Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. of Maribojoc in Bohol was not too happy about it, so he asked the Philippine Red Cross to coordinate its activities with the local National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), which was already running a food distribution center.
However, PRC representatives and personnel apparently insisted on doing things their way. Mayor Evasco told them to beat the hell out. Perhaps they were judging Maribojoc by their experience with corrupt and credit-grabbing local officials in other disaster areas.
The next day PRC Chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon accused the mayor of demanding that the aid agency hand over the relief goods. He said that when PRC refused, the mayor ran them out of town, leaving the earthquake victims high and dry.
Poor Mayor Evasco. He just didn’t know what was coming. Mr. Gordon, a former senator and Cabinet member, and his people descended on his town and tried to push him aside. As any self-respecting mayor would, he told them to back off. He got pilloried in the media for his impertinence.
Mr. Gordon has the impeccable record of the International Red Cross (IRC) behind him. Moreover, his pronouncements always make good media copy.
What really happened?
Mayor Evasco said all he wanted was a seamless relief distribution system, and so he asked the PRC to work with NDRRMC, of which he was chairman. That is a far cry from wanting to get his dirty hands on the foodstuffs.
Here let us clarify a point. It is the national government through local NDRRMCs that brings help to families in distress in all quake-affected towns of the province. It has so far spent tens of millions of pesos for the purpose.
In the Maribojoc case, the local NDRRMC had already extended assistance to close to 20,000 people in all 22 barangay.
There are hundreds of social, civic, and business organizations that come to pitch in, and PRC is only one of them. The presidents or CEOs of these groups were there immediately after the tragedy struck, but we have yet to hear them pick a quarrel with local officials—or even announce their presence.
Mayor Evasco has since been receiving support and encouragement from all sectors.
President Aquino called on relief organizations and local government units to coordinate with one another. He said the objective is to ensure no family is left behind, and to do that “there must be a system.”
Secretary Dinky Soliman of DSWD called on all groups to work with local officials. After all it is they who know their constituents and their immediate concerns.
International relief organizations understand the need to consult with local authorities, even tribal leaders.
The UK based Save the Children foundation advises its personnel on the ground to map out the strategy “with local authorities and village members in public meetings to explain that food aid will be provided and the proportion of the population to be targeted. . . .”
One of the most constructive comments made about the incident is in a statement of former Presidential Adviser for Mindanao Jesus G. Dureza. He makes it clear that he does not know the true details “of the well-publicized ‘stand off’ between Mayor Jun Evasco and the Red Cross.” But he suggests that “a modus vivendi be forged? To me, there is no doubt at all that the best relief handlers are the locals who are there to stay? The world-standard NGOs can calibrate their ways attuned to the local situation.”
Then he makes a commendable call.
“Let’s not smear all politicians with charges of exploiting relief operations. There are many upright [ones]among them—among them Maribojoc Mayor Jun Evasco whom I know personally. He is a former Catholic priest who went underground as a rebel and eventually went above ground and served with the highest standards expected of bureaucrats as chief of staff of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte? I also know personally Red Cross Chairman Dick GFordon whose passion for service is unquestionable? These two gentlemen,I am confident can work things out. Go ahead Jun and Dick! You can do it together.”
We second the call for solidarity instead of disunity.