Yolanda Anniversary: Of hopes, criticisms, excuses, and mischiefs

In the Philippines, an anniversary equates to a celebration. For the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, though, is there anything worth celebrating a year after the devastating calamity? One year has passed since one of the strongest tropical cyclones in the world wreaked havoc. How’s the recovery progressing? How are the victims doing now? Is “blame” still the name of the game?

By the numbers

In the Yolanda aftermath, quoting or estimating figures appeared to be a dangerous act. It resulted in the sacking of PNP Region 8 Chief Elmer Soria in November 2013. Government officials on the ground were very careful in stating death counts apparently for the fear of offending the President of the country who earlier said that the death toll could only max out at 2,500.

Now, one year later, we presume it’s already safe to talk about numbers. The President should already be out of the state of denial. He shouldn’t be too affected by the seriousness of the damages to life and property.

First, let’s put out some of the most unflattering figures (as compiled from a number of Rappler reports).

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that more than 800,000 people in Yolanda-affected regions suffered various mental health conditions over the past year, with around 10% of them needing further treatment and support.
  • WHO estimates that in one year, depression and anxiety disorders will double to 20% of the population (in Yolanda-hit areas) while the number of those who suffered severe mental illnesses will rise by around 50%.
  • Despite the catastrophe, around 15,000 babies were born every month in Yolanda-hit areas. Teenage pregnancies were also on the rise.
  • Around 400 families still live in tents in Tacloban City while hundreds continue residing in temporary houses. The Government says around 2% of the planned housing still needs to be built.
  • Hundreds of health clinics in Eastern Visayas still need to be repaired, around two-thirds of the approximately 600 barangay and municipal health facilities in the areas.
  • 14,000 Yolanda survivors are still living in or near coastal areas proven to be prone to dangerous storm surges.
  • As of July 30 this year, more than 14,500 survivors still live in tents.
  • Only 300 of the 2,300 required (to be built) classrooms have been built a year later. Of the 17,335 classrooms that require repair and rehabilitation, only 877 have been completely repaired and rehabilitated. More than 10,000 are still in the process of validation.
  • 7 ships are still stranded in Tacloban and Guiuan one year after the super typhoon’s wrath.
  • Poverty rate in Eastern Visayas rose to 55% after Yolanda.
  • COA reported in September that hundreds of millions of pesos allocated for Yolanda relief and rehabilitation efforts did not reach the intended beneficiaries because government offices used them elsewhere or let the money sleep in the banks.
  • According to IBON Foundation, most families affected by Yolanda strive to survive with only around PhP167 per day or less than PhP5,000 per month.
  • IBON Foundation also reports that only 27 out of 132 public markets, 64 kilometers out of 431 kilometers of roads, and 3 out of 34 bridges have been repaired.
  • President Aquino approved the Yolanda rehabilitation plan worth 167 billion pesos only recently.

samar_yolanda_1

On the positive side, here are some uplifting figures:

  • There hasn’t been any major disease outbreak recorded in Yolanda-hit areas.
  • While only 300 classrooms have been built over the year since Yolanda’s onslaught, these new classrooms are designed to withstand strong winds and earthquakes. DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali said that 450 more classrooms are already under construction while 1,711 are in the process of procurement and the rest require validation.
  • Around 30,000 families have received cash grants amounting to a maximum of $220 from the Philippine Red Cross’s three-year $360 million recovery plan.
  • Cases of violence against women in Leyte have been declining after the notable increase immediately following the Yolanda catastrophe.
  • Tourism and retail trade are thriving in Leyte. Retail shops and the unmistakable sari-sari stores are back.
  • The country received 135% of the pledged international aid for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. As shown by the government-run Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAITH) website, the country received nearly PhP15 billion in cash out of the PhP11.07 billion pledged.

yolanda 3

Expectedly, it’s easier to find unfavorable numbers and reports related to the country’s progress in rehabilitating the areas affected by Yolanda. The truly good things worth reporting are a rarity or, in most cases, are only pertaining to the Filipino fighting spirit. However, it’s pessimistic to claim that there hasn’t been anything good in the government’s efforts. While the negative developments and criticisms are too many to disregard, it’s worth noting that the ADB was purportedly “impressed” by the developments in the government’s Yolanda rehabilitation efforts. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that greater progress could have been made if politics were set aside.

One year later, hope is clearly gleaming on the Visayas region. Progress might be slow but its existence is undeniable. As the “We Will Rise Again” Yolanda anniversary video conveys, those who suffered have no intentions of giving up. Complaints, rants, or disappointments may have been expressed but it’s certain that nobody plans on yielding to a disaster regardless of how Aquino’s government may act or may have acted.

Criticisms and complaints

President Benigno S. Aquino III listens to the updates on the on-going rehabilitation efforts by Guiuan Municipal Mayor Christopher Sheen Gonzales at the Guiuan Public Market in Barangay 6, Poblacion, Guiuan during the visit to the province of Eastern Samar on Friday (November 07, 2014). It was in Guiuan where super typhoon Yolanda, the strongest typhoon ever recorded, made its first landfall on November 08, 2013. (Photo by Gil Nartea/ Malacañang Photo bureau)

President Benigno S. Aquino III listens to the updates on the on-going rehabilitation efforts by Guiuan Municipal Mayor Christopher Sheen Gonzales at the Guiuan Public Market in Barangay 6, Poblacion, Guiuan during the visit to the province of Eastern Samar on Friday (November 07, 2014). It was in Guiuan where super typhoon Yolanda, the strongest typhoon ever recorded, made its first landfall on November 08, 2013. (Photo by Gil Nartea/ Malacañang Photo bureau)

President Aquino must have realized there’s nothing much he could do to improve his reputation in handling the Yolanda problem that he decided not to visit Tacloban, the area hardest-hit by the super typhoon, on the day of the disaster’s anniversary. He already made some good impression to a few international bodies so he might be thinking his international political repute is secured enough. Why should he bother about local reaction, anyway? To him, apparently, all that matters is that he still has approval and satisfactory ratings higher than his unpopular predecessor’s.

But who cares about Aquino now? After his immediate actions and reactions to Yolanda’s overwhelming disaster, it’s clear that his kind of politics and public service isn’t fast and resourceful unless it’s about the creative allocation of public funds for the “traditional” uses. Remember DAP? Yes, it didn’t come into action when suffering Yolanda victims needed the quick funds for relief and rehabilitation needs.

The criticisms and complaints on the government’s slow action are unsurprising. No, these aren’t criticisms and complaints from leftist or militant groups, who have lost all hints of credibility with their perennial whining and publicity stunts. There are many valid criticisms on the government’s notably slow Yolanda rehabilitation progress. Even Aquino acknowledges how slow the government has been that he apologized for the fact. Many were even surprised that it took a year for the government to finally approve a rehabilitation plan. The first Yolanda anniversary will doubtlessly include criticisms and complaints. It’s nothing unexpected but it’s just disheartening to realize that President Aquino is already apparently satisfied with his “actions” since he was already praised by some international organizations. Yes, for him he already got the commendation he needed, just like how those investment grade credit rating upgrades make him think like he’s already become the best president to ever rule the country.

Excuses

In an interview with DZMM, Aquino-appointed Yolanda Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson overenthusiastically explained why the government’s rehabilitation efforts are perceived to be slow. His main contention: the gravity of Yolanda’s damage is just too extensive to be easily addressed. With Mr. Lacson’s reputation and track record of no-nonsense planning and action, it’s not difficult to believe that there really are valid excuses. Perhaps, the Aquino government’s problem is just the tendency to brag and amplify small achievements. Maybe, the families who have been suffering from Yolanda’s aftermath would have been more understanding if the government were honest enough to admit mistakes, if the government did not misrepresent what was happening on the ground.

President Noynoy in Yolanda visit

Mischiefs: #FYolanda, wasting candles

A group of silly bandwagon riders wanted to offer something “youthful” to the Yolanda anniversary celebration by coming up with the #FYolanda benefit dance party. For those who have been hiding in their caves for the last four decades, “F” is generally read as the abridged form of “that four-letter word” used to curse, express disgust or annoyance, or simply to utter a seemingly universal interjection. Hence, #FYolanda isn’t just some random hashtag, and it deserved the online backlash. Fortunately, the organizers weren’t too callous that they decided to cancel the event. Seriously, who wants to see youths dancing while the rest of Yolanda’s victims are barely surviving each day?

An event called the Yolanda Candlelight Memorial Ceremony is being planned in Tacloban. It’s a sentimental and silly idea that borders on being considered a mischief. The plan is to light 24,000 candles on the 24-kilometer stretch of roads in Tacloban, supposedly as a tribute to those who have perished in the calamity and as a way of showing gratitude to the international community’s generosity. However, coinciding with this supposedly solemn event is the assembly of around 20,000 typhoon survivors who are reportedly planning to protest the Aquino government’s “callousness.” Seriously, the event is just a big waste. Lighting 24,000 candles that could have been used in the imminent power outages this summer is a big waste of resources. Likewise, a protest against President Aquino and a call for his resignation coming from Tacloban, a city associated with a Romualdez, is very unlikely to become audible to Malacañang, let alone to President Noynoy’s busy and discriminating ears.

On the other hand, Tacloban’s typhoon survivors could only be politically used by Mayor Romualdez against the Aquino government. It’s difficult not to have this suspicion when you start hearing Romualdez on FM and AM radio stations outside of Tacloban “expressing gratitude” on behalf of Tacloban’s people for the generosity of those who sent donations for Yolanda’s victims.

Yolanda’s anniversary ought to be a solemn event. It should highlight hope and optimism. Unfortunately, these are only ideals. The first year after Yolanda’s onslaught will most likely be marked by the standard theme of hopefulness but mired by rants, criticisms, complaints, excuses, and various forms of mockery and malicious behavior.

Photos from PresidentNoy facebook page.  Some rights reserved.


Stock photos from Blog Watch. Some rights reserved.

Originally published on Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles, Part 1 and Part 2

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine (Dine) Racoma is a writer, researcher, and multi-awarded blogger. You can find Bernadine Racoma at Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter. She is an advocate and co-founder of BlogWatch.

Profile as of March 9, 2017.

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