By Atty. Salvador Panelo
THE most callous of men did not escape the torrent of emotions that engulf them upon seeing the devastation, wrought by the super typhoon “Yolanda” known internationally as storm, “Haiyan”, the worst typhoon or storm to hit a country in world history, as shown in video clips on television news – depicted in newspaper photographs, and described in terrifying graphic detail, by those who witnessed and survived the rampaging storm surge and floods that swept away thousands of men, women and children, sending them to their sudden deaths; seriously injuring and disabling thousands more, and more than a thousand persons either missing or dead; the ferocious waters that swept away hundreds of vehicles that cross their path to God knows where; the powerful wind running at 234 kilometers per hour that dismantled houses, blown away rooftops, broke window and door glasses; and uprooted trees that careened into different directions; and the cataclysmic force that literally flattened and obliterated entire cities and towns in the Eastern Visayas.
The apocalyptic aftermatch of the deluge was reminiscent of the holocaust in Japan when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were atomic bombed by the United States in World War II, the atomic bomb was equivalent to twenty thousand (20,000) tons of TNT, killing thousands of Japanese and flattening the two (2) cities. The post-holocaust in Tacloban City and the neighboring tours reminds us of Hurricane Katrina, recorded to be the “deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season”, said to be “the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States.” “At least 1,833 people died in the Hurricane and subsequent floods”, “with total property damage at $108 billion (2005 USD)”. The tragedy in that part of our country recalled the April 11, 2011 7.1 earthquake tsunami in Tohuku, Japan, that brought about “13,135 fatalities, 12,143 or 925%” of which “died by drowning.”
The extent of the physical damage and the number of lives lost brought about by the killer typhoon “Yolanda” and the storm surge, including the injuries inflicted on the multitudes by the storm, were totally unexpected by both the national and local governments, this despite the country’s experience of being hit regularly by typhoons, one of the worsts of which prior to the present one was Typhoon Ondoy that flooded most part of Metro Manila.
The days subsequent to the landfall of Typhoon Yolanda and the storm surge saw the unprecedented magnitude of damage to life and property in the areas affected.
Tacloban City was – and still is, a pitiful sight of destruction. Cadavers littered the streets, other corpses were found inside their homes or covered by debris, even as their relatives wailed over their loss – while other loved ones pull over the pile of dismantled and shattered houses, as they searched for dead bodies.
Many survivors who went thru the harrowing ordeal of clinging to dear lives – stunned, and momentarily – perhaps permanently – deprived of their sanity – walked like zombies while others limped aimlessly.
The resulting hunger of the victims and the lack of food supply – plus the clothes that went with the rushing floods – triggered the start by the survivors of emptying the groceries, supermarts, and restaurants of food items to feed their hungry stomachs and to quench their thirst – giving rise to an opportunity for some brigands and detainees who escaped from jails to take advantage of a calamity to loot all business establishments of their merchandise and wares.
There was no authority to enforce law and order – because those who have been tasked to take charge were themselves victims and incapacitated to perform their public functions – hence chaos and mob rule prevailed for the next three or four days.
Instantaneously, however, the response of the Filipinos outside of the ravaged area was swift and immediate. Relief goods of various quantities poured in many relief centers, public and private. Cash donations kept pouring in.
However, delivering the relief goods to the victims was either painstakingly slow or out of sight, owing to the consequential restraints, like the roads have become impassable due to the fallen trees alongside debris that were strewn all over them – with the bridges that connect the towns being damaged or destroyed as well.
These roads could not immediately be cleared simply because it required heavy trucks and mechanized equipments to remove them – and the local governments do not have them. Those sent by the national government could not reach their destination as fast as it wanted precisely because the roads and bridges that they have to pass through have become inaccessible.
The next few days after the tragedy seemed to give the appearance of thousands of victims going hungry and thirsty with hundreds being untreated of their injuries, and thousands more without shelter from the elements, what with the relief goods coming in trickles. There was an air of helplessness, hopelessness and desperation as well, as the national government apparently unable to make a quick and effective response to the tragedy.
It was in this state of gloom and despair and of disorganized relief work when the CNN celebrated host-reporter Anderson Cooper arrived in Tacloban City. He saw firsthand the heart-wrenching sights and condition – that made him give the following live report to the global audience:
“The situation in Tacloban City is miserable and very very bad. What is happening in Tacloban is a demolition not a construction job. People are desperate. People do not have any for shelter. It’s very difficult for people to get food. There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief. It is a very desperate situation, among the most desperate I’ve seen in covering disasters in the last couple of years. The people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten.”
“As for who exactly is in charge of the Philippine side of this operation, that is not really clear”.
Anderson Cooper’s commentary and observation on the Tacloban City situation went viral on the internet receiving a biting reaction from the famed and feisty ABC,-CBN Broadcaster Korina Sanchez, who happened to be the wife of Cabinet member and DILG Secretary Mar Roxas, who, together with Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, is in charge of the relief operations.
Korina Sanchez retorted to Anderson Cooper: “Anderson Cooper is not aware of what he is taking about.”
That reaction also went viral, too, in the internet.
In his CNN program, Anderson Cooper riposted to Korina Sanchez’s reaction:
“Mrs. Sanchez is welcome to go there in Tacloban – and I would urge her to go there. I don’t know if she has but her husband’s the interior minister. I’m sure he can arrange a flight.”
Of course the exchange between a local and an international broadcaster caught the attention of netizens and CNN & ABS-CBN viewers, and they expressed their sentiments on the exchange. Some siding with Anderson Cooper, while others took the side of Korina Sanchez.
My our son-lawyer Salvador A. Panelo, Jr., who could not contain his sentiment on the Anderson Cooper-Korina Sanchez tiff, as well as with those criticizing the government for its inadequate preparation to neutralize the effects of the hauler typhoon – and the national governments apparent slow response to the victims, posted in his Facebook, and in my Twitter account, the following statement:
“I agree with Korina Sanchez that Anderson Cooper does not know what he is talking about.
Criticism of government response to major natural or environmental disasters is universal. The US government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006 was a failure of leadership. “Even Japan with their much-vaunted reputation for organization was criticized for its slow response to the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and the consequent Fukishima leak. We should keep this in mind when assessing the performance of our own government. We should also keep in mind that while Mr. Cooper may very well be genuinely concerned about the pace of government, response, he is also very much in the business of selling news.
I firmly believe that our government is doing its best to help the victims of Yolanda. This is not inconsistent with the fact that its best may not be good or fast enough for everyone affected given the magnitude of the destruction and the various limitations and issues that mere observers can not fully appreciate.
Let us not forget that significant government resources are possibly still tied up to Bohol and Zamboanga.
I do think that P-Noy could have better explained why the government response could not come sooner and why air cannot be distributed faster. Let us just hope that that was more of a failure of speech and rhetoric, rather than leadership. We can take him to task for that later. For now, our unfortunate Visayan brothers and sisters need us to heed the advice we wished P-Noy had followed: stop pointing fingers. Let us help how we can help our government and let us follow through!”
The foregoing commentary of lawyer Salvador A. Panelo, Jr., is insightful – and eloquently said as well. (To be continued)
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