Saturday, November 16, 2013

Acts of Man Responding to an Act of God (Part II)

The Media
Anderson Cooper of CNN
“For the last four days, I’ve been seeing dead bodies in the streets here ... Literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there’s (are) not enough facilities to take her up.

Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is — ashamed of what is happening in your state, certainly. And that’s not to blame the people who are there. It’s a desperate situation. But I guess, you know, who can — I mean, no one seems to be taking responsibility.”

Anderson Cooper of CNN said these words in the aftermath of KATRINA – the typhoon that engulfed the United States in 2005.  It happened to the best of them, the richest of them, and the strongest of them. 

Yes, indeed, for its response to KATRINA, that of the richest, world’s strongest militarily, and touted as the greatest country in the world, Cooper and a lot of Americans felt “kind of ashamed” of their own country at the time.

Eight years later a Super typhoon dubbed as the strongest in recorded history descended upon the Philippines.  Named YOLANDA, this “act of God” was about 5 times stronger than KATRINA.  Devastating a country a lot smaller than the U.S.A., with a GDP of about 1/60th, and a military several hundred times weaker, YOLANDA also merited an Anderson Cooper report on the government’s relief efforts.

You would think that if it could happen to a country like the United States, it would be more understandable if it happens to a much smaller and poorer one like the Philippines, right?

Reporting on the fifth day after the disaster, CNN's Anderson Cooper called out the Philippine government for the slow relief effort, saying it was unclear who is in charge.  
Cooper said,  “It is a very desperate situation, among the most desperate I’ve seen in covering disasters over the last couple of years,"
He went further, There (Tacloban) families, their mothers living having to sleep near the bodies of their dead children having to smell their dead children and this is day 5 and its been going on now for 5 days at that their child has been laying near them, that they have been smelling their child while they search for their other children who are still missing, and they're searching all by themselves or they're searching which such the help of a few relatives but many of those relatives are also searching for other relatives who are missing." -
“You would expect perhaps to see a feeding center that had been set up 5 days after the storm. We haven’t seen that, certainly not in this area. Some food is being brought to people here at the airport, some water being distributed but these are very, very difficult conditions for the people...”
Noticeable in both KATRINA and YOLANDA reporting, Cooper and CNN focused on three areas:  Desperateness of the Situation, Dead Bodies in the Streets, and Government Presence or Responsibility.  It is like a pre-written script.  But Cooper reported what he saw in Tacloban City and the world watched.
Indeed, one can really report a desperate situation in Tacloban City.  The devastation was catastrophic – its effects unexpected, unavoidable, unforeseen and inevitable.  It was cruel and unforgiving.  The local authorities prepared for it and the residents were warned not to take chances days before by no less than the President of the Philippines.
But no amount of preparation could have prevented nor mitigated the desperate situation.  All the material items such as food, medicine, and other necessities for initial relief were washed out.  All the machinery, equipment, transport, and other tools for relief efforts were also washed away.  Manpower resources led by the Mayor, employees, and volunteers were victims themselves.  Many were desperately saving themselves and their families. The offices, buildings and centers for possible packing and distribution of relief goods were flattened and totally damaged.  In the case of KATRINA, many buildings including the New Orleans Superdome remained standing and usable.  In Tacloban, only the airport building was usable for YOLANDA survivors and other operations.
The presence of dead bodies in the streets of Tacloban as in Louisiana and Mississippi is not surprising.  Cooper should have expected it considering the strength of YOLANDA compared to KATRINA.  Furthermore, before the storm, many people from the outlying areas moved to Tacloban thinking that they would get more protection and aid there.
More importantly, unbeknownst to Cooper, there are legal and religious considerations for mass burial in the Philippines.  Even the World Health Organization cautioned the country’s Department of Health against mass burials.  According to its “Management of Dead Bodies in Disaster Situations” manual, immediate mass burials without proper identification may violate some right.
"Burial of bodies in common graves or the use of mass cremation is unnecessary and a violation of the human rights of the surviving family members," it said.

"Practices such as the use of common graves or cremation make identification impossible, besides violating religious and cultural beliefs...identification of bodies should be done so that the desires and the customs of the families are respected."

It noted that the rights of ethnic communities, which are protected by law, might also be violated by mass burials.


PAGASA, the Philippine government’s Weather Bureau has been tracking YOLANDA’S coming for several days prior. 

On November 7th, the day before the storm, YOLANDA entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR) triggering storm signal No. 3 in the morning.  This was upgraded to signal No. 4 in the evening.

Local governments including Tacloban conducted preemptive evacuations and class suspensions were declared in various parts of the country. PNoy in a televised address also urged Filipinos not to take chances.  The head of NDRRMC, which is FEMA’s equivalent, Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Mar Roxas, and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman arrived at Tacloban to make sure that preparations were made and adequate.

On November 8th, YOLANDA brought monster winds and giant waves - flattening homes and buildings, and wreaking havoc to the population that nobody has ever seen.

The Super typhoon destroyed power and communications.  The government closed down major airports and ports.

Geraldine Uy Wong, an eyewitness who wrote an open letter to Anderson Cooper described the situation this way:

“The super typhoon decimated a big part of the population that so many people are still missing and unaccounted for to this day, and the rest who survived were either maimed and injured, were grieving for the loss of a loved one, struggling to cope with the tragedy that befell upon them, or simply looking for ways to take care of what remained of their family. In other words, everyone was a victim. And who are these people? These were the soldiers, police, Red Cross staff, social welfare staff, airport staff, bureau of fire protection (BFP) people, nurses, doctors, even the officials like the mayor and vice-mayor! And so if we look at things in this perspective, we begin to realize why there were no military and police to protect the people in the first few days, no staffers to repack or distribute relief goods, no BFP personnel to take care of clearing up the roads filled with dead people; in other words, there was hardly anyone there to put order into things as they were all victims themselves. I found out from one of the officials I spoke with that the people who came in much later to fill those places were flown in from Manila or pulled out from the other nearby towns that were not as badly affected. And so, those BFP people I saw clearing the road on Monday, the soldiers who were helping to slowly put order into the place, the red cross staffers who tried to address the health concerns of the victims, and even the DSWD staffers who were being deployed to evacuation centers and relief centers to distribute food and water, were mostly imports and volunteers from other places, and they were only able to start streaming in on the 3rd or 4th day! Therefore, the lack of manpower was not due to a lack of preparation but because of the unexpected loss or absence of these people who were supposed to be the government’s frontrunners!”

When Cooper made the live report on the 5th day out of Tacloban, my research and other media sources had noted the following government actions: 1) The Philippine National Police deployed at least 883 personnel to affected areas, including 400 to Tacloban City, Leyta alone; 2) The Senate proposed the creation of a P10 billion Rehab Fund; 3) PNoy had declared a “State of National Calamity”; 4) The Department of Budget and Management had allotted up to P26.84 billion to help assist victims and rehabilitate affected areas; 5) PNP Chief ordered implementation of price freeze; 6)  In Tacloban City, the government deployed armored vehicles, set up checkpoints, and imposed curfew to help end looting; 7) 540 family food packs were airlifted to Tacloban City on board a C130 of the Philippine Air Force on November 9, 2013; 8) 115,448 food packs (P31.06 million) and other food and NFls (P109.33 million) were readily available for augmentation; 9) As of November 13, 2013, a total of 115,607 food/rice packs were provided to Eastern Samar with hub in Guiuan (16,344 food/rice packs), Tacloban City (44,263 food/rice packs) and Leyte (55,000 food/rice packs); 30 sacks of rice each to BJMP (50kgs per sack), Eastern Visayas Medical Center (30 kgs per sack) and Divine Word Hospital (30kgs per sack); and 35,505 bottles of 500ml water, 35,210 bottles of 1L water and 168 pcs of 5-gallon containers to Tacloban City); 10)DSWD repacked a total of 349,431 food packs.
Cooper reported what he saw in one Barangay out of 30 Barangays in one City out of several municipalities in one province/island out of several provinces/islands affected.  He concluded an absence of government and an officer in charge.  He had no knowledge of government actions in dealing with the crisis in other places, before and during his live report.  He only saw government officials who “baby-sat” him while doing his report in the Philippines.
No wonder that Korina Sanchez, an anchor of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV network reacted by saying that Anderson Cooper did not know what he was talking about.  CNN should have known what was happening.  It used many of ABS-CBN’s footages in its coverage before and during the unreasonably severe and inevitable event.  The fact that Sanchez happened to be the wife of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas is irrelevant.  She was always a reputable and effective TV Anchor even before she married Roxas.
I have the highest respect for Anderson Cooper and the CNN.  Their network’s contribution to worldwide broadcasting especially in times of crisis is undeniable. In some way, through CNN, YOLANDA victims are receiving unparalleled aid.
John Crowley, a journalist from TIME had this perspective:
"When journalists focus on looting and slow aid delivery, they miss the point. Information is aid. Their reports are part of weaving the fabric of a global Filipino community back together after a typhoon tore through their hometowns. By showing communities coming together, journalists can amplify the dynamics that save lives."

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