The politics of tragedy. Yolanda.

yolanda inquirer

[Photo source: Inquirer]

We’ll survive, with or without President Aquino – Yolanda survivors

That headline ran in the Daily Inquirer on November 9, 2014, one of hundreds of articles dealing with the Yolanda impact and recovery a year and a day later. It reflects an enduring opinion held by some who dealt with the crushing tragedy of Yolanda that the National Government in general and President Aquino in specific did not do enough after Yolanda struck.

Well, a blogger would be a fool to criticize people who had to endure such a forcefully monstrous wind and sea and the total devastation and lack of resources afterward. It was hell. How do you criticize those who survived hell when some of their family members did not?

I will only say that each man and woman and child has his own point of view, and it cannot possibly be the same as someone else’s. The President CAN’T feel what the survivors felt because he was not there. The survivors CAN’T understand what the President did or did not do, felt or did not feel, because they were not there.

There is without a doubt a gap in perspective on the ground in Tacloban versus Manila. The international community, on the other hand, is unequivocally impressed with the resilience and speed of recovery that has taken place.

  • Local people were strong and determined, and applied themselves earnestly.
  • The international community, public and private, was quick and generous with help.
  • The national government worked diligently with local communities to respond fairly and in the best way possible.
    • National money – big money – quickly went into the stricken area to provide emergency aid and to rebuild civic infrastructure, the frame-work needed for the longer-term re-building.
    • The recovery plan was put together with a long-term view that featured “build back better” to get the most from available money. Huge sums are being committed to rebuilding.

From a broad perspective, recovery has been impressive.

But what we read in the press are the friction points. The unsavory elements. The burps. The complaints. Sometimes the press may have a political agenda, as when the President of the Inquirer is married into the family that governs Tacloban City. Do we expect the Inquirer editorial people to have anything bad to say about Tacloban government, or anything good to say about the rival Aquino administration?

The press thrives too often on throwing dirt. The Inquirer has not let us down with a series of editorials complaining about slow recovery in Tacloban and even President Aquino’s decision not to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Yolanda in Tacloban (where he would undoubtedly be met with marching protestors spoiling the occasion).

And there are other rumples in the bedsheets:

  • What is a citizen to do when his civic leaders direct him to an evacuation center a few meters from the ocean?
  • What is a mayor to do when he tries to mark land off the zoning charts for rebuilding because it is too close to the deadly sea, but people demand to rebuild in the danger zone?
  • What is a relief organization to do when it builds housing for people in a safe area 5 kilometers away, but people don’t want to move because they will miss seeing the Pope?
  • What is a president to do when he does his best in dealing with the most devastating storm on the planet, and people who are hurting take their hurt out on him?
  • What is a president to do when he wants a one-year commemoration to be a positive event rather than a political showpiece for his opponents?

Well, it would take a real cad to criticize the victims.

I will only say, as my review of this killer storm, I hope we have learned what we need to learn.

  • I hope one of the lesson points is that others walk in different shoes than us, with different demands and no intent to harm, and we ought not presume bad faith.
  • I hope that another of the lesson points is that sacrifice occurs not just DURING the storm, but for a long time thereafter.
  • And I hope that we can grasp that, in tragedy, politics should be set aside in respect for those who are suffering.

And, yes, I fault BOTH the Aquino Administration and the Tacloban City leadership for stepping on people’s pain to defend a political view. I won’t go into an argument about the various incidents. It would suggest I have not learned my own lessons.

If we retain our faith in God when he deals a mighty smite, or in rational behavior under stress, we ought also strive to retain our faith and confidence in our fellow citizens – and strive to help them – as they do their best to deal with the chaos and pain imposed by that mighty smite.

The Philippines, overall, has responded well to Yolanda. Better than other nations have dealt with catastrophes, even the U.S. (“6 years later, Hurricane Katrina’s scars linger alongside robust recovery”).

To suggest negligence is a horrid testimony of the smallness of some human minds. Here are the facts: Crisis Response Updates Typhoon Yolanda. I’ve seen the truth of them in the urgency of a huge regional electricity grid replacement, rebuilding of the Tacloban Airport, the new Palo City Hall, massive new riverbank walls in Palo, a new bridge going to the airport, and new roads in Palo. The amount of earnest effort, the accomplishment, is downright amazing. I know a lot of donors have given of their money and effort to provide housing and aid.

Why denigrate all that fine work for personal grievances?

So please forgive me for my blunt opinions:

I’d suggest the political players get a life.

I’d suggest the victims stop blaming and wear their pain better.

I’d suggest the rest of us hold to a positive view, respect our fellow Filipinos and the many generous foreign contributors, and keep working earnestly.

It seems to me we ought to do our best to be accountable to ourselves, to hold compassion for the victims and to express gratitude for all who have done so much to speed the recovery.

We should also learn our lessons and work to be better prepared for the next monster storm.


36 Responses to “The politics of tragedy. Yolanda.”
  1. Cornball says:

    That’s a refreshing perspective Joe, I have nothing more to say.

  2. bauwow says:

    Uncle Joe, it is a tragedy indeed. No one between the National Government and the Tacloban City leadership will admit to their faults, and the people from Tacloban is caught in the crossfire.
    If only, the Mayor of Tacloban would see the plight of his people, he should open his arms and just cooperate with the national government.

    The last sentence says it all,and we better be more prepared or we will be faced with another tragedy.

    • Joe America says:

      “No one . . . will admit to their faults.” Yes indeed. Humility starts by turning inward, and that seems to be an impossible stretch for both sides. There really ought to be no sides but one.

  3. letlet says:

    I wonder how Tacloban mayor helped his constituents to uplift / improve the lives of the survivors / victims .What did he do to pave the way for the quick recovery / rehabilitation of his constituents in terms of shelter, livelihood, medical needs, education, transport and relief supplies?.How many fingers did he lift to crystallize the determinants of the successful recovery?. Before casting the stones of responsibility of rehab to the national government, the mayor should have asked himself first what he has done for his people. The people of Tacloban seem ingrata on all the help extended by the national government, only seeing the small dots on a white paper but not seeing the big dots. Did the mayor used his sleight of hand for blinding his people on seeing how the national government did it best to elevate the physical and moral condition of Tacloban.? ..

    • Joe America says:

      Grief is easily manipulated to anger. That is what the Mayor has done and the Inquirer helps him out. It is what we have seen the Chinese do re the Malaysian air crash. Harry Roque tried to do it in the Laude murder. And it is essentially what Binay tries to do when portraying him as one of the poor against “the enemy” ” of current government. There was a lot of grief in Tacloban so there is a lot of anger. Maybe the residents there will sometime realize that “we” are not their enemy.

    • edgar lores says:


      On the anniversary of the tragedy, the good mayor is still crying and whining.

      I can imagine that when he was a little boy he was a spoiled brat. He would throw himself into a tantrum, demanding “I want dis” and “I want dat”, and his careless parents would indulge him.

      This is the pattern of his behavior to this very day.

      He continues to look after himself. He was NOT able to organize his people before and after Yolanda. Now, a year later, all he can is to organize a protest against the national government – and then denies doing so.

      If at all possible, hard as it is to imagine, this guy is worst then Binay. At least with Binay, there is a pretence of service. With this Tacloban mayor, there is nothing, nothing at all.

      • letlet says:


        I agree with your perspectives on the above issue ( well, almost all of your perspectives, on your nuggets of brilliance and wisdom).

        I can’t understand how his constituents can’t fathom how their mayor is scoring a double dealing tactic in all facets of their lives. How would the national government shake them out from their state of stupor. I feel sad for them>

  4. The Tacloban tragedy is that the people did not choose their leaders well. The LGU is responsible for the recovery of its territory with the financial and material help of the national government. The LGU knows better how to serve their population because it is THERE right in the heart and soul of the disaster area.

    Another thing: Is Tacloban not the just the Marcos-Romualdez’s bailiwick but their hometown as well? Are they pitching in financially to assist in rebuilding this city? They sure could rebuild this city without any help from the national government. Let’s call it PENANCE.

    P.S. Joe, the land is bought. As of 11/15/2014, we will be the happy owner of Phoenix Micro-Farm, a hobby farm in my favorite southern state!

    • Joe America says:

      Congratulations, Juana! That is great news. I love Arizona from the heat of the south to the mountains of Flagstaff in the north and ritzy Sedona in between. My favorite place in the state is Jerome, an old mining town you get to by winding up a bare rocky desert mountain until you get to where clouds are supposed to be, but aren’t because it is so dry. You can almost see New York from there. I’m sure your crops will grow heartily basking in the good care you are sure to give them.

      On Tacloban, indeed, the Mayor has succeeded it denying the fact that storm preparation and recovery is a local responsibility. That’s what laws say. He has made National the culprit.

    • i7sharp says:

      Sen. Rene Saguisag asks in his latest TGIF column:
      When did Imelda, Imee and Bongbong,
      ​ ​​all ​of Tacloban, first appear there anyway? No reportage I can recall. From their billions, how much ​have they donated to their very own? These questions may not be less than fair. No answers I have come across, either.

      btw, has the mayor done something to *simplify* the names of the Tacloban barangays?
      fwiw, may I mention I have tried to code them here?:


  5. parengtony says:

    With your permission, Rene Saguisag’s take on same subject:

    • Joe America says:

      He makes good sense. Thanks.

    • sonny says:

      @ Joe,

      ex-Sen Saguisag is quite an enigma. on one hand, he is the go-to legal defender if you have a bonafide human rights case. He does not distinguish hi- or lo- class status, he goes directly to the defense of the principle as it resides on his client with pit-bull jaw lock. Yet he is uncompromising even when pragmatism (the good of the many) is the more prudent course of action, as in his stand against the retention of Subic & Clark by the US.

      @ parengtony,

      I wish the goodly ex-Sen would go after the Marcoses and the hidden and ill-gotten wealth just like his mentor, the late Sen Salonga. Although I understand too that he does not have as much energy as before during his strident advocacy of what is right and socially just.

  6. gerverg1885 says:

    Pnoy would not go to Tacloban during the one year anniversary because he had prior knowledge that Imelda and Bongbong would also be there.

    Politics is still very much the issue with the rehab efforts. It’s still the Aquinos vs the Marcoses!

    • Joe America says:

      So we are going back to 1986, actually. The Romualdez/Marcos clans hold themselves as a separate nation, an empire within a republic. Thanks for putting this into a longer historical perspective.

  7. edgar lores says:

    1. The politics of tragedy mirrors the tragedy of politics.

    2. The essay notes that 6 years after Hurricane Katrina, recovery is still going on. I will note that 3 years after Japan’s tsunami, recovery is also still going on, and not for lack of money. There is a budget of $250B for a 5-year plan and it is acknowledged that ”it will take a decade or more for the hardest-hit areas to fully rebound…”

    3. The greatest lesson I would take from Yolanda is the virtue of self-reliance. Pray to God, yes. Ask and expect help from the government if necessary, yes. But above all, depend on yourself to meet life’s challenges.

    4. Humans have the longest dependency period on parents, spending the first 18-22 years at home. That’s easily a third or a fourth of our lives. During this period, we are supposed to learn skills to be able to become independent. And once we have gained independence, we must be self-reliant.

    5. Self-reliance does not only embrace Self. It extends to family and community as well.
    5.1. As an adult, we must not depend on our parents.
    5.2. As a family, we must not depend on relatives and neighbours.
    5.3. As a community – a town or city – we must not depend on being a sister of Binay’s Makati.
    5.4. As a nation, we must not depend on America.

    6. In the aftermath of Yolanda, we saw the absence of the virtue of self-reliance in the looting, the neglect of the dead bodies in the streets, and the queues for food and relief goods. A year after, we see it in the survivors continued and continuing reliance on the government for food and shelter. We see it in the mayor of Tacloban always looking elsewhere for succour and relief.

    7. Am I being a bit harsh here? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, necessarily so.

    8. The foundation of self-reliance is the acknowledgement of our personal responsibility in our lives. And the key is preparation. We prepare ourselves to be able to meet the future such that, come high wind or high water, we will endure. Not for the mere sake of existence but to fulfil our mission whatever that may be.

    • Joe America says:

      Really, Edgar. This comment could stand alone as a comprehensive blog article. You clearly build up a case for the importance of accountability to self that is the big flaw in all these political complaints and the grousings of the victims. The title of your blog, if I were the headline writer, would be: “Grow up!” You’d probably change it, and the blog author has final headline rights in this neck of the woods.

      Which reminds me, I think our readership is ready for another Edgar epistle . . . 🙂

    • sonny says:

      Totally agree with you both.

      Yet impertinent as this maybe to some, I reach way back to the devastation of WWII as still the cause of much of our economic demise as a people. After the bombing and liberation of Europe, enemy Germany and the European allies were in a state of total shambles. Generals Marshall and Eisenhower recognized this in no uncertain terms and immediately implemented the Marshall plan that identified and preserved the stubs of a pan-European economy. The Philippines were equally devastated and was given a pittance of attention (money-wise) by the “solvent allies.” Europe was resurrected, the Philippines not. Both could not boot-strap themselves. Japan also could not. Europe and Japan had industrial stubs the Philippines did not. I submit that that omission still lives. I also submit that the colonial government made the Philippines a consumer market that undermined the development of the foundations of self-reliance. I cite the stories of Lores & Sonny and many of the current leaders’ fathers’ generation to bear testimony to this.

      • Joe America says:

        You know, after all the books and arguments, you smoothly state exactly why the Philippines has struggled so. It is strange, the inconsistency of American engagement. Obsessed in 1898. Ho hum up to WW II. Obsessed in WWII. Afterwards obsessed with communism . . . in Japan. Conflicted during a dictatorship; still obsessed with communism. Negligent post-Subic. Hot to trot in 2014 after the Obama pirouette. Democracy is in some ways an unstable form of government.

        I go back one step, to the American debate: Navy plan, bypass the Philippines and go directly to Tokyo; the MacArthur plan, return. What a huge, huge decision. The essential question is, under the Navy plan, what would the Japanese have done to Filipinos as Tokyo was falling and the Philippines was left entirely in Japanese hands?

        And you cannot eliminate from the equation, what would the Philippines be like today if the culture of favor and power installed by Aguinaldo in the first Republic had been swapped for doing good public deeds?

        • sonny says:

          A good summary covering this lifetime, Joe. I got time now to explore the pathology of my native country, according to me of course. 🙂

          • Joe America says:

            ahahaha ” . . . according to me.” Go for it doc, and I hope you are not a coroner . . .

            • sonny says:

              Ah, the irony of it, Joe. The pathologist’s findings are beneficial only if the living spend enough time and imagination to research what new and appropriate drugs, medications and procedures can be formulated to prevent or correct bad conditions of the statusquo and applied accordingly.

        • sonny says:

          The short version

          *A. By 1898, America was a young adult internationally among family of nations – youthful and dynamic and full of promise, ready to take his rightful place. America’s experiment with a colony reflected its internal politics and governance. The predominant expression of this was through the American executive branch by way of the military, and civilian constituency by way of academia and some of her agro-industrial interests. Up to 1939, there was a high expectancy of mutual benefit. The sharp ascendancy of Japanese economic interests served as a virtual interdict on Philippine-American hopes of complementarity.

          *B. The meeting between Franklin Roosevelt and Douglas MacArthur in a yacht off Hawaii sealed the fate of the Philippines in favor of MacArthur’s plan over Halsey’s. My suspicion was an old-fashioned horse-trade between FDR and MacArthur took place probably involving the ultimate personal legacy of MacArthur to history. He had two great attachments at the time, one Philippine and the other American. I say not totally American because in my opinion Halsey’s option was the more favorable, militarily. I feel the Filipinos counted less in Halsey’s eyes than American interests. Or at least indifferently. There is no doubt what the Japanese would have done to the Philippines. The rape of Nanking vividly comes into mind.

          *C. Aguinaldo’s design for the Philippines was doomed to failure. The reason being Aguinaldo counted little beyond the Tagalog region. The Visayas (Iloilo & Cebu) and other parts of the Philippines (the Bicol & Ilocos & Cagayan regions) had more or equally enough to offer by way of resources (sugar, abaca, tobacco) to the larger Filipino population. Mindanao was pure frontier land. The Spanish presence was in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and the Americans as new “owners” to be had all the intention of being exactly that.

      • edgar lores says:

        Here’s another perspective:

        1. While it is true that there was no Marshall Plan for the Philippines, the country did receive war reparations from Japan in the form of goods, services and investments. Several Asian countries benefited from Japan’s ODA (Official Development Assistance) program, with the Philippines and South Korea getting the largest slices:

        o Burma (1954) – $350M over a term of 10-12 years
        o Philippines (1956-1976) – $550M over a term of 20 years; and $250 in commercial loans
        o Indonesia (1958) – $223M over a term of 12 years
        o South Vietnam (1959) – $39M over a term of 5 years
        o South Korea (1965) – $200M long-term loan; $300M in goods and services over 10 years; and $300M in commercial loans

        2. The reparation funds were misused:

        2.1. “…ODA became the principal source of corruption by Marcos and his cronies.”
        2.2. “After the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, volumes of documents on Japan ODA corruption deals came to light. As a result, a top-ranking officer of the Japanユs Ministry of Foreign Affairs committed suicide.“

        3. After Marcos, Japan came to the rescue with “Philippine Aid Plan” (PAP) at the initiative of the US. The plan drew opposition from the Church. However, the plan has largely succeeded.

        3.1. “During the period 1986 – 1996, Pres. Corazon Aquino came to power. The United States initiated a so-called mini Marshall Plan to help the ailing Philippine economy left by Marcos. “

        3.2. “In 1997, the President of the Justice and Peace Committee of the Catholic Church, nine priests, a lay person and two sisters, together with their Filipino church counterparts, held an International Fact Finding Mission ( IFFM) to the Pampanga Delta Project ( PDDP ), another Japan ODA funded project.”

        3.3. “In 1998, another anti-ODA related campaign, the Stop the San Roque Dam Project, was initiated. This campaign highlighted the effects of Japanese Investments on the livelihood of the people and the degradation of the environment.”

        3.4. “In 1999, the Cebu-Bohol Anti- ODA Campaign highlighting the ill effects of ODA was launched with the SPAN taking the lead. It aimed to address the social and environmental costs of the massive ODA projects, citing the dislocation of the 26,000 families in Cebu of their livelihood and worsening their social and environmental conditions; the uprooting of farmers in 6 barangays in Ubay, Bohol upon the construction of the 4th Dam in Bohol.”

        3.5. “For more than 50 years since Japan occupied the Philippines, its presence in the domestic economy is still highly recognizable. The countryユs former aggressor is today our most important trading partner, next to the US. As of April 2001, Japan is the second largest market of Philippine exports, worth $ 377 million. It is also the countryユs biggest supplier of foreign products worth $581 million, according to a press release issued by the NSO.”

        3.6. Note that up to today, local politicians are still blocking Japanese economic assistance.

        4. In spite of Church opposition, it appears the dams were successfully completed, the San Roque in 2003 and the original Ubay dam in 1991. The 4th dam could be the Bayongan Dam inaugurated by GMA in 2007.

        5. Perhaps the point I am trying to make is that self-reliance should not be contingent on external factors such as outside assistance. The attitude should be one of confidence as portrayed in the essay’s opening quote. If there is outside help, well and good. But if there is none, it should not matter at all. We have the intelligence. Therefore, all that we need is the will, the heart and the moral rectitude to make a go of things.

        5.1. After the signing of the reparations treaty with Japan in 1956 and starting with the administration of Garcia the following year, there was no excuse for the Philippines not to become self-reliant. However, it refused to cut the umbilical cord with America and continued to rely on her military bases and assistance, and on Japan’s ODA. And then there was Marcos. Except for that brief, proud but ultimately misguided moment of the Senate’s Magnificent Twelve in 1991, the country has never adopted nor shown the I-can-do-it-by-myself attitude of South Korea or that of post-war Vietnam.


        • edgar lores says:

          I note my above comment is in moderation.

          Aside: perhaps the Philippine-Japanese relationship deserves a blog… the past, the present and the future.

          • Joe America says:

            It’s freed up now. There is a limit of three links per comment to deter spamming. I don’t think that includes you, but the system is rather dumb in that regard. Do you eat spam, I am inclined to wonder? It is regular fare around here.

            That would be an interesting blog. It was all quiet when a Japanese warship pulled into a Philippine port a couple of months ago. I wonder as to the reaction to a Japanese VFA and EDCA. Senator Santiago protested the Australian/Philippine VRA in 2012.

            By the way, did you stop by the G-20 Summit to give your regards to Noy and ‘bama?

            • edgar lores says:


              Love spam… just not on the computer. There’s always a can or two around.

              No, gave the G20 a miss. The Aussie PM is pure ham, not spam.

            • sonny says:

              @ Joe & @ Edgar

              Hopefully this link is still a good connection to the historical pathology I seem to belabor, and not be considered spammy. I’m following up on the reparations that Marcos appropriated to buttress his total grab for power. I think the author accurately reads the why and the how of Marcos “success,” and which in turn Binay is now trying his mostest to tweak and emulate. I don’t blame Binay. This would be the analysis I would use to assess a run for my own power grab.

              Click to access geasia2.pdf

  8. josephivo says:

    Of topic (?) An interesting article in PDI describing the Philippine politics and culture very well.

    The Philippines very high on civil liberties, high on electoral system but the worst in the whole area in political culture. The Philippines going through all the right motions but not applying or understanding the basics. As citing the centavos being more important than grasping the difference between 1.5 thousand and 1.5 million or billion. We love so much out of context details, discuss the little exceptions without looking at the big picture.

    Also in Yolanda, discussion is promoted on the details of the “how”, the “what”, the “when”, the “where”, but discussion is suppressed on the details of the “why” of politics. Each decision had a motivation, each motivation a deeper motivation (asking the 5 Why’s – horizontal and vertical).

    • Joe America says:

      I didn’t know you were Japanese. The “ask why five times” was deeply embedded in the planning process of my Japanese owned employer in the US. I think this technique will become more common as measurable goals become prevalent (President Aquino believes in this). When government officials start missing their targets, they will be forced to ask why five times to get back on track. Assuming the goals aren’t just manipulated for political purposes, but are held to firmly.

      Very nice characterization of how many in the Philippines play “little ball”, or dwell on trivia, whilst missing the point.

      Thanks for the link. Interesting read, for sure.

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