In the past weeks since three typhoons successively brought destruction and disrupted the lives of people in the Happy Island, Facebook comments on posts regarding the disaster response of the local government have been harsh on local officials, particularly Governor Joseph C. Cua.
One complaint to the 8888 hotline had the chief executive explaining his side to Malacanang factotums in-charge of the citizens’ sumbungan center. An adverse Fb comment even had ANC asking him for an interview Monday morning.
The high probability that the majority of the commenters are trolls hired by his political opponents cannot be ignored, with the 8888 hotline complainant allegedly a ranking local executive promoting his claim that Cua is playing favorites.
This is the political aspect of relief distribution, a normal occurrence in the wake of calamities.
More often than not, the now numerous social media commenters and their one-sided opinions about local issues are sometimes given weight by politicians even if these netizens are living or working far away from the island.
Like the trapos of old, the new breed of politicians want to be seen as guardian angels coming to succor of their fallen constituents, even if the goods they bring are paid for by the very people they want to help.
And this tendency to personalize the distribution of relief goods for political gain, while a factor in disaster response, is merely a distraction in the effort to bring humanitarian aid.
The distribution of relief goods is akin to a military operation that requires a logistics system, a chain linking all aspects of the system. If one link is missing, the system will not work.
In the case of Catanduanes, there was a problem right from the start: the local disaster managers were not able to send their reports to the provincial Emergency Operations Center in the first few days after Rolly.
For a relief operation to work, the goods must be appropriate, it must be delivered in sufficient quantities in good conditions and at the right place and the right time.
The absence of reliable reports from the field, therefore, prevented top disaster officials from determining the volume and appropriateness of the goods needed.
While the amount of calamity assistance that has poured here is certainly considerable, its distribution has been far from ideal and equitable.
The EOC, for example, has not been able to accurately track where relief goods were brought by some private groups as the latter did not coordinate with the EOC to determine exactly where such aid is needed.
As a result, it is claimed, some towns have received more than the others, to the deprivation of affected people in the other equally hard-hit municipalities.
On the other hand, the typhoon destroyed or heavily most large warehouses in Virac, including the convention center-cum-evacuation center and the NFA warehouse.
This deprived local disaster officials and partner aid agencies of facilities where relief goods could be stored or repacked prior to distribution.
Clearly, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC) needs to conduct a post-disaster assessment of what happened with the LGUs’ response considering the magnitude of the destruction.
Among the possibilities they could explore: a large enough evacuation center with RC slab roofing that could double as warehouse for each town; resource inventory at the barangay level to determine assets which can be used for disaster response monthly reporting drills involving disaster officials armed with active satellite phones; creating and training an RDANA team for each barangay to assist the village council; prepositioning of relief goods in each town by September, ahead of the last quarter of the year when typhoons go the island’s way; and, allowing direct delivery of relief goods from the port to affected barangays subject to prior coordination with local disaster operations centers.