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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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