After Basyang: The Greater Disaster

As of this writing, at least 23 people have been confirmed dead due to the onslaught of typhoon Basyang. It’s the first natural disaster that the 2-week old Aquino administration has faced and needed to manage. And somehow, with what we have seen, one is left to think if government’s handling of the calamity is an equal disaster in itself.

Basyang, which was initially forecast to hit Central Luzon and Aurora, hit Metro Manila instead. This took everyone by surprise, including the President, who chided the weather bureau.

In a country hit by 20 typhoons yearly, one wonders why such scolding even took place. Sure, PAGASA was late in alerting the public about the elevated typhoon signal. Still, by then, Metro Manila had already been placed under signal number two. The national government and the local government units should have prepared for the worst. This is a cardinal rule in crisis management. After all, if there’s one thing we have learned in elementary school science, we know that typhoons can always change their direction. Apparently, the government has yet to learn this lesson. Perhaps, there is a need for government officials to go back to elementary schooling. LGU’s in Metro Manila should not have been complacent just because it was announced that Basyang would not hit Metro Manila.

Of course, PAGASA would need to revise the frequency of its updates and will need to improve the way the central office communicates with its field offices. The President was right in saying that weather bulletins should be more often than just every six hours. But instead of just scolding PAGASA, government should finally walk its talk and give PAGASA the needed funds in order to upgrade its equipment. We heard this lamentation after Milenyo in 2006 and after Ondoy last year. So where’s the new equipment? And add to the list of concerns, the brain drain of meteorologists because they are not paid well in the Philippines.

To complain about PAGASA without providing it with the support it needs to do the job well is tantamount to making the weather agency a scapegoat for government’s failure.

For now, government could breathe a sigh of relief. The disaster could have been worse. Good thing no one died from the billboards that were damaged, unlike during Milenyo. Which makes one think: whatever happened to the senate inquiry headed by Sen. Miriam Santiago in 2006?

And good thing no one was killed when that giant crane fell on the South Luzon Express Way.


Now that the typhoon has done its damage, the immediate task is to perform rehabilitation. The potential problem: lack of funds. Even before the typhoon hit Manila, Budget Secretary Butch Abad was already whining about the lack of calamity funds in the 2010 budget, which was crafted by the Arroyo administration — and the 14th Congress.

Abad says that the Palace should have allotted more than just two billion pesos, 70 percent of which has already been used. The DBM should double check if the funds used really did go to rehabilitation.

But wasn’t Abad’s wife, Dina, a congresswoman of Batanes during the 14th Congress? Why didn’t she raise this point back then? Why didn’t other lawmakers, especially those from the Liberal Party raise the point?

The government  has limited funds and will need to strategize for the rest of the year and for 2011. So shouldn’t Abad allocate more funds for the Calamity Fund for 2011 — instead of announcing that Pork Barrel will still be allocated and given to lawmakers?

Will the calamity fund for 2011 be again compromised by Abad and the administration in favor of pork?


Given the kind of situation we had, now would be a good time for the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to finally release the 200 ambulances and thousands of medicine kits to citizens in need. But as PCSO Chair Margie Juico herself has said on television — she is not about to release them immediately. Her problem: the ambulances and medicine kits are a project of the previous administration and have former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s face plastered on each ambulance and medicine kit.

I am not pro-Gloria, but it is lamentable that Juico would rather see the medicines spoil and the ambulances permanently damaged before releasing them. The PCSO has confirmed that three ambulances are already permanently damaged.

Instead of providing vital services as the PCSO is mandated to give, Juico would rather be territorial and delay the distribution of the goods. How immoral it is for Juico to allow local government units to operate without ambulances and medicine just because she doesn’t want the sick to see PGMA’s face. How pathetic!

So in the end, we are left to suffer greater disasters: not learning from the past disasters, blaming past administrations for present woes (which was often used after 1986), disruptive politics, and narrow-mindedness.

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