It is unclear when exactly this government, through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), decided that the wheels of the Diskwento Caravan should start rolling in the direction of the storm ravaged Visayas.
What has become clear is that government thinks this caravan to be a public service: it allows people access to goods that might be beyond their budget, while at the same time allowing manufacturers to reach segments of the population that might not have access to their products.
Selling manufacturers’ goods at a discount, this government caravan bridges the gap between the public and the capitalist. The public is finally able to afford products they might otherwise not even buy, the capitalist earns from this public even as they sell at a discount given sheer number of goods sold. According to one of Malacañang’s employees over on Facebook, “DTI is facilitating engagement between manufacturers and communities.” We must really thank the heavens for that, we are told.
Not the right time
Unless of course one is the victim and survivor of the strongest storm to hit the world. Unless of course you are now without house and home and land, and cannot but live within the realm of grief, in the ground zero of the city you grew up in.
On November 8, Typhoon Haiyan hit. By November 14, six days after, the government’s discount caravans started selling goods in Ormoc City Leyte, one of the hardest-hit by the typhoon. Since then they’ve traveled through the cities of Maasin, Baybay and Catbalogan, and on December 27, 19 days after the storm, they sold goods in Tacloban.
The government asserts that there was a need to “jumpstart” economies in these places of tragedy, and this caravan was a way to do exactly that. “Restart and energize commercial activities in calamity areas where public markets and retail stores were destroyed,” Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. says.
And yet one wonders: this soon? Six, eight, 19 days after the strongest storm to hit the world? Why couldn’t this kind of capitalist intervention wait? Why couldn’t we let people mourn and grieve, grapple with their losses first? Why could we not let them live, without having to think about money at all?
Why make survivors and victims think about money, when we can be kind and take on their needs, food water clothing shelter, no questions asked? Why can’t we give them a reprieve, a time to mourn—40 days, at least, as per the Catholic novena we do for our dead.
For the people?
To have people engage in the task of monetary exchange so soon after this storm imposes a normalcy on what can only be the worst days of their lives. It demands that the people snap out of their mourning and grief, the daze and haze of having lost the world as they know it. It tells them to now worry about earning money, going back to work, finding a way to feed their families—we forget that in towns that are ground zero even employment is at exactly that.
Yes, this discount caravan sells goods at discounted prices, and oh look! the people are buying out those goods! But only the uncritical and insensitive would think this a measure of how the economy is going back to normal, and the worst is over.
Because no. At this point, given the breadth and scope of this tragedy, given its mere magnitude, all the discount caravan is doing is taking the people’s money—the last of what many of them will earn in a long time given that employment and industry are at ground zero, too.
At this point, this caravan rolling into any city, any town at all, will mean sold out goods; but that should tell government —and all of us—one thing: that government has failed to provide for the needs of its people. For the needs of these people in particular who have been through the worst storm to hit the world, whose plight has been in the mind of every kindhearted citizen of the world.
Because yes, the people will buy the rice and bread and water and milk from this caravan— those are goods after all that government has failed to give them en masse. Yes, people will buy medicines and personal care items—government has failed to give them exactly that, too.
Where does the money go?
This is not at all about all the foreign aid that’s been gathered for the survivors of this storm. It is about a government deciding that it will only give so much, it will only give what it unilaterally decides is “needed.” It will not think of helping people out in the long term. Sell them those goods now: don’t get them used to dole-outs. Let us remind them that survivors are consumers, too!
For government to be engaging these storm-ravaged areas in commerce is the height of insensitivity. Certainly the local economy will be kickstarted by the local businessmen themselves, when the time is right, when the people are ready. It will happen without the cruelty of celebrating P1.89-million discount caravan earnings in Tacloban on November 27! A mere 19 days after the storm.
Government can do better than this. They can monitor prices and keep it down. They can distribute these basic goods for free, and make capitalists irrelevant for a stretch of time. Force capitalists to keep their prices down by giving people sacks of rice to live off for weeks and months on end, water and food so that they will not worry about it until next year.
This is at the heart of relief operations after all. It’s to make sure people have the food and water they need, the blankets and medicines and personal hygiene products, to tide them over this rough stretch. At the heart of raising funds for survivors of the calamity, so that they might nourish themselves, and rebuild their houses, is the hope that for a good stretch of time they are allowed the freedom not to think about their basic needs, because we are giving it to them, because the world will provide.
We might not know of the depth of their grief, but we know of hunger and thirst, sickness and insecurity. We, the private sector, have risen to the occasion of the Visayas, and we have done so selflessly and like no other. My friend Georgia said it correctly: This moment renews our faith in humanity.
It shines a light on this government’s heartlessness, too.
Stop rolling those caravans— and stop it now. Account for all that money and tell us where it goes. Give the people their basic needs, give them what they need to rebuild. Give it to the people.
Because only the delusional would think that discount caravan a public service in a time of crisis. Ah, the delusional.
Welcome to the Philippine government.