We mourn as a nation over the horrendous human toll and the tremendous damage to the land, crops, infrastructure, homes, and economy as a whole. Pagasa deemed typhoon Frank a major disaster and struck off the name from its roster of typhoon names.
The National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), as reported by GMANews at 9:30pm, June 27, has this to say on the extent of Frank’s impact:
In its report dated 6 p.m., the NDCC said the 540 fatalities from “Frank” included 328 who had been identified and 212 recovered bodies.
At least 291 were reported injured while 277 remained missing in the report that covered Ilocos, Central and Southern Luzon, Bicol, Western, Central and Eastern Visayas, Regions 9, 10, 11, 12, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Caraga regions.
NDCC also said the typhoon affected 571,641 families or 2,875,725 persons in 3,908 villages in 379 towns and cities in 46 provinces of 15 regions.
Of these, some 422,618 families or 2,215,529 persons had been served inside and outside evacuation centers.
The NDCC reported that at least 65,413 houses were destroyed and 167,181 damaged.
Estimated cost of damage to infrastructure and agriculture amounted to P6.979 billion, including P1.494 billion for roads and bridges, P551.579 million for schools, and P4.923 billion for agriculture.
Frank, however, is also a political typhoon. Its very erratic and hard-to-predict course affected much of the political heartland of the country. Politicians, particularly those who were with the presidential US entourage, made a miscalculation when they decided to go on with the presidential trip, did not immediately came home after the disaster, and will still stay for the Manny Pacquiao fight.
Those who stayed and rendered their leadership in the search, rescue, refugee assistance, and rehabilitation efforts will reap their political rewards. However, those who were seen as Neros who waltzed in Washington while the people in their hometowns drowned will certainly get their own political backlash. This is true not only for local officials but maybe much more for national officials.
GMA drumbeaters defend the decision to go on with the presidential US visit–saying that the country will lose more if the visit did not push through. However, there are abundant precedents of more important state visits being postponed than this one by a lameduck president to another lameduck president. These drumbeaters forgot one salient fact about Frank: its sortie into the country’s political heartland may lead to a situation where politicians may lose more if the presidential visit push through.
They realized their mistake a little too late and launched a public relations campaign to compensate. They arranged for absurd media-covered video conferences at early morning hours in the Philippines to demonstrate GMA’s micromanagement of the disaster efforts. These, of course, only created confusion and undermined the authority of officials directly handling the situation.
In the process, they all forgot a major decision–to officially declare, on the national level, a national disaster. This would have paved the way for major international assistance and for a major national effort to assist local efforts. As it is, international aid came in trickles, even as national aid to local areas also came in trickles.
Some national leaders and officials are handling their own roles well, performing as they should or as expected. However, others are more prone to press releases and media events in place of real hard work. Often these visitors got in the way of the disaster efforts as they distract local officials. The ones left behind in the US will suffer most.
The president herself feels the heat and announced that the next Cabinet meeting will be held in Iloilo, the worst-hit province. However, the following story in today’s Philippine Star is telling:
Iloilo relief work suspended for GMA
By Jess Diaz, Philippine Star
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Politics is rearing its ugly head in relief efforts in Iloilo and other provinces hard-hit by typhoon “Frank,” Iloilo Vice Gov. Rolex Suplico said yesterday.
“The people on the ground cannot move because they have no authority to act fast from President Arroyo, who is in the United States. They are waiting for her to return so she will be the hero,” Suplico told a news forum in Quezon City.
Suplico revealed that last Tuesday, officials of the regional disaster coordinating council (RDCC) who were in the province were not able to distribute rice to typhoon victims because they were awaiting clearance from Malacañang.
He said local officials of Iloilo, including House Majority Leader Arthur Defensor and Rep. Ferjenel Biron, even pleaded with the RDCC officials to distribute the rice, but their appeals fell on deaf ears.
Exasperated, Biron, one of the richest congressmen, ordered his people to buy rice, sardines and noodles using his own money, according to Suplico.
He said Vice President Noli de Castro, whom Mrs. Arroyo has appointed government caretaker while she is absent, flew in on Monday with just a few hundred bags of rice.
“I pity Vice President Noli. He was given the authority to pose for the cameras but not the all-out support to undertake relief operations and distribute relief goods,” Suplico added.
He pointed out that while the vice president “is the one on the ground, his boss in the US still calls the shots as evidenced by the directives she issues via remote videoconferences.”
Incidentally, Iloilo is also known as one of the swing-vote provinces. Disaster politics, anyone?