IN his report on the state of the nation (SONA) last Monday, July 27, President BS Aquino 3rd discussed briefly the progress of disaster management in the country, and coping with disasters like super typhoon Yolanda. He said:
“In the area of disaster management: Because of concern for one another, and because of the active cooperation of the LGUs, we were able to ensure that Bohol and Cebu regained their footing after the earthquake.
“In Zamboanga and Tacloban, we focused straightaway on immediate needs. From delivering food, to making certain that there were no outbreaks of disease; from ensuring that electricity returned quickly, to opening roads; and even to housing and livelihood programs—our government poured and continues to pour all it can to help affected areas.
“Yet there are also things left to be done: There are still communities living in danger zones that must be relocated away from threats to their safety. As regards rebuilding, there is a need to strengthen coordination between the local and national levels, in order to ensure that we finish projects at the soonest possible time.”
This brief digression does not tell the full story or convey a sense of government resolve to do right by victims and stricken communities.
For some time now, reports and stories have been coming out, telling of serious lapses and shortcomings in the ongoing rehabilitation program, some from aid organizations and non-government organizations. Some from now less than the Disaster Czar BSA appointed, former senator Ping Lacson.
Now comes a strong report from the United Nations that confirms what many have been complaining about. This is the UN report of UN Special Rapporteur Chaloka Beyani on the government’s response to the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan and the progress of victims in rebuilding their lives, their homes and their communities. It renders a negative verdict on the adequacy of the Aquino government’s response.
In his report, which came as result of his 10-day visit to disaster areas like East Visayas, Mr. Beyani reached some disturbing conclusions:
First, the Philippines has not done enough to rebuild and thousands of survivors remain in shanties that are without power and water.
Second, Many survivors in Eastern Visayas have had to endure relocation to evacuation camps as many as three times since Yolanda struck in November 2013, and the sub-standard housing leaves them vulnerable to future typhoons.
Third, while the government is to be commended in terms of its immediate responses, its attention to ensuring sustainable durable solutions for IDPs [internally displaced persons]remains inadequate up to the present.
The man who made the report saw things for himself, and is working from field reports. This is totally different from SONAngaling.
This report should wake up key people in government who have complacently assumed that the disaster is now history, and that much of what is necessary has already been done.
Such an attitude is wrong and misguided. The UN report is not at variance with what aid organizations and various media organizations have reported over the past few months. Credence should be given to it by the government and the public. And its recommendations on how government can improve its response mechanisms to disaster should be seriously adopted.
Within three months, we will be marking the second anniversary of the super typhoon. It is imperative for the nation to approach this anniversary with full resolve to prove that we Filipinos are proving equal to the challenge of recovery, rebuilding and rehabilitation. Equally should we strive to show to the world the full measure of Filipino resilience amidst disaster, and Filipino gratitude for the unprecedented assistance and generosity shown us by the nations of the world and the United Nations.
The mettle of our people and our government is being fully tested by this massive catastrophe. Let there be no doubt about that. Therefore our resolve must be not to flinch and not to stint in effort and resourcefulness until the challenge is fully met.
In this effort, our national government must take the lead and provide the example to our local governments and local communities. Its role is particularly vital in funding the process of recovery and rehabilitation.
The government’s response to the UN report has been to vow to pour more funds to complete the rehabilitation of areas hit by Yolanda.
Malacanang communications secretary Hermino Coloma claimed: “There is no let-up in giving the needed support to internally displaced persons, particularly with regard to the construction of permanent, safe and decent homes [for them].”
Coloma added that the National Housing Authority, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Public Works and Highways and other agencies are providing assistance to victims to ensure their return to normal life.
He assured the UN that the government will speed up efforts in fulfilling its promises to victims of calamities.
These are just words, until matched by deeds.
One survivor, who lost both his parents during the disaster, has told the Times that the the UN report shows the grim reality that our people must see for themselves.
The survivor, Arton James Almadro, said: “People have been apathetic since we have adjusted to the reality that the government does not really care for the survivors nor the casualties, as shown by the fact that they haven’t revealed the real number of casualties.” Almadro’s father, Virgilio, and mother, Guadalupe, were among the thousands killed when Yolanda slammed into Eastern Visayas on November 8, 2013. Their bodies were never found.
Reacting to the UN report, Almadro said that “the situation now is worse than before.”
It is a heartbreaking story and a crushing verdict.
Coming as it does from a victim of Yolanda who lost so much, the least that Aquino administration can do is to listen and to take heed. But, judging from BS Aquino’s and his key people’s mendacity, dishonesty, hypocrisy and obsession with their self-interest, it would seem that only Divine intervention can make this happen.