Abnormal

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Senate President Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Escudero have condemned looters in Tacloban City and other places hit by Typhoon Yolanda. But I confess that I don’t remember either of these two fine gentlemen uttering a word against the theft of billions in pork barrel funds by their own colleagues in Congress.

 

“There is no justification for looting,” intoned Drilon. “We do recognize this happened because of the calamity, but we just have to put back law and order.”

“Stealing is stealing under any circumstances,” added Escudero. “Some are just using the calamity as an excuse [to steal].”

But if I were a senator, I wouldn’t be too hard on the people of Leyte who are being forced to steal food because there is none to be had. After all, the Leytenos who are breaking into food stores, drugstores and other such establishments just want to survive, while the lawmakers who steal from the public till are already rich enough to provide for several new generations of their political dynasties.

* * *

Before he left devastated Tacloban City, reporters asked President Noynoy Aquino if he thought the situation in Leyte province and other places ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda was under control. “I think so,” he said.

Everyone else who has been to the once-bustling city, the regional capital of Eastern Visayas, said it was not. One of them was the known tough-guy Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City, who broke down in tears after a visit to Ground Zero of the typhoon’s great swath of destruction.

There are so many dead people in Tacloban alone that the stench of rotting flesh has forced people who venture out to wear makeshift cloth masks. Looting continues almost unabated; there is no government presence to speak of, according to Duterte.

People are fleeing the scene of the disaster on foot and on the few military and commercial planes that have ventured to Tacloban airport. Convoys of relief goods sent by humanitarian agencies are being waylaid and local residents have taken to arming themselves and threatening to kill anyone who is suspected of being a looter.

The people who remain beg on the streets for food, even as workers being deployed by the worldwide relief effort still cannot reach many of those stricken because of blocked roads and lack of power and communications facilities. The situation is not under control, regardless of what Aquino says.

It will take many weeks, months and even years until the damage in Leyte alone is fully assessed and remedied. Right now, chaos still rules in Tacloban, not any imaginary control that Aquino and his government say they have established.

The government response has been woefully inadequate, especially for an administration that can quickly find and release billions of pesos for “priority” projects like the conviction and removal of an unfriendly Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Even the foreign press is noticing how badly the official effort has gone.

“[T]he fact that [government] officials and agencies have not even come together on the death toll, much less a national effort to serve the hundreds of thousands reportedly displaced, highlights just how badly the country was caught off guard by the storm’s destruction,” opined the Washington Post. And it’s not just a question of money and resources, but also “about a government’s power to not just deploy helicopters and clear roads but to earn its society’s trust and, at the right moments, its compliance.”

If Aquino is to really earn the trust of the people, he can start by acknowledging how bad the situation is, instead of pretending that everything is just fine and dandy. Every day that passes without a real and comprehensive official response to the situation in Tacloban and other devastated areas only erodes whatever trust the people have left in their government – which leads to more chaos and instability.

* * *

Businesswoman Malot Veloso Galenzoga, former mayor of Baybay, Leyte, one of the localities hardest hit by Yolanda, has sent an urgent message for people who still don’t realize how desperate the situation is in the province and other places destroyed by the typhoon. Here is what she says: “The devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda needs to be address seriously ASAP. We are now so desperate here in Leyte, because of a shortage of food, the absence of electricity and communication; the death toll in Tacloban is rising by the minute, looting and robbery happen at random.

“Chaos is the word that describes our province. What is more alarming, the people of stricken places from Tacloban down to Palo, Tolosa and others are now so desperate that they have walked hundreds of kilometers just to seek medical help and food, which in turn results in holdups and robberies reaching as far as Baybay. Top provincial officials, including local officials of Baybay, are nowhere to be found in the aftermath of the calamity.

“We badly need your help since we are deprived even of communication. The people need help immediately.”