POSTSCRIPT / November 12, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Need to break down rehab to lowest level

REASSURING: Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras is an assurance to us who follow the painfully slow RRRs (rescue, relief, rehab, etc.) in the Visayan areas devastated by typhoon Yolanda that government knows what it is doing and will be able to do it.

Watching Almendras field media questions and explain what was being done, I was somewhat assured that while recovery may be slow and costly, the government, with all sectors cooperating, will be able to put the Visayas back on its feet.

With clarity and patience, the secretary delivered the message that the government is proceeding on a multi-stage plan and has enough resources to help the victims, whose number until now can only be estimated because of the difficulty of doing a quick body count.

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OBSTACLES: Almendras explained why the RRR process cannot help being slow, considering that all vital utilities, including electricity, were down, that sea and air ports were not immediately usable, that roads where aid could pass were strewn with fallen trees and other debris.

The eerie lack of communication compounded the air of fear and anxiety. The lack of mobility added to the feeling of helplessness. There were heavy equipment for clearing operations and motor vehicles for moving around, but no fuel stations were open.

As we write this, however, the Tacloban airport was reported to have been cleared for emergency operations, enabling a limited number of aircraft to fly in and out.

Also, the San Juanico bridge connecting Samar and Leyte has been made passable, so more goods and rescue/relief personnel can be brought by land via the Maharlika highway from Bicol and roll on-roll off ferry.

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REDUCED TO BEGGING: Like ants scurrying back to their usual activities after splashed with water, the typhoon victims will soon be back to leading normal lives. The speed of recovery depends on many factors, including how fast discipline is restored.

One is touched by scattered reports of people (like Mt. Pinatubo eruption victims in the Cory Aquino years) reduced to begging for food, water and whatever they need to survive the elements.

The looting of some malls and stores by mobs (like hungry Egyptians in biblical times forcing open the granaries) could have been rationalized except that they carted away even non-essentials such as TVs, refrigerators and whatever of value they could grab.

But with government, especially at the local level, reappearing and reasserting its authority, the scattered disorder is expected to abate. What is more, a return to near-normalcy can help dissuade the President from declaring a state of emergency.

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BACK TO BARANGAYS: With the pre-positioning of equipment and resources before Yolanda struck last Friday, Almendras said there is more than enough rice, for instance, in the area. It just has to be repacked and moved to where it is needed.

He made an important point – that the barangays must be made to bounce back from the initial disorder and confusion. National government agencies need them as ground-level conduits.

We may understand the retreat of local officials and their families since they are themselves victims grappling with their own survival. A mayor, in fact, has been reported having been swept away by the storm surge and never seen again.

It would be chaotic if social workers just come rolling in with truckloads of goods and tossing relief packs to people waving and waiting by the road side. There has to be system.

As bulk is more difficult to distribute to milling crowds, or to unruly kilometric lines of people, the supply pile has to be broken down to manageable size doled out in several places instead of in just one central plaza.

Without impliedly pointing accusing fingers at anybody, the secretary said local executives, especially barangay officials, will have to start functioning again. Smaller-scale distribution is easier to manage.

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COOL LANG PO!: Almendras’ patience in the forum was in contrast to President Noynoy Aquino’s walking out of a discussion in Tacloban the other day after he was queried about the sporadic lawlessness and the disturbing estimates of casualties and damage.

Palace firefighters, meanwhile, are busy dousing the PR blaze left by the incident. They clarify that the President did not walk out or throw a tantrum but merely excused himself and returned after a few minutes, as he sometimes did in Cabinet meetings.

Reader Rodolfo V. Cabado may have summed up criticisms when he said: “A leader does not walk out on his people. Not even in frustration. He must have nerves of steel and the patience of a saint. He must have the cool and composure of a commanding general in the midst of a critical battle – rallying the troops, ordering them calmly but firmly to do what must be done according to strategy as may be modified by tactical necessities as they arise.

“He must be ready to accept casualties, attend to the injured and comfort those who have lost livelihoods or loved ones. A leader must be a pillar of strength, a light in the darkness, warmth in the cold, a burning flame of inspiration and encouragement to those who look up to him. He must be generous with praise for those who have done well, tireless in urging the reluctant to do more, yet careful and economical with his words for those he may need to reprimand to the end that their failures may be rectified without breaking their spirit.

“Perhaps some people may have behaved badly in your presence, Mr. President. But knowing what they have been through, they have every right to feel frustrated. Not you.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 12, 2013)

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