Typhoon Haiyan-Yolanda Exposes Philippine Government’s Failure and Corruption

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After the catastrophic fury of typhoon Yolanda (international code name, Haiyan) that massively destroyed entire provinces and took the precious lives of people in the mid-section of the Philippine archipelago, I know that they, who are physically there — far and near — are grieving, heartbroken, weeping, disconsolate, disgruntled and angry, for I, who am here, and others like me thousands of miles away, are.

Some tranquil days before the super storm happened, while it was yet rapidly moving over the Pacific Ocean towards the Philippine area of responsibility with maximum sustained winds of almost 200 miles per hour, extensive warnings were seriously issued and posted in all possible media conduits by respected international weather monitoring agencies. No loopholes, no missed details, no information lapse. Every fact, figure, statistical datum was communicated and communicated properly. The forewarning was loud and clear, and the alarm was globally heard. The anticipated colossal intensity of the approaching monster of a typhoon was going to be the highest in the known history of humanity on planet Earth, and it was about to hit the Philippines head on.

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The alerts and warnings were seemingly taken with constant seriousness by the apparently calm Benigno S. Aquino III, President of the Republic of the Philippines, who self assuredly announced over TV channels and radio stations the government’s absolute readiness to meet the impending threat and cope with whatever form of foreseeable peril, big and small, would come along. And the whole nation was generally appeased, except of course for the modicum of anxiety that always normally comes in the face of a looming hazard.

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Eighth of November 2013 and the howling winds over the entire Visayas and northern Mindanao rapidly developed into a mighty hurricane of monstrous proportion. Trees, posts, billboards, houses, whatever structures stood on the ground began to be uprooted, toppled and mangled like crumpled matchboxes and shattered matchsticks. And when the fury of sweeping devastation relented after many hours, the midsection of the archipelago was an utter desolation. Wounded and drenched people clutched and embraced small children and were in chaotic and directionless motion. Muddied and bloodied corpses of those who failed to save themselves and their young ones were scattered all around. Cities, towns, villages were flattened to the ground. Howling and weeping, cries of agony and lamentations, pain and sorrow were and still are the resonating sounds that filled and still fill the air with the stench of slowly decomposing dead bodies of people and animals.

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Government has failed the people as it always has since time immemorial. The President of the Republic and his minions have let down the nation. The truth of the matter is, the government and the designated agencies and their personnel tasked to take the imminent responsibilities of the moment were unprepared, disconcerted, inept, substandard and indecisive.

Five days after the catastrophic devastation, no relief, rescue and clearing operations had yet been fully and extensively organized by the Philippine government in the most severely affected areas, whereas two days right after the tragic event, international organizations from far and wide had already started to mobilize and dispatch their people and resources to attend immediately to the urgent needs in the Philippines. Cash donation pledges as well as actual cash donations of hundreds of millions of dollars and euros poured in, as a united expression of global compassion from individuals, organizations and governments towards the hapless victims of the horrific tragedy.

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While the Philippine government still did not know what to do, a big group of German contingents representing various international humanitarian agencies arrived aboard Lufthansa with their carrier vehicles to do relief and rescue operations in the calamity areas. Surprised and dumbfounded, they could not reasonably figure out why they were indefinitely held at and prevented from leaving the Manila international airport by the Bureau of Customs personnel until the vehicles and relief goods they brought with them were taxed and turned over to the Philippine government’s jurisdiction. (This matter was however resolved by diplomatic personnel who arrived later and negotiated with Philippine government authorities.) Some hours later, the head of the Bureau of Internal Revenues (BIR) announced that relief goods from foreign countries would not be taxed if the donating agencies would officially turn them over to the Philippine government, which would in turn become the legitimate entity tasked to distribute them in the areas where they are most needed.

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The incident with the German contingents was a case of blatant stupidity likened to a situation where a kind-hearted individual offers assistance to a guy in distress, and the latter demands payment before the former can actually move to help the latter. Ridiculous… insane… absurd…

The BIR chief’s requirement was a rib-tickler. It clearly showed that she was absolutely out of touch with reality. Apparently, she seemed to play ignorant of the fact that the Philippine government is notorious worldwide for being grossly untrustworthy after the most recent mind-blowing exposé of how senators and congressmen have plundered hundreds of millions (tens of billions of pesos) from the national government’s budget since some years back. These legislators deceptively contributed enormous amounts of money to fake non-government organizations that had been allegedly formed to facilitate assistance to countryside development efforts by a privately syndicated organization headed by a woman whom these senators and congressmen had sponsored and protected for years as a trusted pawn.

This reputation is taken quite seriously by the United Nations, which gave strict orders to the US Marine contingents assigned to escort the transport of a huge quantity of relief goods not to let any politician approach and touch a single item of the relief goods once they arrive in the Philippines: a sensible and well-considered instruction.

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In retrospect, the world has witnessed how the incompetent government of a showbiz-designed president bungled and compounded the misery and agony of a nation that has suffered decades, even generations, of profound tragedies — man-made and natural — and has continued to endure.

What else could we expect from the power-wielders of this ill-fated nation, where tragedies are commonplace and unsolved crimes are routinely ignored and set aside? Who holds the magic wand that might prick the conscience of these power-hungry plunderers of the people’s money when the reality is that greed and corruption have already eaten up what little remained of what could have been the only factor to define their humanity? The fact is, we should not have anchored our trust on a childish president whose promise of safety and well being was like a thoughtless remark from a drug-sedated juvenile delinquent.

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The full maturation of the Filipino in their political evolution is still long and arduous. Lingering questions along the way will need to be answered and given ultimate solutions, not by the powers that be but by the strength of the Filipino’s political will to stand and act and create a new order founded on justice, freedom, responsibility, discipline and independence. Then and only then can we truly exact justice for the activists who are victims of enforced disappearances; put before the bar of justice the plunderers in a hundreds-of-million-peso fertilizer scam of the Arroyo regime; genuinely prosecute and punish with utter impunity the Ampatuan warlords who were the undeniable perpetrators of the infamous Maguindanao massacre; arrest and incarcerate the economic saboteurs in the present government’s executive administration, Senate and House of Representatives who have plundered hundreds of millions of the people´s money for their personal enrichment and that of their families.

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The road is long and arduous, but let us move on even if death lurks along the way. Let us get committed to this journey whose bright end might not actually be for our lifetime but for our children and their children’s generation.

Editor’s Note: Photographs one to five by Erik de Castro, photographs six, eight and nine by Arlynn Aquino, and photograph seven by Romeo Ranoco.

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13 Responses to Typhoon Haiyan-Yolanda Exposes Philippine Government’s Failure and Corruption

  1. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1David
    November 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Ruel,

    Man you hit the real issues right on the head!

    I love this piece…. Keep them coming.

  2. +5 Vote -1 Vote +1Tammy Marchand
    November 16, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    What is interesting is that this is replay of Hurricane Katrina. During Katrina, the Bush administration royally screwed up. Food and supplies were held up by bureaucracy too. Ironically, it is the U.S. government that is going against the wishes of the Philippine president, but with a different administration. It is a mix of what-is-right and blatant arrogance of a so-called super power. I never imagined the day when this undue arrogance would come in handy.

  3. +3 Vote -1 Vote +1marelaw
    November 16, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    I really do hope that each donor country of the international community will give their donations — especially money — to the actual victims themselves! Because if not, we all know how our corrupt government from the highest to the lowest level works! With the staggering amounts of money coming in (thank you world), as it crosses red tape, by the time it reaches the actual victim, a $100 donation will be 100 pesos only! These corrupt officials get most slices of the pie and more!

    I hope the donations from other countries, private individuals, or private companies won’t be replaced with a “from” politician’s name stickers! The system is so corrupt that a canned donation of Spam will be replaced with a local brand sardines.

    We have experienced this first hand, when my brother went to get our relief goods, he was told that his name and my other brother’s were already taken when none of us even went there! Then after much argument, they only got local brands of noddles when the donations were supposed to be from abroad.

  4. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1atet
    November 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

    I want to share a little bit about the devastation in the Philippines that has been really upsetting me lately. I am married to a Filipina and have been to the Philippines several times.

    News reporters from all around the globe are doing the best they can to make sure the world knows of the devastation in the Philippines and how strong and resilient they are. What they are not doing is pushing blame around for the lack of relief effort in the areas that were affected by this travesty.

    Before I go into why I feel they should, I want to share with you my personal experiences with the people of the Philippines. They are some of the strongest, kindest people that I have ever had the opportunity to know. Each trip that I make to the Philippines, I can’t help but be amazed at the kindness that I am shown no matter where I am at there. The people have belief in family that goes far beyond anything that we do here in the states. When you speak of family in the Philippines, they speak of relatives that are 8th, 9th, and 10th cousins as though they were brother and sisters. Family to the Filipino people comes before just about everything else. Family to them is more than just a sharing of DNA, it is a way of life.

    When it comes to respect, matters and knowing how to treat others, there is no other race on the planet that I can think of that embraces these practices more than the people of the Philippines.

    So why am I writing this. Recently Anderson Cooper was called out by Korina Sanchez (wife of minister of department of interior, this is the man supposedly responsible leading the recovery effort in the Philippines) for supposedly stating that the Philippines Government and Military where not on the ground helping. You may have seen this on the news recently. While Anderson Cooper, the rest of CNN, and the rest of the media there in the Philippines from around the world have -not- called out the Government of the Philippines I am going to.

    The Government of the Philippines has corruption from the bottom to the top. They (government officials) currently are more worried about their image than the people of their country. I have had several incidents where I got to see this corruption at many different levels. I have had bags held by customs because they wanted money before they would release them (this is because they had opened my bags and knew what was in them). I have also had items missing from bags that have gone through customs (rather than being asked for my money, they just took it), when asked about it they said they had never seen it and they did not open our packages. I will not drive in the country of the Philippines for fear of being pulled over every few miles and being asked for money for some made up violation that I had committed. I have actually been pulled over being only a passenger in a vehicle because they saw me and wanted money; it wasn’t until we threatened to go public on the news with the story that they let us go.

    I know this is all small change, but this behavior goes all the way up the chain of command in the Philippines. The people of the world need to understand that while CNN and others are doing a great job, they are themselves playing it safe and not saying, I am sure, what is truly running through their minds. What is that you ask? That is “Where is the Philippines Government and Military involvement in this crisis. One would expect that they would be the leaders on the ground in trying to get relief to all the people of the Philippines, but instead they are all back in their offices making sure the image you see of them and the image that gets reported makes them look like superstars. There are some officials there who are actually taking donations from around the world, repackaging them in little bags which stickers on them saying that the package of relief was thanks to some official and his name listed on the bag. This is all being done in an effort to make themselves look good for the upcoming elections in 2016. To hell with the fact that their people are dying; they are more concerned with their image.

    So this letter is really for the Philippine people. I ask that you all do yourself a favor and don’t vote back into office a single person that is currently in office. Instead, vote for the people that helped find your brothers, mended your sister’s leg, or provided you a shoulder to cry on for the news of a lost family member.

  5. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    November 17, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you so much, David, for the appreciation.

  6. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    November 17, 2013 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you, Tammy Marchand, for your comment.

  7. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    November 17, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Hi, marelaw. Generally, the ideal doesn´t happen in the ways of a notoriously corrupt government. In fact, the very things we wished not to happen have actually happened already. Relief goods from Germany have been replaced with unlabeled local ones and those that came from Indonesia, which were already packed when they arrived, have been repacked in bags with the logos of government agencies and personalities.

    Greed and corruption are already embedded in and thus define the persons of high government officials in the Philippines.

    Thank you very much for your comment.

  8. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Ruel F. Pepa
    November 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Thank you so very much for your very insightful comment, atet. Being married to a Filipina and having gone to the Philippines a lot of times make your observations very reliable. What is so appreciable is your very accurate distinction between the common people and those in government, high and low.

    Yes, like you, I also believe in my people. The best is yet to come and I´m sure the most recent tragedies in the Philippines–both natural and man-made–are solid lessons valuable in our political evolution.

  9. Dady Chery
    +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
    November 17, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    The path and intensity of the storm were known for days in advance of its landfall in the Philippines. Instead of sending C-130 planes for relief after the storm, the US, for example, could have sent these planes to help evacuate people -before- the storm. This would have saved many lives. In any case, the aid money promised by most countries will go to pay their nationals. Fact is: poor people who find themselves in the middle of a natural disaster are abandoned by their own country and mostly exploited by the rest.

  10. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Sylvette G. Sabaupan
    November 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm

    It is with irony to think that all countries are all eyes on us: combination of pity for the victims and disgust for the corrupt politicians. Our government had gone numb, uncaring and definitely irresponsible, when even the United Nations issued an order “not to let any politician approach and touch a single item of the relief goods….” Is this the kind of government that we considered as a “strong refuge” on which we could count on in times of trouble? They do not care even if half of the Filipino populace die as long as they can acquire a large fortune.

  11. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Pnoy
    November 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    The Philippine government should do its best to help its people, instead of relying on foreign countries for aid. Foreign countries should stop giving aid/donation. The corrupt government will definitely take most of it. One hundred millions of dollar donations for the victims will be taken by the corrupt government.

    If they, the government, can embezzle billions of pesos, why can’t they help? Those f@ckers, government, see this tragedy as way of enriching themselves further. No help should be given by foreign countries at all. They, government, have the money to support the people, yet foreign countries are first to help. WTF? They probably cannot help since all their government funds went straight into their secret bank accounts.

    All the money embezzled by the corrupt could have been a great help: sea wall, emergency transportation. All the corrupt government should be sentence to life or death and no parole. Thousands of people died, not only because of the typhoon but also because of delays in emergency response, lack of evacuation areas, and again no funds to transport their own people to safety due to their own f@cking selfish greedy a$$es.

  12. +2 Vote -1 Vote +1Matthias Frey
    November 18, 2013 at 7:21 am

    To intruduce myself: I am married to a filipina and we live in Germany. Our relatives live in Negros.

    I could not believe the pictures from the Philippines during the last few days. But more: when the pictures hit me, some information about the growing coruption.

    Everyone around the world knows that countless people have nothing anymore, and rich Filipinos don’t share their money and steal the money and goods donated by people around the world. Shame on these people.

    What will be the result? Next time, people will not donate again and the poor people will have to suffer.

    To all these corrupt people: It is hard the get up the ladder, but fast to fall down.

  13. Vote -1 Vote +1Fredb
    November 20, 2013 at 10:31 am

    The best way to get rid of the corrupt govt is to stop paying taxes… because it all gets stolen anyway.

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