Odette more destructive than Yolanda

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

Although less deadly compared to Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, super howler Odette did much more damage to property and crops weeks before the end of 2021.

Odette’s death toll was 397 as of Dec. 28, compared to Yolanda’s 6,300, a conservative estimate since some people on the ground placed the fatality count at more than 20,000.

However, the misery and suffering brought about by Odette’s rampage is much more extensive than Yolanda’s.

Odette left Mindoro, Romblon, Palawan, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, Siquijor, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Samar, Leyte, Southern Leyte, Bukidnon, Camiguin, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Occidental, Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat island province, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur in ruins.

Whereas, on the other hand, Yolanda cut a swath of destruction in Eastern Visayas (Leyte, Southern Leyte, Western Samar, Northern Samar) and Central Visayas (Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Bohol).

Leyte and its capital Tacloban took the brunt of Yolanda, with most of the fatalities accounted for in the province and city.

I was in Tacloban three days after Yolanda struck, with a medical mission I hastily formed. Most of the members of the medical mission, including this writer, cried over the deaths and mayhem caused by the 2013 super typhoon.

If I had formed a medical mission in the wake of Odette, I’m sure all the members would cry all the more not because of the number of fatalities – which is relatively small compared to Yolanda’s – but because of the massive destruction, hunger and disease in its wake.

Reports from the affected provinces say that there were outbreaks of diarrhea and gastroenteritis because of the lack of water and poor hygiene.

One expert expressed apprehension there might be a cholera outbreak. Cholera, a deadly ailment, is acute diarrhea caused by bacteria.

To get a bird’s eye view of the situation on the ground, let me cite sitio Sta. Fe, Barangay Bacungan in Puerto Princesa as an example.

Most of the trees in my farm in Sta. Fe have been uprooted by Odette. All of my neighbors’ nipa huts have been blown away.

The only structure left standing in the neighborhood is my farmhouse which is made of concrete. But the roof of the guests’ building was blown away.

I had to send money to my caretaker to buy food for all the 100-plus families who are my neighbors. My farm caretaker was besieged with pleas for food.

The forests surrounding Barangay Bacungan, the center of which is 30 minutes by car from the Puerto Princesa city proper, are no longer there. What’s left is a blighted landscape.

*      *      *

President Digong Duterte blames the late reporting by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (whew!) of the damage wrought by Odette for the delay in his declaring a state of calamity in badly hit areas.

The NDRRMC (even the initials make you lose your breath – RT), on the other hand, blames the delay in the late arrival of reports from the field.

Digong has publicly berated the NDRRMC executive director and Civil Defense administrator, retired Army general Ricardo Jalad, for the faux pas.

For sitting on his butt, Jalad should be fired!

For being useless, NDRRMC should be disbanded and replaced with a new, more efficient organization with a shorter name, such as National Disaster Center.

In the United States, NDRRMC’s counterpart is called the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

*      *      *

The Commission on Audit (COA) is doing a fine job of flagging government agencies for unauthorized expenses or unused funds.

But does it have to call out the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC) and seven other state firms over P13.17 billion in unutilized or idle funds at this time, when everybody worries about where to get food and water for Odette’s victims?

COA Chairman Michael Aguinaldo is adding to the confusion and disorder at this time.

If Aguinaldo wants to “make pasikat” (show off) he should do it at some other time. There is a time for everything, as the saying goes.

*      *      *

President Digong has ordered the military and police to deliver cash aid to typhoon victims.

Mr. President, just be sure the money reaches its intended beneficiaries.

I say this not to belittle the logistics capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), but to point out soldiers and policemen should not be entrusted with big amounts.

The soldiers who opened the vault of the Ampatuan mansion after the notorious Maguindanao massacre could not account for the hundreds of millions of pesos kept in the vault.

Most of the soldiers and policemen who chanced upon billions of pesos in abandoned homes in Marawi during the siege of the city in 2017 did not turn over the amounts, my unimpeachable source in the military said.

The exception is a group of Marines who turned over P52 million in cash and P27 million in checks found in a house left hurriedly by its occupants.

Moros don’t believe in the banking system and keep their money at home. Many residents in the city before the siege engaged in drug trafficking, according to my source.

The source said hundreds of kilos of shabu, or crystal meth, were also found in abandoned homes but were never turned over to the authorities.

Why doesn’t the President entrust the money to the civilian organizations, like the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), which are experienced in dealing with post-disaster problems?

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