“Gestures of charity are always appreciated.”
Another super typhoon, “Odette,” has created a swath of destruction from northeastern Mindanao, the whole of Visayas, all the way west to Palawan and parts of southern Luzon. As of this writing, news reports and sad images of destroyed homes, commercial buildings, and public infrastructure are starting to reveal what may be one of the worst extreme weather disasters in our climatological history.
This is yet another blow that we all know is going to make things even worse just as we are slowly starting to try to engage in Christmas cheer with friends and loved ones as safely, affordably, and happily as we can. The aftermath of this new crisis will again test the preparedness, the speed, and efficiency of disaster response of local and national government.
Very disappointing – to put it politely – is President Duterte’s statement last Saturday promising to still look for funding sources to help Typhoon “Odette” victims because of the “immensely depleted” national budget due to COVID-19 pandemic. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless cynic, I believe this kind of narrative will surely spark questions and suspicions of misuse of resources masked by pandemic response expenses.
Unless there is a credible reckoning of COVID-19 expenses, we will never know. Or it could be just another set-up for another political spin.
Likened to typhoon Sendong, which first made landfall on the same date and also on Siargao, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) data then recorded 1,268 people killed, 4,102 people injured, and 241 missing. More than 698,000 people from nine regions were affected.
Yolanda, the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit land at Signal No.4, caused 6,300 deaths and injured 28,689. About 16 million people from ten regions were affected.
Relief efforts from various sectors have been mobilized to intervene and we can count on the private sector and civil society to quickly give direct aid to typhoon indigent victims expected to be in the hundreds of thousands. After all these major catastrophes and being in crisis mode since the pandemic struck, there’s hopefully better preparedness.
On cue and expected are the relief operations initiated by politicians vying for the national leadership, congressional seats, and local governments. Like past disasters, this will be maximized as a communications opportunity to demonstrate a candidate’s sense of “malasakit” and spark a social media battle of sorts to gain public appreciation and build trust that would hopefully bring voters to vote for them in the May 2022 national elections. Not to discredit the good motivation and certainly the need to fill in the usual gaps of government’s relief efforts, these gestures of charity are always appreciated.
This importance of having this caring image is actually confirmed by a recent Social Weather Stations Survey commissioned by think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, where respondents were asked what “characteristics candidates running for national positions should have/possess.” The top five are: at number one at 66% is “concern for the poor” or to translate to our cultural equivalent “may malasakit sa mahirap”, second is they should be “honest and trustworthy” (49%), third is “not corrupt,” fourth is “has a clear plan for the country’s problems”, fifth is “fulfills his/ her promises,” in other words, is honest and trustworthy (22%).
My personal appreciation of these findings is that the responses are actually a reflection of the Filipinos’ most important concern, which is very economic – employment, how to escape poverty. Also, quite interesting, and very encouraging, is how the respondents are able to link the need for trustworthy leaders who can stop corruption and who will not succumb to the temptation of corruption. Leaders who can be trusted and have the competence to govern and execute solutions to solve the country’s deeply complex problems.
The next time you see a political ad in the media or on your social media feed, the message will relate to these concerns paired with some populist reform promises presented in a variety of creatively executed styles. For those who have the big resources, their narratives will be supported by an army of trolls who will affirm the narrative and attack oppositors and critics. I can actually think of only one tandem that has this.
We will surely pull through the devastation of super typhoon “Odette” – as we always do. Aside from controlling the spread of the new Omicron variant which requires a sustained safety discipline from each of us, we should do our part in fighting the daily storm of disinformation now infecting the minds of our people who have been frustrated by decades, even generations of economic hardship and are now being hypnotized by well-crafted propaganda.
Each of us must exert real effort in exposing lies and helping our people see the truth beyond the political deception designed to produce unwise votes. If the patrons of this grand deception come to power, we may have to fight a crisis that will be more catastrophic than Yolanda, Sendong, Odette, and the pandemic.