What can one say, really. Between news of a dumpsite of relief goods in Palo Leyte, and the President being asked by students from Tacloban about his government’s postHaiyan relief operations and his absence from the site of the tragedy, it’s been a week of post-Haiyan blues haunting this government.
More than the President’s sorry, I think we all should say sorry to the world. Because this was the thing about doing that whole #PHthankyou hashtagturnedDepartmentofTourismslogan. It wasn’t only in bad taste, it was also nothing but an empty thank you. Because we have yet to actually prove that we’ve used the world’s helping hand and financial assistance for the good of Haiyan’s survivors.
And between bunkhouses unfit for humans, and wasted relief goods, I think we start by saying: #SorryWorld.
The LGU as excuse
Because seriously: much of what we asked of this government’s relief operations in November and December of last year, much of what we said, hits at the loopholes that are now being revealed. That it’s being revealed five months after, and we’re not even talking about rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts at this point, is just embarrassing. It’s also a continuing injustice to those who have survived Haiyan.
That the finger is still being pointed at the Local Governmen Units (LGUs) is no surprise; government’s been doing that since November. The first responders should have been the LGUs and the local police. The national government was only there to assist these offices in responding to the needs of their constituencies after the storm.
Now of course this was the strongest storm to make landfall in the world EVER, and to some extent we can forgive government for not knowing how to prepare for it, unimaginable as this storm’s magnitude was. But what is unforgivable was how from the getgo, the failures of the LGUs became the narrative of blame that we heard. The LGUs did not warn their towns and barangays, they did not evacuate people, they were not accessible to the national government, they did not ask for help right away.
That local government officials were being blamed even as they were victims of this storm too, having lost family and friends and property, was ultimately unkind, but who cares.
The LGUs were the most convenient excuse. All the national government needed to be was consistent about who it was pointing the finger at.
The LGU as loophole
This week, five months since Haiyan hit, a dumpsite of expired relief goods in Palo Leyte made the news.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman was quick to deflect blame, reminding us all of their system of distributing relief goods. That is, they give it to the LGUs, and transfer the responsibility of distributing these to those in need. In a dialogue with People Surge and Gabriela, Soliman had said: “As a national agency, we give to the LGUs our assistance.”
And this is really the problem: Secretary Soliman actually believes that there is nothing wrong with this system of distribution that they’ve got going. She believes that this is the only way to distribute relief goods (the DSWD is undermanned, it is said at some point), because look! their reports say they’ve delivered relief goods to all those in need.
This is the huge gaping hole in this government’s relief operations. To believe that giving relief goods to LGUs will mean distribution is like blindly giving government officials funds for undefined and unreported projects. It is absolutely unforgivable to still believe this at this point.
Because the LGU as loophole was what we imagined was wrong with the DSWD’s system. It was what Congresswoman Lucy TorresGomez spoke about when she talked of being unable to get relief goods for her constituents in Ormoc. It is at the heart of this crisis now, of finding expired relief goods, dumped in one of the hardest hit towns of Leyte. That the DSWD secretary is still playing the LGUblamegame is just embarrassing. It is also utterly offensive, if not downright wrong.
“Hindi na namin problema ‘yon.”
Last December, I was in Tacloban to help my friend Rambie set up a soup kitchen with Kusog Tacloban—a volunteer group set up by Taclobanons to assist in relief, rebuilding and rehabilitation efforts in Leyte towns. Rambie and I arrived with arroz caldo mixes, specially formulated by Mama Sita for the soup kitchen, and fortified with more nutrients than the usual grocerybought mix. For the first day of feeding,
Kusog Tacloban volunteered its own supply of rice for our use.
We brought the first batch of three huge arroz caldo kalderos to Brgy. Guindapunan in Palo. There we heard of how this was one of those places that had trouble getting relief goods, for reasons that could not have been about inaccessibility. The highway was clear of debris close to a month since the storm.
After our first feeding, Rambie decided to pass by the DSWD tents in Tacloban to ask for a sack of rice.
Their warehouse was filled from floor to ceiling with it. Rambie filled out forms and explained our cause, and waited for the request to be (dis)approved—apparently all the sacks of rice had a place to go.
I made conversation with a DSWD staff member, and wondered about the relaxed atmosphere in the command center. It’s become easier since they started delivering goods to the municipal governments for distribution, she said. I tell her about Brgy. Guindapunan in Palo, and how they weren’t getting any relief goods. She looks me in the eye and says: Hindi na kasi namin problema ‘yon.
Secretary Soliman would be proud.