PNoy, Roxas and Romualdez

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

IT'S been a month since super typhoon Yolanda struck hard at a chunk of the Visayas, which means that relief operations are gradually giving way to the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase. Foreign governments and groups are also scaling down their work in the typhoon-hit areas, signaling the shift in the focus of the disaster response.

I no longer have objection, therefore, if the finger-pointing in relation to the government’s immediate post-Yolanda response starts now. It’s time to revisit that response and gather lessons from it for future use. It’s an important step if we want to fully move on from Yolanda.

The first salvo was officially fired Monday by Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez during the hearing conducted by the Congressional Oversight Committee on the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. Tacloban City was devastated by Yolanda’s winds and the storm surge that it spawned, killing hundreds people.

From his testimony and judging from the response to it of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, we now have an inkling of what transpired in Tacloban the few days immediately after Yolanda struck.

Romualdez had criticized the national government for its slow response in the aftermath of Yolanda. He claimed his calls for police reinforcement and help for the retrieval of the dead went unheeded by Roxas and ultimately President Noynoy Aquino.

The slow response by the national government, we already know it based on reports by local and foreign media who were in Tacloban. What we didn’t know was what transpired when PNoy and Roxas went to Tacloban and what Romualdez and Roxas talked about. Now we have an inkling of it.

Apparently, politics and the failure of Malacañang to grasp the full extent of the devastation contributed to its slow response.

By politics, I don’t mean the President deliberately snubbing Romualdez because of the Aquino and Marcos-Romualdez factor. I say it in the context of Malacañang expressing worries about the political ramifications of taking over control of Tacloban--which actually needed early on--at the expense of Romualdez.

That in turn exposes the national government’s failure to correctly assess the extent of the devastation at least in Tacloban. Malacañang didn’t see the situation as urgent enough to declare martial law or to immediately take over from the crippled local government unit. Which was wrong, of course, and was partly the cause of its slow response.

But that is as far as the national government is concerned. What the oversight committee failed to dwell deeply on was Romualdez’s actions before and after Yolanda struck. How did Romualdez prepare Tacloban for the coming of Yolanda considering the warnings from Pagasa and the media about the strength of the typhoon and the storm surge it would spawn?

It would be good to compare the extent of Romualdez’s preparation for Yolanda with those done by officials of other local government units directly in the path of the typhoon. And how did Romualdez respond to the devastation? What creative ways did he conceive in the face of the crippling of the government he was heading post-Yolanda?

I don’t subscribe to the idea that Romualdez and government officials who survived the devastation were totally helpless. He admitted that he still had 25 policemen around and probably other city employees. I also do not believe that all of Tacloban’s ordinary citizens were in no mood to help had Romualdez sought their assistance.

Cable News Network’s Anderson Cooper praised the resilience of the people of Tacloban who survived Yolanda. Was Romualdez as resilient as leader of his devastated city?


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 11, 2013.


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