Lessons from Yolanda

- The Philippine Star

It was recorded as the most powerful typhoon in recent history. It caused the death of more people than 9/11, and claimed more lives than Pearl Harbor. Two years ago today, Typhoon Yolanda unleashed her fury, uprooting the lives of millions and leaving a body count of 6,300 that continues to be the subject of dispute to this day, with many believing the number could be much higher with over a thousand still missing.

One thing is clear, Yolanda has shown us that the world is not cruel but can be kind – prepared to come to our aid – with countries like the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan and many others sending troops, medical equipment, food and relief items and billions of dollars in aid. We were lucky that the USS George Washington was in Hong Kong when we urgently called our friend at the US embassy, Colonel Rick Matton, to ask for assistance. The United States through the DFA dispatched its troops quickly, with V-22 Ospreys and amphibious vessels being major factors in rescue and relief efforts. In hindsight, Yolanda serves as a strong argument that we need to enhance our disaster response capabilities, which is one of the main purposes for the Enhanced Defense and Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the US.

Two years since that fateful day, we continue to be vulnerable. Surely, we have learned a lot of lessons, but it is also clear that we need to think of more cohesive ways of responding to these kinds of tragic occurrences, especially with the Philippines being a virtual magnet for calamities and disasters. We have to be more aggressive in implementing systems to manage recovery and rebuilding efforts, because two years since the disaster, a million survivors are still living in makeshift tents or temporary homes.

The DSWD Secretary claims that 95 percent of the foreign donations for Yolanda victims went to UN agencies with only P17 billion going directly to the government, which makes people wonder why – if Dinky Soliman’s assertions are correct – this is so, driving the perception that perhaps these foreign governments did not fully believe in the capability of our government in administering the funds properly or efficiently manage the massive resources.

The Commission on Audit also said that P384 million of donations meant for the survivors are just parked in banks – a lot of money that could make a lot of difference in the lives of those displaced. All of these show inadequacies and inefficiencies in the way disaster recovery efforts are being implemented – and that the DSWD is not equipped to handle such major disasters as Yolanda and even the recent Typhoon Lando.

Long before the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda, one of those who has been relentless in saying that “disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business” is Senator Loren Legarda. We have to effectively reduce disaster risk as the increasing frequency, intensity and uncertainty of extreme hazard events have made everything more complex, she said – and she is absolutely correct.  Perhaps we should take stock of the separate proposals made by Leyte Congressman Martin Romualdez and Senator Grace Poe to create a Department of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management to centralize all calamity and disaster-related operations for more efficient management of resources and faster implementation of rehabilitation efforts.

Such has been the devastation that no less than Pope Francis himself was so moved that he went out of his way to visit the survivors and console them, to the point that he has now issued a historic encyclical, Laudato Si – wherein he emphasized the need to help victims, condemning the widespread indifference to the suffering of those who bear the loss of lives, and more tellingly, the lack of response to these tragedies and the loss of the sense of responsibility to our fellowmen. 

If any deep lessons are to be learned at all from the tragedy of Yolanda, it is this: We have to be prepared for the worst, but victims must not be made to suffer all over again through indifference and callousness, and that we should never ever allow politics and political color to get in the way of responding to those whose lives have been upturned due to these disasters. 

‘Isang bala ka lang’

There are so many conflicting claims about the so-called “tanim bala” controversy which has become viral, carried by international networks and “inspiring” a Japanese television show to produce a comic skit showing how a bullet is planted for the purpose of extortion.

Like in the FPJ movie “Isang Bala Ka Lang,” it only takes one bullet indeed for a victim to get in trouble because Republic Act 10591 makes it illegal for anyone to buy or possess firearms and ammunition without a license. The DOTC simply cannot wash its hands off on this issue and say it is being blown out of proportion. The Liberal Party is claiming that it’s a demolition job but no matter what it is, this issue is demolishing the trust and confidence of the people and damaging our image before the international community. While dirty cops and syndicates in other countries plant drugs, we plant bullets here – a classic example of “Only in the Philippines!” 

PeopleAsia nominated at CMMA

We are very proud of our PeopleAsia team headed by our editor-in-chief Joanne Rae Ramirez for having been nominated by the Catholic Mass Media Awards for the cover stories titled “Papal Power” and “Cory Remembered.” Out of 40-plus nominees, we made it to the finals even if we did not get the top prize. PeopleAsia has indeed come a long way.

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Email: [email protected]

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