Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charity, Social Responsibility and the Ugly Side of Calamity

Haiyan or Yolanda as an “act of God” actually brought out some virtuous traits of mankind.

Charity was and continues to be the most dominant trait that was demonstrated towards the typhoon victims not just by Filipino countrymen but also by people and governments from other countries.  The amount of donations - financial and in-kind as well as services benefiting the victims proves to be invaluable even to this day.

Social Responsibility was also on display as citizens from all walks of life felt a sense of responsibility in helping the less fortunate in a given society devastated by calamity.  World organizations like the United Nations and the Red Cross, governments, non-governmental organizations, charitable and volunteer organizations, hometown associations, and individuals got involved in the relief and rescue operations.

As we saw the good and the beautiful side of people, we actually witnessed the ugly side as well.  Perhaps by necessity and self-preservation, theft and looting were committed amidst the devastation with all the aggravations.  This was the case in Tacloban City.  In fact, the Mayor, by his own admission, was a beneficiary of the loot because he was left with nothing.

It showed the helplessness of even the so-called first responders led by Mayor Alfred Romualdez whose primary responsibility was to prevent such things from happening.

It was understandable as I came to their defense in a previous article.  It was an inevitable, unavoidable, and unexpected event that no group of human beings could have countered it.

But to my disappointment, the ugly part was displayed for all to see.  Instead of showing some humility to obtain needed support for his people from the National Government, the Mayor started whining, complaining and even crying publicly before a Congressional hearing and the press.  He alleged that he was not getting the needed support from the Aquino administration being a Romualdez and for his refusal to sign a document.  He supported his allegation with a video of DILG Secretary Roxas making these comments.

It turned out that the 18 second-video which was uploaded by his father-in-law Jose Mari Gonzales, was spliced and doctored to suit Romualdez’ accusation.  The complete 43-minute video uploaded later on disputes it.

Romualdez never accounted for the alteration.  He never acknowledged that the alteration was made by someone without his consent, or was otherwise properly or innocently made.  The alteration was meant to change the meaning of the entire conversation.

It was obviously done in bad faith.  In the parliamentary words of Winston Churchill, Romualdez was “guilty of a deliberate attempt to commit a terminological inexactitude.”

Romualdez refused Roxas’ challenge that they both take the lie-detector test.

Sadly, even more ugly is that some Aquino critics – naysaying columnists who used to be the propagandists of Marcos and Arroyo wrote their articles referring to the doctored video as gospel truth.

Under the NDRRMC law (Section 15), the Tacloban City Government led by Mayor Alfred Romualdez has the primary responsibility as first responders.  The responsibility includes the “provision of emergency services and public assistance during or immediately after a disaster in order to save lives, reduce health impact, ensure public safety, and meet the basic subsistence needs of the people affected.”

The same law likewise states that the NDRRMC and LDRRMC shall ALWAYS act as support to LGUs in the performance of their primary responsibility as first responders.

This is consistent with the provisions of the Local Autonomy Code whose purpose is for the devolution of powers and responsibilities in providing basic services and facilities.

During emergencies such as disasters, the regional and/or national DRRMC are called upon to coordinate the affected localities, provinces, or regions as the case may be – thus, providing support.  But the primary responsibility as first responders providing the services enumerated above remains with the LGU or, in this case, with the Tacloban City government led by Mayor Romualdez.

Furthermore, the NDRRMC Law also provides prohibited acts that include “Dereliction of duties which leads to destruction, loss of lives, critical damage of facilities and misuse of funds.”

Aside from fine and/or imprisonment, the penalty could be perpetual disqualification from public office if the offender IS a public officer like a City Mayor.

The Aquino Administration has indicated that, after things get settled and the relief, rehabilitation, and recovery get underway, it might conduct a probe on how local officials and other public officers met their primary responsibilities before, during, and after the disaster.

Ironically, a formal declaration of his inability to fully fulfill his duties as Mayor and a written request for the National Government to fill the vacuum would have resolved any misunderstanding or any possible legal dispute.  Instead of totally rejecting to put in writing what he actually asked orally, he could have just added a sentence clearly stating that his action ”does not mean resignation.”

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