“Thousands were reported to have searched for alternative evacuation sites or forced to settle in unsafe sites, as designated evacuation centers were overflowing. Some declared evacuation centers were actually disaster-prone areas, and initial reports reveal how an evacuation center was even destroyed by Ruby’s violent winds in Eastern Samar province.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – With typhoon Ruby (Hagupit), the Aquino government showed that it has failed to learn the right lessons from Yolanda, and it is just trying, and failing, to use the typhoon in hyping the US troops and its presidential bet. These, among others, are the conclusions raised by various groups conducting relief and solidarity drives in typhoon-hit areas.
“The people’s solidarity swept away the US typhoon hype,” ILPS-Phils Chair Elmer Labog said in a statement. The group thanked the working people and volunteers for overcoming the US typhoon hype and the Aquino government’s ineptitude as exemplified, they said, in its response to typhoon Ruby.
Labog did not let unnoticed the upgrading to supertyphoon status of Ruby (Hagupit) by the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in Hawaii, a joint weather station of the US Navy and Air force. But as it turned out, the Filipino meteorologists working with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) were more realistic in their forecast than the US station, as Labog noted. He said the US troops’ forecast created undue fears to the public reinforced by Malacañang’s pronouncements.
But if the Aquino government had expected to score PR points with its boasted prepositioning of relief goods and prompt evacuation, it again proved inept on the ground, based on statements of People Surge alliance of Yolanda survivors.
“Despite bragging of prepositioned goods, the Aquino government was still unable to adequately preposition food, water and other emergency needs of residents in evacuation centers, leaving hundreds of thousands to go hungry. The callous Aquino government instead focused its deployment of police and soldiers to guarding malls and big business establishments from ‘looting’,” said Dr. Elfleda K. Bautista, chairman of People Surge, in a statement emailed to media today.
Bautista noted too that the “same brand of criminal negligence” by the Aquino government continued during Ruby. For example, she said, despite the government’s weather scientists effectively predicting the typhoon’s pathway and warning the public, and despite the majority of the communities having proactively evacuated from hazardous areas, the government has been unable to provide sufficient and safe evacuation centers.
“Thousands were reported to have searched for alternative evacuation sites or forced to settle in unsafe sites, as designated evacuation centers were overflowing. Some declared evacuation centers were actually disaster-prone areas, and initial reports reveal how an evacuation center was even destroyed by Ruby’s violent winds in Eastern Samar province.
Before Ruby hit, members of People Surge conducted info drives and monitored the evacuation centers in Tacloban City. They observed that on top of lacking food and water, the evacuation centers they monitored have “varying levels of insufferable conditions, including congestion of rooms, lack of proper ventilation, and high risks of diseases,” Bautista said.
The Tacloban City chapter of urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY) also reported the demolition of makeshift stalls at their City Public Market vicinity on December 5. The group blasted the excuse cited for demolition that it was supposedly a “safety measure.”
“This disrespect for the self-reliant recovery of Yolanda survivors is the very reason why it is always a challenge to convince our kindred to evacuate. They left what little livelihood they have eked out post-Yolanda to seek safety, and the Tacloban City Government forgot all pretenses of ‘building back better’ by sealing the fate of the poor’s livelihood and offering no alternative in return,” said Bautista last Dec. 6.
The ILPS-Phils also exposed Aquino’s seeming efforts to project his supposed preparedness by having his partymate’s 2016 presidential candidate and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to go to Borongan, Eastern Samar to lead a so-called National Government Frontline Team.
By Sunday though (Dec 7), reports showed Roxas could not immediately reach the places where the typhoon made its first landfall, such as Dolores some 65 kilometers away. Felled trees blocked the roads as he himself admitted on national radio.
President Aquino then reportedly directed Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin to coordinate the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), followed by soldiers in battle gear being broadcasted on TV this Tuesday (Dec 9) to be delivering relief goods to areas that began to be hit by Ruby on Saturday (Dec 6).
ILPS-Phils. noted that Sec. Dinky Soliman visited the Cebu International Convention Center, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s central hub for disaster-relief operations in Visayas and Mindanao for the repacking of relief goods when the typhoon was already making its way across the Visayas into Romblon, Mindoro and Batangas in the Southern Tagalog region.
As of Tuesday (Dec. 9), the DSWD has not yet been felt in Dolores, sources from the EVRAP (Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program) who sent rapid assessment teams in Samar told Bulatlat.com. International NGOs, meanwhile, have already reached the place. Locals also reported that the DSWD may have been to blame for worsening the damage to the bridge linking Ruby’s badly-hit Eastern Samar towns of Dolores, Sulat, Oras and Jipapad to Borongan. DSWD reportedly drove its trucks on the bridge when for days, heavy vehicles had not been allowed to cross because it had cracks.
“Pres. Aquino and Sec. Roxas were both exposed before the international media as inept officials in the aftermath of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) last year,” ILPS-Philippines noted in a statement. This time, with Ruby, the tandem seems to be trying to recover PR points but even in the body count it is once again raising questions.
An initial body count from the Philippine Red Cross pegs at least 23 deaths in the Eastern Samar province alone, fewer than the body count being reported by the government.
As of December 8, 2014, more than a million Filipinos or over 230,000 families have already been affected by Ruby. More than 30 million people are expected to be affected across the country as the typhoon’s “extremely sluggish movement coupled with its Yolanda-like breadth resulted in the greater exposure of more provinces and regions in Central Philippines—including all areas affected by Yolanda—to its disastrous impacts,” as People Surge’s Dr. Bautista warned.
While the actual extent of damage has yet to be accounted for, in the wake of Ruby in Eastern Visayas, at least, Dr. Bautista of People Surge warned that it appears the injustices circa Yolanda will inescapably continue. Even now, Dr Bautista said, “the Aquino administration is intent on downplaying the impact, claiming credit where the people, non-government organizations, and in some cases local governments, did all the work to prepare.”