I agree there is much to be done in the face of the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, and there is really only sadness and helplessness for those of us who are far away, watching these images on television, hearing about the plight of those who are now on their seventh day without food and water.
That should not, cannot mean, biting our tongues, and giving this government a break. Because anyone at all would know that there is something fundamentally wrong about the strongest storm coming to the Philippines, about a president that warned of storm surges, but who did not order an evacuation.
There is something wrong with a national government that expected their Local Government Units to take care of their towns and provinces, to be the first responders in the aftermath of the storm, without imagining that if the towns were going under, so would the homes of the mayors and governors and councilors.
Yes, we may let all that go. Let’s say that the government prepared, but did not have the imagination to see how bad things would be. Let’s say that the government had a plan in place, but that plan was destroyed by the storm as well.
The question then becomes: why is there no Plan B?
This is not to be critical as it is actually to ask a question of the national government. Granted that it failed to imagine how horrible this storm would be, certainly they knew that at any given point for any disaster at all, they would need to step in?
Granted that they did step in. DSWD, DILG, DOH, DPWH were in Tacloban on Day 1, setting up a command center, building relief operations right there and then. The question from the beginning, and until now, is really only: why have the survivors of this storm had to wait?
Why did it take government six days to start clearing roads, and start distributing relief goods? Why was the national government’s system of relief one that took this long to be put in place? How is it okay that survivors wait three, four, five, seven days for food and water?
These are questions that are critical yes. But also these are questions that need to be asked, that are as urgent as the calls for relief goods, as urgent as the task of finding the missing, and putting up lists of those who have survived.
Alternate universe in social media
This is a government that has always celebrated social media and how it has allowed for a sense of a national response in times of tragedy. But social media also provides us with an alternative to the kind of narrative that government is creating about itself, about this tragedy.
Because yes, there is the voice of government, there are people there who we know are doing their jobs as best as they can. I do not doubt the sincerity of DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman for example. Neither do I doubt that she was moving hell and high waters to try and get enough relief goods, to go and get them to the people in need, right away. And this is not to question her reflection on the state of things in Tacloban, something that she posted on Facebook.
But also Facebook and Twitter provide for us an almost an alternate universe from that which government speaks of. What social media forces us to hear are the calls for relief goods in Hospital Village Guiuan or V&G Subdvision in Tacloban, Libacao Kalibo or Culion Palawan. It is social medis that allows people to say that they are still hungry, they are still thirsty, that there are still barangays not being reached by relief goods, even as the government and DILG have said that they have distributed goods to 30 out of 40 Leyte towns.
Criticism allows us to see these two very different narratives about what has happened, and what exactly is going on. And while one might believe the government’s stories, while what might matter to the next person is the official accounts of our government offices; certainly that cannot invalidate the suffering and need that we hear from the ground.
It is a choice. It is a choice between listening to government and hearing the voices of countless others in need. It is a choice between believing what government says, and having a sense of what is happening on the ground. It is a choice between the way things are, the way things should be. The status quo is one that has allowed for thousands of survivors to go hungry, waiting for at least six days to get any food or water at all from government.
It is criticism that pushes this government to start moving, and as quickly as it can. That it might refuse to is not the problem of the critical. It’s on the conscience of those who fall silent.