Something must be very, very wrong with the relief efforts in Bohol when ordinary Filipinos are reduced to begging for food and water.
This is precisely what is happening now, more than a week after the Oct. 15 earthquake caused serious damage to Bohol and Cebu provinces.
It is a sight to break the hardest hearts and reduce grown men to tears; Boholanos from some of the worst hit towns bearing makeshift cardboard signs appealing for help. Any kind of help.
Visits from various media organizations confirmed this terrible reality. Men, women and children would approach any outsider passing through their town in hopes of receiving a little cash, a few fistfuls of rice, a bottle of clean water.
They openly wonder why the government seems to have forgotten them. Some even say that they feel that they have been forsaken.
The victims do not ask for much. They only want enough to get by for another day. Soon enough, they expect to be back on their feet, living the same productive lives they had prior to the calamity.
To be fair, the national government reacted quickly enough when it became clear that tens of thousands of Boholanos had not only lost their homes, but did not have an ample supply of food and water.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development sent its teams to the affected areas and relief packs were distributed immediately. The problem is that not all the victims were able to get the emergency rations. Those living in the more inaccessible areas were pretty much left to their own devices.
Whenever a natural calamity like an earthquake strikes, Filipinos have never been found wanting. The willingness to help is always there. The spirit of volunteerism is as strong as it’s ever been.
The problem is essentially one of management and distribution.
There may be more than enough food and water rations to take care of the needs of all the victims for a few weeks, as the national government claims. But the distribution network should guarantee that all the victims are covered. No one must be left behind.
Relief operations must necessarily be centralized. A success rate of 99 percent isn’t good enough, as there will still be that one percent in danger of starving to death, under the worst case scenario. When the number of victims is in the tens of thousands, one percent represents a lot of souls.
One of the most tragic stories to come out of the present emergency is that of a small town mayor ordering the Red Cross to stop distributing relief goods and leave his turf because of the organization’s refusal to course the food and water through his office.
(To be fair to the mayor, he said that he was not politicking because he was already in his
last term. He claimed that the Red Cross was disrupting their distribution system, resulting in some residents receiving favorable treatment to the detriment of those who may needed the relief goods more.)
The intensity 7.2 quake that struck last Oct. 15 reminded us yet again that natural calamities are a fact of life in the Philippines. Whenever any calamity strikes, victims have to be provided with the three basic needs of man—food (and water), shelter and clothing.
Victims should never have to be reduced to begging.