It seems like a powerful enough statement that has been made by Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. His relief operations for those affected by the Bohol quake was centralized and in order. He did not think that the Philippine Red Cross should be doing it independently of that central body that is the local unit of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). This is the central body that Mayor Evasco also heads.
The mayor and head of the centralized relief operations points a finger at Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon, asserting that the latter uses relief operations to promote his “political agenda.” He also said that when he arrived at Poblacion in Maribojoc, the Red Cross’s relief operations had created utter chaos: families were being given goods, but children and the elderly weren’t getting any.
In different interviews Mayor Evasco defended his decision to stop the Red Cross from distributing relief goods because he wants the goods to “be distributed fairly and equitably among the residents in Maribojoc.” He also works with what to him is the issue here: “We lost our houses, we lost our properties and then they (the Red Cross) want to strip us of our dignity and pride as a people.”
This is, of course, his perception of the chaos that the Red Cross distribution of relief goods had created. He talks about how the Red Cross distribution made it look like his people were begging for relief.
And so Mayor Evasco asked the Red Cross to turn their relief goods over to him, or stop distributing relief goods altogether. The Philippine Red Cross, an independent non-government organization, refused to do the former, and had no choice but to concede to the latter. The good mayor was angry, and displayed his defensive streak in the midst of hunger and need.
Mayor Evasco said, “If they have rules, we too have rules. But their rules should be subjected to changes depending on the changing realities in the barangays. But they entered the town as if they’re the messiah, as if they’re gods and they all know the problems affecting our people.”
It is unclear how the Red Cross was being messiah, or how exactly they made it seem like they knew the problems of the mayor’s constituents. Much of what we contribute for relief operations is premised on common sense: what are the most basic of needs, what of those needs have these people in need lost to disaster? The Philippine Red Cross, as an institution, would know exactly what those needs are—as would most every non-government organization of individual who does relief operations.
This is not to say that Mayor Evasco’s system of distribution is wrong. In fact, there are many things correct about Mayor Evasco’s insistence that a system be followed in relief operations. It is rare that there is a centralized office for relief operations in times of tragedy. It is great that he had the imagination and leadership to create one for Maribojoc.
And yet there is also no reason to vilify the Philippine Red Cross—or question its credibility— in the process of insisting that the mayor’s system be followed. In the past two years that I’ve been doing ReliefPH.com, I have found that in fact the Red Cross is the one institution that can be depended on to reach places and people that government’s relief and rescue do not reach right away. The Red Cross is wont to reach the smallest barangay in the farthest unreachable province. There is also no arguing with its credibility when it comes to gathering funds for relief operations.
I don’t know how Mayor Evasco concluded that the Philippine Red Cross is about Chairman Gordon. I have not had to put his name on the relief website for any storm or habagat relief operations; it is rare—if at all—that his name actually crops up in news about Red Cross’s efforts during tragedies.
Defending his decision to cease Philippine Red Cross operations in Poblacion, Mayor Evasco has in fact revealed how superficial, how shallow, his assessment of the Red Cross is. He has revealed how he himself is blinded by the political, so much so that he sees the specter of Gordon even when it is not there.
So much so that instead of being thankful that an independent non-government organization had arrived in this barangay ahead of him, he became ungrateful for the help being extended. So much so that instead of helping out the Red Cross right there and then, the better to serve the people in dire need—who are his constituents, by the way—Mayor Evasco decided that the course of action should be to demand that Red Cross fall within his jurisdiction.
The good mayor’s decision was to insist that his rules be followed, instead of at that very moment helping out this non-government organization, chaotic as he says the distribution process was. Mayor Evasco’s decision was to deprive his people of what they had already lined up for, instead of giving it to them, there and then, at that moment of urgent need.
Mayor Evasco was working with notions of pride and dignity when he insisted that his people are not beggars, when he demanded that the Philippine Red Cross follow his system so as not to further demean the victims of disaster.
Yet in this case it is clear who has made victims of people already in dire and urgent need. And it is not the Philippine Red Cross.