Daily Mail aid scandal report could create (undeserved) backlash

Chiara Zambrano’s “They are Alive” video of Leyte folk seeking kin or rescue 

had just started airing on TV Patrol, silencing the entire household, when a slow-loading laptop scrolled open the Daily Mail‘s report on the alleged diversion of UK relief aid for Yolanda victims. (** See update with DSWD below)

The UK paper quoted a former Scottish DJ, expat Keb Darge, 56, as saying he was facing threats for exposing alleged aid diversion.

“Mr Darge photographed supplies being locked up rather than distributed in Eastern Samar, where he used to live with his Filipino wife and their nine-year-old daughter. Now he has gone into hiding in Manila, fearing reprisals after receiving threats from the corrupt officials he has been trying to expose.”

It also alluded to a newspaper report quoting Hernani Mayor Edgar Boco (a Liberal Party member) as admitting  “his officials were controlling distribution”.

And then it attributed to Goco some lines that belong to a movie villain:  ‘You can’t constantly give relief goods to the people. People will abuse the system. They will gorge themselves.’ 

That’s a classic with the highest potential of virality. The problem is, with so many flaws in its report, one can’t even be sure the Daily Mail quoted Goco in the proper context. Confusing is an understatement for its report.

For example, the first two paragraphs read:

“Crucial aid sent from Britain to help the victims of typhoon-ravaged areas of the Philippines is being siphoned off and sold for profit by corrupt local officials.

Emergency supplies delivered  by military helicopters have turned up on the shelves of shops in affluent districts of the capital Manila  – hundreds of miles from the disaster zone.”

Aid scandal2However, the photo grab of a GMA broadcast news clearly referred to “ready-to-eat meals ng mga sundalong Amerikano (American soldiers).”  The context of this strange arrangement comes much later in the story.

The Daily Mail (contact its editors on social media — @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook ) said :

“Television stations in the Philippines have supported Mr Darge’s claims, reporting that supplies have been diverted  to Manila. Aid packages have also apparently been auctioned online.” (Not a very accurate statement. GMA reported on diversion of aid, but it wasn’t reporting about UK aid.) 

The report notes the “the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) – an umbrella group representing 14 UK charities” has “expressed concern about evidence that suggests not all the £60 million of aid given by Britain is reaching those most in need.” That isn’t the same as confirmation of Mr. Darge’s claims.

Aid scandal1British Ambassador Asif Ahmad has called it a non-story. He adds that the Mail has taken down the story from its website.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer also reported, UK embassy denies report on ‘Yolanda’ aid not reaching victims

The Inquirer said the United Nations is investigating why some remote islands are still bereft of aid a month after Super Typhoon Yolando whipped through Eastern Visayas.

But it’s also in the same we’ve-heard-some-reports vein, with this from Valerie Amos, UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator:

“Although we’ve got significant aid now coming in to the major centers, we still have a little bit of a worry that in a couple of the smaller islands that there may be needs there that we haven’t managed to meet yet.”

“I’m still hearing worrying reports in the media — indeed I heard one this morning — where people said they hadn’t received any aid as yet, and we’re looking into that.”

The Daily Mail did not check with the British Embassy in Manila. It probably didn’t check out the Embassy’s Facebook site, which has a slew of posts on relief services. Among these:

Aid scandal3More than 10,000 people have been given food for seven days – just one headline statistic from the first week’s efforts in the Philippines by the men and women of HMS Illustrious.

A blog post by Mike Taylor, who led the Foreign Office Rapid Deployment Team, which “drove 1,400 miles and found 24 British nationals reported as missing, as well as other foreign expats in need of assistance.”

Mr. Taylor acknowledged he’d “seen at first hand the terrible cost of Yolanda, but also the resilience of local people, Filipino and expatriate.”

Of course, these stories or the ambassador’s statements don’t quite prove the Daily Mail story was all wrong. Nobody has called Mr. Darge a liar or refuted the claim that he is in hiding because of death threats.

However, the absence of any condemnatory note also does not mean Mr. Darge’s report is true. In fact, we don’t exactly know what happened.

It’s bad enough that you have another silly mayor blaming the Department of Social Welfare and Development for a chopper crash that injured crew and aid volunteers — he said aid should have coursed through the local government; DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman says national government stepped in because of text messages from people claiming they haven’t received any.

There are also frequent PM’s from foreign-based Filipino donors — the US and, more recently, Japan — quoting news reports and questioning whether they should still continue helping out. I’ve tried to correct false reports or, at the least, provide them with the list of accredited foreign and local NGOs as alternative conduits.

The December 7 Daily Mail report is still on the Web. Whether old or new will not really matter — it’s the first thing that pops up when you google “Philippines aid scandal.”

That’s a damn shame. The Daily Mail could do this country a favour by either coming out with a clear retraction or, conversely, a firm stand-by-our story position that should include more concrete data.

(Update : from abs-cbnnews.com )

DSWD vows probe into sale of relief goods

“The reality on the ground is there are NGOs (non-government organizations) directly distributing relief goods to LGUs (local government units)… (In) every municipality, we have already deployed (teams) to assess whether commodities are being received by our people in the villages,” DSWD officer-in-charge for Eastern Visayas Nestor Ramos said.

“Usually, when there are donations from the international organizations, we just make an inventory of it by box, but we are not opening that box. We immediately dispatch them to the different municipalities. We have a list of distribution plan as to who will be given priority. We do not repack (these relief goods) in our offices,” he said.

He asked the members of the media to visit relief hubs to check whether there is truth to the allegations.

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