• ‘Yolanda’: In a country obsessed with hoop dreams and teleserye

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    Marlen V. Ronquillo

    The Bert Linas and the Aboitizes of the country should have been called to duty in the aftermath of Yolanda. I think appealing to their sense of country would have dropped any hesitation on their part to help. Ok, we have to answer this question . Where and in what area precisely would they help?

    Untangling the logistical nightmare that normally goes with the movement of relief goods and materials to the ravaged areas is right in their area. These are the people who know how to move cargo in the speediest and the most efficient way possible. It is part of their business and on Bert Lina’s part, it is his core business.

    Speed, efficiency and precision in the movement of cargo. Cargo meant to save human lives or ease suffering of the deepest and brutalizing kind. Cargo that can tame the chaos, ease the pangs of hunger and build the confidence within the ranks of the devastated communities. The looting and the pillaging, and the way the hungry and the thirsty have reacted rather recklessly were not totally unexpected in an environment that desperate.

    Why did we not tap them, the people with solid track records and a real grounding on the movement of cargo, especially cargo that meant life-and-death for the affected communities? A few reasons.

    Nobody prepared for Yolanda
    The political leadership was prepared for the worst and had the best of intentions. But their idea of a worst-case scenario was not the “ off-scale” impact of a super typhoon that packed strength of 195 miles per hour on the average and gustiness of more than 220 mph.

    We have a long, institutional memory of killer typhoons but not typhoons with the devastating strength of Yolanda. Who was prepared for Yolanda? Nobody. Across the globe, people of all races and creed watched helplessly and silently as they watched the impact of Yolanda, the communities littered with rubble and dead bodies and the survivors who looked like they were better off as dead.

    What could have been the reason the decision to help by the US was just a little ahead of the decision of Iran to help? Because the Philippines was dealing with a tragedy which scope and scale is unknown to a hurricane country such as the US and a quake-prone country like Iran. And that was the prime motivation for helping. Helping a country deal with a catastrophe brought about by a natural force that is yet without precedent in the annals of calamities.

    No measures, no gauges
    Another reason is the Philippines is not really a country that employs or throws around the word “ metrics” routinely. We do not seem to measure anything, including the speed by which an important cargo moves from point to point. Delays? So what. Logjams? So what? Logistical nightmares? Who cares?

    In this God-forsaken country, the standard practice of developed economies to achieve maximum efficiency by moving cargo the fastest and cost-efficient way possible is not even taught in college. In countries such as the US, there are undergraduate and MBA programs with concentration in logistics and related matters . Once, my OFW kid in the US called very excitedly after being sent by her company to learn from the ground-breaking ways of a popular, pace-setting and profitable online retailer. You know what the trailblazing online retailer told the awed observers: “ We are a metrics company that sells shoes on the side.”

    First, the online retailer started with the metrics. Only after establishing the metrics did they do the retailing plan and the delivery strategies .

    Why did the accountants and numbers-proficient ex-military men within the inner circles of power forget to employ logistical sophistication in pursuit of a life-and-death matter such as delivering help and succor with speed and precision?

    Slowness a national crime
    Why did not the high-profile Grace Pulido Tan do an instant audit of the lethargic delivery efforts and called the slowness a national crime? Failing to deliver food and water on time in the Visayan wastelands, we have to remind Ms. Pulido, is a greater official transgression than a thousand Napoles caper.

    Examining and dealing with those failures would lead all of us to the hard truth .

    That this is a nation in which the higher obsession and ambition of its people is to be an actor and get roles in teleserye. Or, pursue hoop dreams. Or become beauty queens.

    These national obsessions so dominate the consciousness and the national conversation that metrics and moving logistics are left to the Linas and the Aboitizes.

    The concerns of hard-core sciences and metrics are not even in the periphery of the national concerns.

    Between “ Got to Believe” and Anderson Cooper’s reporting on Yolanda, what do you think would get real and serious audience? The answer will make the concerned Filipino weep.

    Yolanda, let us be clear about it, was not a punishment for a people that are more concerned with being artistas, basketbolistas and beauty queens than metrics and science – which undergird the saving of lives and property and animate the tools that are used to mitigate the impact of violent weather shifts. No, typhoons are not a morality tale and they don’t take place for a reason.

    Calamities, however, are instructive. They are instructing us that national survival will be enhanced by more focus on metrics and algorithm and the hard sciences. Those who live in the fantasy world of teleserye, hoop tournaments and beauty contests are usually the kind of people who fail on an epic scale in dealing with national tragedies.



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    1. It is in our nature as Pinoys that we dont take anything seriously.The manana habit,the Filipino time, the bahala na attitude.”ok na yan” one can see it in everyday lives of our people ie. half a century old vehicle called jeepney still plying it’s route in spite of not being roadworthy while the driver smokes a cigarette, wearing only a singlet and rubber slippers. We are the only country in the world where one can buy a stick of cigarette, small sachet of everything from shampoo to food additives. In short we don’t take things very seriously, we just turn the other way when we see the poverty around us and even pretend it’s not there. yes we have been desensitized by the nature in which we live, only once in a while we get a jolt like yolanda then we realize for a few minutes our own vulnerability but after that we are back to the old pinoy “bahala na”.