THE day before the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan was as expected for those of us who only remember it to have been happening elsewhere.
For those who have heart and compassion, we continue to grapple with the images we saw of the aftermath of the storm, the voices we heard from Samar and Leyte. For those who know of desperation and need, we can imagine how bad things were, how it could only have been worsened by the lack of a national government in control because it didn’t heed its own warnings about how bad Haiyan was going to be.
On the anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, it is clear how bad thing still are. And while early in the week ANC Presents Yolanda with Tina Monzon Palma was disappointing, news and public affairs features from mainstream media have since leveled-up. News features are asking questions instead of repeating government propaganda. On November 7 when the President detailed what government has done and what it plans to do a year hence, there is disbelief.
It didn’t help that this President was far from being compassionate or kind in that one speech that he delivered in Guiuan Eastern Samar, to an audience that was laughing at his jokes.
Yes there was joking involved. Imagine that.
As with a year ago, and in most every other tragedy, we expect to see the President in the aftermath. These images are stereotypical: the President in rain boots in knee high floods, the President speaking to people in a storm-ravaged town, the President getting his hands dirty and helping in distributing relief goods, or rebuilding homes, the President inspecting the bus that was used by a dismissed cop to take tourists hostage.
No wait, he did that last one with a smirk on his face. Probably why that was the last time we saw the President in the aftermath of tragedy. Of course the Palace has since spun this, saying that the President would rather not get in the way of his people’s operations. He delegates the work – that is his skill – so he need not be present. Also: hindi niya kailangan magpa-pogi.
Except that seeing the President in the aftermath of say, the strongest storm to make landfall in the world is not about a photo opportunity. It’s about leadership, about telling survivors that someone’s in control, and that person is the President himself. No social welfare or interior secretary can provide that same comfort. And in the case of Haiyan, this could not be truer: the interior secretary was there when the storm hit, the social welfare secretary there a day after. There were relief goods where they were, but they refused to release it to the people on the streets of Tacloban, walking aimlessly and looking for food and water.
They refused because that was not the system that they insisted on following, no matter the extraordinary circumstances. No matter the hungry and thirsty survivors of the storm, all deserving of compassion from the President’s men and women.
That one time that we heard the President’s voice in the context of Tacloban was when he responded to a businessman desperately trying to explain why he thought the national government needed to step in: there was peace and order problem, the businessman was explaining, and guns were being fired.
The President retorted: But you did not die, right?
When one is reminded of this a year since Haiyan, it makes sense that the President can’t show his face in Tacloban. Because an ANC news report has Tacloban businessmen talking about how they have yet to recover from their Yolanda losses, that they weren’t given a break by the banks, and neither did they get any help from government to get back on track.
Their businesses might not be in danger of being looted, but they sure could use some security a year since the storm.
Then there’s this: were the President to speak in Tacloban the way he did in Guiuan, taking that same tone, he would be hard put to find an audience that will sit through it smiling. That was true even for Guiuan, where a tent city of 100 families in the Eastern Samar State University grows angrier by the day. Of course the President spoke elsewhere and had a controlled audience.
And so he was allowed to take a defensive stance, talking about what his government has done all year, and what it still planned to do. He spoke of the millions of relief packs they gave out, while also saying that he cannot feed the 5 million people who need to be fed every day. He spoke about building back better, ignoring the past year that people have been living in tents and makeshift homes. He spoke of the past year and painted a pretty picture of how far the Haiyan-affected areas have gone as far as recovery and rebuilding. He ended with statements from international organizations that have celebrated how quickly Samar and Leyte have recovered.
The people, not the President
The President of course silences the fact that this recovery barely has anything to do with government. Speak to the people of Samar and Leyte. They know from whom they have received aid. It is not from government they say. It is from NGOs, local and international. A Jing Magsaysay report on 9News from early in the week echoes this: when will we receive anything from government? A woman asks angrily, as she details who has given them livelihood projects and food, and who they will give them permanent housing, too.
This recovery in fact is about the people of Samar and Leyte making do with so little, and surviving without much help from national government. Speak to the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan and find that many of them just started over without money in their pockets and food in their stomachs. They just decided to rebuild their homes, and find a way to get better food than the stale relief goods from the social welfare department. They decided they would survive. They decided they would build and toil like they never have.
That this President takes credit for it is to rub salt into wounds that have barely healed. At the very least, he can do with better rhetoric a year hence.