.
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Whoever would be in charge of rehabilitating Samar and Leyte would need the skills of a statesman, as the work involves getting local governments and several turf-jealous departments to work together; the experience of a veteran bureaucrat who can navigate the labyrinth of the bureaucracy and inspire its people to get things done; and the insights of an economist, since the task involves reconstructing the area’s economy.
A police officer for most of his working life, Lacson doesn’t have any of these qualifications, nor experience, and some would even question his expertise in handling an anti-crime organization, or any government organization for that matter.
The curse of a politician is his insatiable thirst to be in the newspapers, and Lacson is slowly fading in the public’s mind, as most ex-senators have. And he doesn’t even have a base in Cavite to become a congressman there. Lacson fantasizes that his being czar for Visayas’ reconstruction would put him back in the newspapers, enough to have name-recall to bid for the vice-presidency in 2016.
Meanwhile, the plight of the victims in the most damaged areas in Yolanda’s path is becoming more desperate. An official damage report coming from the Philippines’ Department of Finance “predicts up to 10 per cent of the affected provinces’ 2014 GDP will be wiped off the books, taking about 1 percentage point from the national GDP estimate of 7.3 per cent to 7.5 per cent.” Asia Development Bank economist Joseph Zveglich noted that considering how a weaker typhoon that hit Mindanao in 2012 “shaved” 2.9 percent off the Philippine economy, the effect of Yolanda could be anywhere from 2.5 to 5 percent of the GDP. “You have to look at the loss of livelihoods, the devastation of farm areas and the lack of production. During reconstruction, resources are also going to be stretched, and there is only so much internal capacity. There has to be an international response,” adds Zveglich.
Clearly, there is no room for a less than world-class effort to rebuild the central Philippine regions most affected by the storm devastation. Corpses remain scattered all over the place adding to the festering feeling of loss, desperation, helplessness, and resentment over a government — and society — largely inutile in times of crisis. Noted sociologist Michael Tan described the dreadful and utterly crushing effect of these scattered human remains on the psyche of the disaster survivors…
In his latest in a vast string of gaffes since he ascended the Philippine Presidency, BS Aquino reportedly responded to criticism his office has been receiving regarding the snail-paced release of reports of the death toll with this doozy: “It’s because you have to make sure that there is the certification or a coroner’s report before it is made official,” apparently ignorant of the fact that there is no such thing as a Coroner’s Office in the Philippines. Noted forensic expert Dr Raquel Fortun cited this demonstration of the President’s astounding ignorance as just one among other appalling instances of the Philippine government’s ineptitude that left her feeling “burned” from the whole experience of trying to directly contribute to the relief effort.
In times of war, corpses left in the streets represent a defeated army, a vanquished people unable to bury their dead because they are still trapped by fear and overwhelmed by their own need to survive. The victors in wars know how important it is to keep the corpses out and unburied—daily reminders of defeat. In many cases, the corpses would not just be left in the streets but were put up for display with the grim message: “This too will be your fate if you resist us.”
The corpses become part of a systematic reign of terror, as the victors plunder and pillage. Rape, too, of both women and men, becomes an important tool of asserting one’s domination over a people, as well as of spreading fear.
In Tacloban there was no war, no enemy, but the corpses were devastating for other reasons. Each day the corpses remained in the streets created more resentment, fueling the feelings of neglect even after aid began to pour in. Then, too, there were the stories going around, many exaggerated, about looting and rape. In such a situation, the corpses became dreadful omens of bad times turning worse, creating feelings of helplessness and despair amid new dangers, real or imagined. It was not surprising that many of the descriptions of the looters and rapists referred to them as “outsiders,” looking different from Tacloban residents, making it seem like the city had been invaded.
Fortun and her group started on November 18 but had to pack their bags after five days. This was after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) questioned their mode of identification.
NBI officer-in-charge Medardo de Lemos already apologized, noting it was only a misunderstanding between the two camps. Fortun was with experts from the Department of Health and World Health Organization, while the NBI sought the help of the Interpol.
Considering that the Philippines struggles with disaster First Aid alone spells trouble for the longer-term rebuilding effort ahead. According to a United Nations report, an estimated 11.5 million people are affected by this epic national crisis and that an estimated USD301 million will be needed over the next six months to get the affected people back up to some semblance of normalcy.
Already there are many reports of relief funds and resources being inefficiently allocated, wasted, or even outright stolen. Even as vast sums of money and resources came pouring in to aid the relief effort, the astounding inefficiency of the Philippine bureaucracy was all but fatal so much so as to bring to serious question the recovery prospects of Tacloban City and other affected areas. Columnist Amando Doronila warns that the only reason donor countries have been generous following the Yolanda disaster is “because the Philippine calamity was an extraordinary once in a lifetime event that required massive assistance to enable this country to recover from the havoc wrought on its economy by the typhoon and rescue its teeming poor from going deeper into poverty.” But wealthy countries have long been suffering from “donor fatigue” as evidence mounts that the absorptive capacity of many chronically-impoverished Third World countries are simply not up to scratch even when enjoying access to abundant development funds.
Given the Philippines’ extensive track record of failure to deliver some semblance of decent return on the world’s vast investments in its development even under normal circumstances, it becomes hard to remain optimistic about the recovery prospects of the areas destroyed by Yolanda. Already, there are questions as to what will happen to the tens of thousands of refugees being shipped to Metro Manila. Chances are, many of them will add to the vast squatter colonies that already infest the coastal areas and waterway banks of the teeming megalopolis, further taxing already meagre resources, further infuriating honest taxpayers, and further fattening the Philippines’ portfolio of disasters-waiting-to-happen.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.