The Aquino administration’s handling of the Yolanda crisis can be best described in two words: Richard Pulga.
Pulga is a 27-year-old farmer from Tacloban whose plight gained global prominence after being featured by international news outfits like the New York Times and CNN.
But that is of little consolation to Pulga. He died a little over a week ago from what was essentially a treatable injury— a broken leg. Without much-needed antiseptics and antibiotics, the Tacloban farmer contracted blood poisoning, which shut down his vital organs.
Pulga left behind a wife, a 7-year-old son and a 6-week-old daughter who now face an uncertain future after having lost their house, their belongings— and their sole breadwinner.
Incompetence has a human face
Pulga is the face of countless other typhoon victims who survived the initial onslaught of the storm but whose lives were needlessly lost because of the incompetence and inaction of the Aquino administration.
More than four days after the typhoon struck, with the sun already beating down on typhoon survivors, rotting corpses were still strewn around Tacloban and other hard-hit cities and towns.
There was little or no government presence in disaster zones let alone relief aid or medical assistance for survivors, prompting CNN’s veteran correspondent Anderson Cooper to report that “there had been big delays, big lack of organization on the part of the Philippine government on the ground.
“If there was any clinic in the entire disaster zone that should receive aid quickly and easily, it’s the clinic at the airport, and they were not getting it,” Cooper added, bemoaning the lack of medical supplies to treat the thousands of injured typhoon victims.
Critics put Aquino on the defensive
The harsh criticism of the Aquino administration by the international media has put PNoy on the defensive.
Interviewed by BBC’s Rajesh Mirchandani last week, PNoy said: “I would like to ask these critics, what else we could have done given the resources that we do have and given the magnitude of the problem?”
A lot, Mr. President.
Wasn’t it you who assured the public, in a nationally televised speech, of the government’s readiness to face Super Typhoon Yolanda a day before the storm made landfall in Tacloban?
Wasn’t it also you who said that three “fully mission capable” C130 planes, 32 Air Force planes and choppers and 20 Navy ships were on standby, ready to respond to those who need it?
Didn’t you also assure our kababayan that relief goods were pre-positioned in many of the areas expected to be affected by Yolanda so that aid would reach areas accessible by sea as soon as the typhoon weans?
So where were these planes, choppers and vessels that you said were ready to respond? Where was the aid that you promised would reach areas accessible by sea like Tacloban soon after the typhoon passed? And why did the pre-positioned relief goods take more than four days to reach the disaster zones?
‘Fault of local authorities’
PNoy’s excuse? It’s the fault of the local authorities who, as the so-called first responders, were not fully prepared for the disaster.
“The first responders would be giving us the necessary data to tell us what they cannot meet and the disaster risk response of this country is geared towards the empowered local government unit [LGU] who is supposed to provide the backbone for all the assistance,” PNoy explained to the BBC correspondent.
But by harping on the shortcomings of local officials for the delayed disaster response, is PNoy saying that the ultimate responsibility for the relief effort does not lie with him?
Well, it certainly seems that way, especially with PNoy’s recent move to investigate the LGUs’ handling of preparations and response to the super typhoon. This even though PNoy himself admits that half of the emergency relief goods they stored prior to Yolanda was contaminated by the storm surge.
Doesn’t that show that even the national government lacked foresight, or at the very least, was caught unaware by the ferocity of Yolanda just like the LGUs which PNoy is now unfairly passing the buck to?
What many Filipinos also find baffling is why PNoy keeps pointing the finger at local authorities when he had two of his cabinet members—Roxas and Defense Secretary (and ex-officio NDRRMC Chairman) Voltaire Gazmin—in Tacloban during the onslaught of Yolanda.
“We were sent by the President to know what’s been going on the ground so he can decide and act immediately as to deployment of resources or whatever support that maybe extended by the government,” Roxas declared to the media the day before Yolanda made landfall.
And not long after the winds died down, Roxas reportedly told PNoy about the “overwhelming” devastation in Tacloban. Clearly, PNoy knew early on that local authorities were already incapable of responding to the calamity. Yet it took him three more days to get things going.
What gives, PNoy?