“People are desperate”
Accompanying President BS Aquino last Sunday to Tacloban, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, was quoted as describing the chaotic scene in the Leyte capital: “There is no power, no water, nothing. People are desperate. They’re looting.”
A businessman suggested to Aquino to declare martial law after a looter tried to shoot him. The President didn’t exactly rule out the idea.
Until I talked to a businessman from Tacloban, I thought martial law was a hare-brained idea. I now think martial rule is not exactly hair-brained.
The situation in Leyte has deteriorated to such a degree that there is mass hunger, unemployment, misery, unrest and total breakdown of peace and order. People have nothing—no food, no water, no medicines, no electricity, no work, no money, no home, no future.
The fittest survives
Leyteños have been reduced to sheer survival. Survival is the basic instinct of man. In survival mode, only the fittest survives. Human rights do not apply. “There is fear because every other guy will rob him or kill him.”
What makes the situation worse is the total absence of government.
The mayor, Alfred Romualdez, had disappeared as of this writing, five days after his city was pummeled by the strongest typhoon known to man on Friday, November 8, leveling once bustling city of 221,000 to the ground.
A tycoon who is in retailing has lost big in Tacloban—a couple or billions. Perhaps more. His stores were looted. His warehouses were ransacked. The dormitory where his employees stay are being eyed by looters because the building is well-provisioned, with food, clean water and electricity. Grimaces the tycoon: “It will take ten years before Tacloban can recover. The city has been leveled to the ground. There is nothing to start with.”
The main strategy of survivors is escape. They want to board the first plane or the first boat out of Tacloban. The first refuge is Cebu City. So the capital of Central Visayas is now hosting all kinds of people—victims of the Bohol earthquake of October 13, 2013, victims of the December 3, 2012 Pablo typhoon, the worst in Mindanao ever; and now, victims of the November 8 Super Typhoon Yolanda, which was 3.5 times stronger than Hurricane Katrina.
Romualdezes were first to flee
The well-off of Tacloban have hied to Manila which was spared by Yolanda and where facilities are complete. Mayor Alfred Romualdez’s family was among the first to escape from Tacloban. He commandeered the aircraft of a friend who was trying to ferry his sick mother to emergency treatment at St. Lukes in Manila. Mayor Alfred is among the first to place the death toll at 10,000—in Tacloban, a figure that President Aquino vigorously disputes.
Mayor Romualdez’s wife, the former actress and now city councilor Cristina “Kring Kring” Gonzales, related to media how she and their two children almost died when floodwaters from Yolanda’s storm surge barged into their two-story Tacloban mansion and rose up to the ceiling.
“It was not a storm surge; it was definitely a tsunami,” Mrs. Romualdez related.
“The water receded by about two to three kilometers from the shoreline before rushing inland,” she said. The Romualdezes’ Tacloban City home faced the Pacific Ocean.
“We had to cling to the trusses to stay alive and we stayed there for hours,” Romualdez said, adding that her mayor husband was in another structure in the compound.
Nothing in the future
The Romualdezes have no reason to stay put in Tacloban for the moment. There is nothing there. And there will be nothing there in the immediate future—not in two years, not in three years, not in half a decade.
The Department of Energy itself thinks it will take at least three years to restore electricity. There is no safe and clean water supply. The agriculture of the province has been totally devastated. So there is no local produce. Everything must be imported. But there is no money to pay purchases from Manila and neighboring islands. So people of Tacloban and the rest of Leyte are totally dependent on handouts.
In the meantime, unless he does something very drastic and positive, President BS Aquino is going to destroy his presidency, in the same way Katrina defined George W. Bush’s presidency.
Katrina was the worst moment of Bush’s presidency: “”It was one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency,” he admitted in an interview.
Katrina defined Bush as unfeeling and detached, incapable of compassion—and incompetent.
Is President BS Aquino incapable of compassion and incompetent?
No bodies, no victims
The government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council lacked alacrity in tallying the number of dead people. By Monday morning, November 11, the NDRRMC had listed only 255 dead; by yesterday morning, 1833.
The NDRRMC seems to have learned its trick from Sulpicio Lines whose policy it seems is: No bodies, no cadavers, no victims. No victims, no criminal liability. So NDRRMC will probably hit on target BS Aquino’s working figure of 2,500.
How can a relative produce a body that has been carried away into the ocean? In the meantime, bodies littered the streets of Tacloban and several towns of the Eastern Visayas, raising a major health issue.
Fishermen who venture out into sea came back with cadavers of victims washed away on the Friday Yolanda ravaged the region.
A death toll of 10,000 or more will make history for President Aquino who will go down in the annals as “the deadliest presidency,” a worse notoriety than being called Pork Barrel King.
On December 3, 2012, Bopha (Pablo locally) struck Mindanao, the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines’ second-largest island with Category 5 winds of 280 kph, killing 1,067 with 844 others missing, and rendering 80,000 homeless. Damage was placed at P42.2 billion.
On October 13, 2013, a 7.2- magnitude earthquake ravaged Bohol, killing 222, injuring 976, and damaging more than 73,000 structures. Yolanda didn’t spare Bohol last November 8.
Before Yolanda, the deadliest storm to sweep the Philippines was tropical storm Thelma. It flooded the town of Ormoc, on Leyte Island and killed more than 5,000 people on November 5, 1991, during the presidency of Aquino’s mother, Corazon Aquino. Her watch also saw the worst volcanic eruption in 600 years, Mount Pinatubo, on June 15, 1991, and the worst earthquake of the century in the country, a magnitude 7.8 on July 16, 1990.
The deadliest presidency? BS Aquino will certainly dispute that. But for him and for Leyte and the country, the situation is grim. Very grim.
In the meantime, President Obama apparently will save the day for Aquino. He has sent an aircraft carrier. That nuclear-powered boat can provide food, drinking water, electricity and other provisions to a small town for as long as six months.