We know volunteers stepped in to prevent potential chaos — hundreds, no, thousands of survivors streaming into Manila with no money, no nothing, with many of them befuddled and, maybe, setting foot in the big city for the first time. I shudder to think of the fate that could have befallen many of them had private citizens with big hearts not stepped in to shoulder some of the problems of governance.
Whatever criticism we have on national and local governments’ response to the Yolanda disaster, this much we all know is true: Our social and economic infrastructure is buckling under the volume of devastation and loss wrought by the super typhoon.
Volunteerism is great. But let us not forget that we, volunteers, no matter how expert or motivated, are that — volunteers. Somebody has to be on top, someone has to make the tough decisions, especially when 100 people with 100 different views are gathered and all believe in their good intentions.
The DSWD is that agency and it must be allowed to play its role. Other hierarchies must be subsumed to this need — because once we’ve packed up and gone home, the DSWD will be there, quietly knitting back lives interrupted. In most instances, the DSWD has worked on a heroic scale. It has and it will make mistakes. But we cannot shunt it aside in our impatience.
The military also plays an important role. I agree with Maria Ressa that for immediate relief operations on ground-zero, they probably are the best equipped, in terms of experience and operational abilities, to move the fastest and smoothest. But Metro Manila is not ground zero. What arriving survivors need now is help on a different realm — nurturing. Nobody does this better than the DSWD, with the health department coming in second.
Yes, I think the Camp Aguinaldo caper was a hasty, ill-timed move. Any defense reporter will tell you that moving traumatized people to the premier military camp is a baaaad move. The very character of Camp Aguinaldo and its location would have narrowed the survivors’ breathing space, their freedom to move with a semblance of normalcy. And normalcy is exactly when we all seek to give them now. It is a requisite to moving on.
I was as exasperated as everyone else, especially since nobody seemed willing to give answers. When they did, their answers that cancelled out each other!
Let’s assess all that later. Let’s get our priorities straight. Volunteers, this is not about us. This is about the survivors of Yolanda. For them, I suggest we all walk the extra mile. The survivors face huge challenges — the dangers of depression, of joblessness, of human traffickers lying in wait, of kin incapable of handling the responsibility of adding more mouths in their families Let’s start all over again.
Dialogue with the DILG. And by dialogue, I mean all parties coming in with open minds, with a will to see where all sides are coming from. Offer your bright ideas, offer what you can do. Try to simplify matters without becoming lax about the realities of security and fiscal responsibility. I’ve always thought of DSWD personnel as among the most reasonable, inclusive and pragmatic people in this country. I’ve seen them in the middle of war zones, disaster areas, dysfunctional families. Give them some love. Credit them with goodwill — as we want to be credited with the same.
Let’s just talk and talk, NOW. Because if any of you heard the governor of Leyte on TV today, you know that things are bound to get worse before it gets better. This is our country. We better get our act together. And no, it’s not just the government, even it it’s muffed up some things. It’s all of us. That’s what citizenship is all about.
PS: We can try to make their temporary stay better. But our main thrust should be to get them home. Safe. Whole. Empowered with greater skills. Let’s not forget that goal. Now, let’s do it.