Urgent relief and rehab needed in Yolanda-stricken areas, not militarization

“We’re a country that encounters over 20 typhoons each year yet up until now, the national government has yet to install a clear and rational disaster plan that puts premium on disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. Despite the allocation of a P7.5 billion ($174 million) calamity fund for 2013, the absence of proper disaster battle plan that should be created and installed by the national government to mitigate disasters renders the billions of pesos for calamity fund questionable.” – Kabataan Party Rep. Terry Ridon

RELATED STORY: Groups call for mass mobilization of relief support for ‘Yolanda’ survivors


MANILA — “I thought we had come to our end because the wind was really very strong. We thought we’d prepared ourselves for a mega-disaster but when it came, we could only cower, expect the worst and leave our fate to God. Steel roofs were flung all around us as if it were lighter than cloth. Tacloban airport was destroyed.” This was from a text message of Ann Yason, 44, of Southern Leyte, in response to an earlier question by Bulatlat.com, which she was able to read only two days after the landfall of Typhoon Yolanda in her province. She said their batteries ran out, they lost electricity and cellphone signal early on Friday, the day the strongest typhoon in history hit Eastern Visayas.

She now calls herself “Signal No. 4 survivor.” She managed to send text messages that she and others are still alive two and half days after the supertyphoon, only after they managed to have their cellphones charged in a store with a working generator. Until now, there are no electricity services in their area. She told Bulatlat.com that in their area, the people are currently trying to construct some sort of shelter from the hodgepodge of old plywood and scraps of iron roof.

Told that Tacloban City, Leyte is currently reported as the hardest hit, she warned that this might likely be “just an initial report.” With the loss of electricity and communications in Leyte, the people in the area themselves are getting reports on the impact of the disaster only now. “What happened in villages outside of Tacloban and in nearby areas are still not yet reported.”

The first to break into the news as most destroyed was Tacloban because, according to another source from Southern Leyte, the city is relatively “the most developed and it is the provincial capital. Plus, iron butterfly (former First Lady Imelda Marcos) hailed from the place.”

Aquino’s press release leadership scored

In the immediate aftermath of typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), peoples’ organizations based in Manila noted the Aquino government’s lack of preparedness, lack of leadership and lack of proactive solutions. The Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment said Aquino showed this in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda despite early announcements and pronouncements of anticipatory mobilization of the government’s disaster risk reduction and management councils.

Typhoon Yolanda also wreaked havoc in Cebu. (Photo courtesy of Citizen's Disaster Response Center / Bulatlat.com)
Typhoon Yolanda also wreaked havoc in Cebu. (Photo courtesy of Citizen’s Disaster Response Center / Bulatlat.com)

‘Yolanda’ brought maximum sustained winds of 315 kph, the strongest recorded in world history, which scientists expected to cause massive landslides, flash floods and storm surges. Local officials in Leyte have said that 10,000 people are feared dead in their province alone, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said over four (4) million individuals from over 900,000 families were affected.

“Reducing disaster risks and vulnerabilities isn’t solved by an ostentatious national address and a promise of presidential ‘disaster pork’ by Aquino. We are still seeing the consequences of the Aquino government having no proactive disaster risk reduction (DRR) solutions and climate-proofing measures in already pre-identified hazardous areas over the past three years. Worse, Aquino has resorted to his usual ‘blame game’ zeroing in on the Tacloban local government despite shortcomings in the response of the national government themselves,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

The environmental group initially assessed that there are three major shortcomings in the Aquino government’s “bungled disaster response” that they consider as significant factors to the massive destruction brought by Yolanda:

•” The Aquino government failed to prepare the country sufficiently for the storm surges that Yolanda brought, which was reported to have been 20 feet high in some places and cited to have likely caused the massive death toll. This was despite readily available information from monitoring agencies warning of possible storm surges across the country days before Yolanda made its landfall.

• “Despite forced evacuations of thousands of people in high-risk areas, safe and structurally secure evacuation centers and proper evacuation plans were clearly lacking. There were many reports of packed evacuation centers collapsing because of Yolanda’s impact, further adding to the casualties.

• “There is a huge gap in the preparedness of the national government’s responders themselves, which was apparent in the bogging down of their own communication lines that could have been solved by using simple satellite phones or a UHF radio system. As of the evening of November 10, the national disaster risk reduction and management council’s communication lines were still down. More critical is the lack of concrete DRR programs that should have been implemented long before the advent of hazards.”

“Lessons from typhoons Ondoy, Pedring, Sendong, Pablo and the successive monsoon disasters should have taught Aquino that emphasis on community-based climate adaptation initiatives are needed in highly hazardous areas way before hazards are expected, such as mangrove reforestation in coastal areas, locally appropriate early warning systems and participatory capacity-building of local disaster councils and communities,” said Dulce.

Kalikasan PNE commended various people’s disaster responses and called for greater public support for initiatives such as the youth-driven Tulong Kabataan, the national donation drives of the progressive Makabayan coalition and Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), and the community-based relief and rehabilitation programs of the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (see below for places where you can drop your contribution).

Breakdown of government

An estimated nine million people, or 10 percent of the entire Filipino population suffered the wrath of typhoon Yolanda which barrelled through 36 provinces (in a country of 72 provinces). In a statement, the Communist Party of the Philippines noted that majority of the victims of the storm are small peasants, farm workers, fisherfolk, mountain people, workers and other poor people who are the most vulnerable to the storm. “Wide swathes of land were engulfed by the surging seas resulting in massive destruction of public infrastructure, homes, property and agricultural land. It is feared that the number of deaths may run up to several thousand people.”

Villages were cut off from aid and aid workers while the survivors battled hunger after the killer storm. Desperately hungry people scavenged food and broke in some closed groceries and supermarkets.

In another statement, the CPP called for the formation of organizations of disaster victims in order to facilitate the distribution of emergency supplies and prevent the situation from leading to widespread chaos. It said the people need these organizations of disaster victims in order to extend information about their situation and needs.

The CPP also pointed out that many of the areas ravaged by the typhoon were those recently hit by powerful earthquakes, where people were most vulnerable to the strong winds and rains.

“These areas are among the most impoverished in the entire country, where the majority are poor peasants, unemployed farm workers, small fisherfolk and indigenous peoples,” said the CPP. “They have long been abandoned by the reactionary government and will not be among its priorities for assistance,” the CPP said. Typhoon Yolanda hit Visayas and Mindanao in the heels of a devastating earthquake whose victims are until now reportedly not yet sufficiently helped back on their feet. Mindanao typhoon Pablo victims have also complained repeatedly in the past of government neglect.

In the first two days after typhoon Yolanda hit Visayas and parts of Mindanao, the Aquino government was earlier quoted in media reports as blaming some local officials in Tacloban for being “seemingly unprepared” compared to those in other hard-hit areas, resulting to greater damages and casualties. In another live telecast as of this writing, Monday (Nov 11), Aquino praised those local governments who prepared for typhoon Yolanda and thus helped bring down the number of casualties. Aquino had boasted in a national address shortly before the storm hit that the government is expecting zero casualties as it is prepared to deal with the calamity.

Critics found Aquino’s blaming remark “in bad taste.”

“At a time when our people have barely recovered from the devastation wreaked by Super Typhoon Yolanda, it is simply in bad taste to blame the extent of the damages and casualties to the locality which suffered the most,” Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said.

“Super typhoon Yolanda highlights the need for a national government that takes responsibility for the implementation of a national disaster preparedness plan and that pours resources to such a plan, over and beyond relief operations,” said Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno.

“We’re a country that encounters over 20 typhoons each year yet up until now, the national government has yet to install a clear and rational disaster plan that puts premium on disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction. Despite the allocation of a P7.5 billion ($174 million) calamity fund for 2013, the absence of proper disaster battle plan that should be created and installed by the national government to mitigate disasters renders the billions of pesos for calamity fund questionable,” Ridon said.

“The utilization of calamity funds should not remain limited to monitoring and reactive response but should first and foremost be geared towards pre-disaster activities and infrastructure such as typhoon drills, pre-positioned relief goods, proactive warning systems, and a nationwide emergency response system, among others, that is based on a clear disaster-risk reduction and climate adaption plan,” the youth solon added.

Aquino declares ‘state of national calamity’, bring more military including US troops

The reported looting and lack of peace and order will most likely stop the moment sufficient relief goods reach Yolanda survivors, Labog of KMU said. Since the storm struck four days ago, various reports in affected sites indicate that insufficient relief have been brought to the affected communities.

In Cebu (Photo courtesy of Citizen's Disaster Response Center / Bulatlat.com)
In Cebu (Photo courtesy of Citizen’s Disaster Response Center / Bulatlat.com)

“People are thirsty and hungry and need medication. They just lost their homes and loved ones. The government should release all pork funds to help them as soon as possible,” Labog said.

The KMU condemned today the deployment of more soldiers and policemen in reaction to reported looting and widespread state of lawlessness in typhoon-hit areas.

In a live interview with ANC evening of Nov 11, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala admitted that they had not expected such strong storm surge. Asked why the soldiers who were supposed to be getting ready to give assistance were not to be found at the height of the storm, Zagala said they themselves were affected by the storm surge. He admitted that even radio equipment and soldiers were not immediately in the area to help.

There were at least two infantry battalions of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Visayas, plus a naval central in Cebu. Now the military is flying in more soldiers and national police in the Visayas.

“We brought 50 National Police, more soldiers. What matters is that someone in authority is present,” Zagala said. He estimated that a battalion size of 500 “will be enough.”

The military aimed to immediately regain command and control. “Command and control were the most important,” Zagala said.

With the Filipino soldiers are US troops. Two of US military’s C130 planes arrived and Zagala said they have been using it “to bring relief goods and our own troops.” He said more soldiers both from the US and the Philippine Armed Forces are coming. (Update: US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and other U.S. Navy ships to go to the Philippines. Supposedly for “humanitarian assistance,” the carrier comes with cruisers USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Cowpens (CG 63), and the destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89. The carrier has 5,000 Sailors and more than 80 aircraft. As of Nov 12, there were already 180 US personnel, including the hundred US Marines, in the Philippines reportedly for the disaster.)

Amid reports on evening of Nov 11 that most relief goods are failing to reach the intended recipients because of the disorganized state in most affected areas, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said they prefer that all relief goods and efforts should be centralized via the Philippine military. Recent experiences though of typhoon Pablo victims, who had to hold protest actions in order to receive the donations intended for them, showed that the Philippine military and the Department of Social Welfare and Development have been using the said relief goods in counterinsurgency operations.

SOMO needed

In a statement, commands of the New People’s Army (NPA) units operating in the devastated areas said they have immediately changed their mode of operation and have carried out search, rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts.

The CPP said that within the guerrilla front areas, barrio committees, provisional revolutionary government units and revolutionary mass organizations have immediately been mobilized to carry out efforts to assist the people and organize rehabilitation efforts to help the people resume production and other aspects of their normal lives.

“In line with policy, the concerned NPA commands, including the NPA Mt. Amandewin Command (NPA-Leyte Island) and leading committees of the CPP can issue appropriate ceasefire orders to their respective units, putting NPA units on defensive mode but ever vigilant to enemy offensive operations,” the CPP statement said. The rebel group said their units can seek to facilitate the entry of organizations and agencies extending relief and emergency supply and ensure the safety of relief workers.

At the same time, they urged the people to “vigorously oppose continued suppression activities being conducted by the AFP under Oplan Bayanihan, especially in areas ravaged by the storm.”

The CPP called on all international civilian agencies to extend maximum possible support to the victims of the disaster. They denounced the Aquino and US governments “for taking advantage of the disaster to again deploy more US warships and armed US soldiers in various areas in violation of Philippine sovereignty.” The CPP urged foreign governments who wish to extend aid and direct help to course their assistance through their civilian agencies or organizations.

“There’s an urgent need to speed up the humanitarian response,” said Graziella Leite Piccolo in another statement. Piccolo is deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in Manila. The ICRC has an office and staff on the ground in Tacloban City, where it has been operational for many years in the context of the armed conflict in the southern Philippines.

“This area has been totally ravaged”, said Sebastien Sujobert, head of the ICRC office in Tacloban. “Many lives were lost, a huge number of people are missing, and basic services such as drinking water and electricity have been cut off.” There was also, he said, extensive damage to other infrastructure, and communication was difficult for those working to aid the stricken population. Both the Philippine Red Cross and the ICRC offices in Tacloban had been damaged, forcing staff to relocate temporarily. “To make matters worse, the security situation is tense. People here need every type of aid.” (https://www.bulatlat.com)

ANNEX: Details of Emergency Response Initiatives

• BALSA: Donation and volunteer drop-off site – #1 Maaralin cor. Matatag St., Bgy. Central, Quezon City | Bank peso account detail – Peso account: 1803180145401, Metrobank, Tomas Morato 180, Quezon City | Call (02) 925 5906 / (02) 435 6930

• Tulong Kabataan: Donation and volunteer drop-off sites — #5 Palosapis St., Bgy Amihan, Project 3, Quezon City | 37-C Yale St., Cubao, Quezon City | 1650 Sisa St., Sampaloc, Manila | Paypal account at http://bit.ly/HBMfT4

• Makabayan: Donation drop-off centers list at http://fb.me/makabayancoalition

• CDRC: Donation details at http://www.cdrc-phil.com/donate

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