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Jun 23

Junket of Doom

Even as the President departed, the Inquirer editorial had already called her trip a Most useless junket. Her trip, will be followed up, incidentally, by another trip to the States, scheduled in September, practically on the eve of the American presidential elections.

My column for today is Bitter fruits of disaster. The growing number of middle class Filipinos who’ve avoiding watching local news and reading the papers had their equanimity disturbed by yet another home-grown tragedy going global. See the Agence France Presse story, Hundreds feared dead after Philippine ferry sinks. The latest is More survivors in Philippine ferry sinking:

Twenty-eight passengers from a capsized passenger ferry were reported alive in the central Philippines on Monday but more than 800 remain missing after the ship sank during a typhoon.

The survivors made it to a small coastal village after drifting at sea for more than 24 hours in a rubber boat, radio dzBB reported. Two others originally on board the life raft drowned in large swells.

The discovery raises the number of survivors to 32. Four people were confirmed dead on Sunday.

First, a correction to my column: at 11 pm last night, long after the deadline for my article, Dick Gordon told me personally he hadn’t left for the States, because he saw the disaster coming. Good for him and the Red Cross. Scriptorium points out an entry in la ciudadista that identifies where to give donations, in cash or kind, for typhoon relief, and adds,

…the [DSWD] has designated Petron gas stations for receiving non-perishable goods. Basic needs come first: used clothes, canned goods, rice, bottled water, instant noodles, sleeping mats/banig, cash donations. Let us all please help the victims as much as we can.

You can donate to the Red Cross online, click the Donate Now link on its website.

The President is being taken to task for going to America even as devastation had already been wrought by the typhoon in Mindanao and it was plowing through the Visayas. The criticism has gotten more intense as the death toll mounts. ‘Frank’ aftermath no reason for Arroyo to cut US trip – Palace goes the official response, and the President has taken to teleconferencing as a way to prove she’s doing something.

In my column, I pointed out that PAGASA’s being off the mark in its predictions has pissed off a lot of people. And at first, this was the main bone of contention concerning the typhoon. See Faulty Weather Pronouncements of PAGASA, which I mentioned in my column. The Inquirer’s front page today shows PAGASA’s path prediction for the typhoon (in yellow-orange), and the actual path it took (in red):

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See Milking The Cash Cow to see how the PAGASA website wasn’t functioning particularly well when people needed information the most. This was also pointed out by The Dusk Chronicles who also remarked on how people weren’t really prepared for the storm hitting Metro Manila (hat tip: Global Voices). One thing I did hear a lot from people, though, yesterday (as people end up doing what they usually do, which is trading notes on disasters) is that many found maybagyo.com very useful. See its updates page.

Other entries I found useful concerned the devastation in Iloilo (Eastern Visayas loses close to P900M in crops, infra), see The Trojan Bore who pointed to view from the sugar island:

People are desperately seeking help and are stuck in the rooftops, INEPT GOVERNMENT NO.1 will send help INSTANTLY RIGHT? NO, HELP WILL ARRIVE TOMORROW OUR OFFICIALS NEED THEIR BEAUTY SLEEP. Supplies and rescue boats (THAT ARE REALLY NEEDED RIGHT NOW BY RESCUE TEAMS) will arrive tomorrow in Iloilo at 6:00 am via C-130. Congratulations, your ineptitude is world-class.

What will they rescue tomorrow? I don’t know. Maybe it is to give the press a chance to cover their heroics. Reports say there is a danger of hypothermia hitting the flood victims and that is why time is of the essence. I’m hearing the flood in some areas is subsiding. Hopefully it is true. The rescue efforts are being made difficult by the darkness and lack of EQUIPMENT. As I type, flood victims stuck in the rooftops are asking for help through SMS to be rescued.

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Local officials know they’re getting hammered by public opinion. I heard Vice-Governor Rolex Suplico on the radio yesterday afternoon sounding frustrated over the delayed arrival of a C-130 transport plane from Cebu; obviously even if the provincial government had emergency stockpiles of equipment and food, the scale of the flooding and damage wrought by the typhoon would have overwhelmed local resources.

A harrowing account from the scene comes from Confessions of the Mind and Heart:

Saturday, June 21 I woke up early and had my dad drive me to Ventus to finish some work. We came across the Jaro river where we usually get the sign if flood will occur. So far it was in its normal level and dad said he will just call in case…

It was not after 1 hour when dad called that the siren is all over the place which warned the people in Tabuc Suba Jaro to prepare for the flood. I’m on a hurry to go home so I asked the assistance of nong Ruel to give me a ride home and minutes later mom texted me not to go home anymore. When we passed by Jaro, the van can no longer penetrate the water.

I decided to meet Jet at Robinsons Mall. The water is all over the place and I started to panic. He was there waiting for me. I can’t help myself not to cry. I’m worried about my family back home. My brother’s in Capiz and ufortunatley he can’t go home coz it’s signal number 3 in that place. I stayed with Jet the whole night hoping that tomorrow I can go home.

I’m getting more worried when I can’t contact them already. jet and I went back to Ventus Sunday morning hoping I could get a chance to contact them since the whole city is black out, Ventus is just the only place who has reserved electricity.

Still I can’t contact them. The landline’s just ringing. I had the thought that the water reached the telephone line. So I decided to go to Jaro and check out the situation. We reached Jaro, I was with my cousin and Jet. We walked from Jaro bridge down Bankers Village. Seeing the whole place was a disaster. The Brgy Hall was full of refugees lining up to get some food from a truck with donations. Jetskies and motorboats were parked in the sideways, cars were also parked on the side og the bridge and sidewalks. We passed by Iloilo Supermart and it was all damaged. the water entered the store and the glass door broke. I can’t imagine how an elevated place was reached by water. We came near Quintin Salas and saw some cars been thrown away in the vacant lot.. I saw our car parked in outside the building beside the village and it’s drowned. I saw mud inside and it’s oil spilled out.

We entered Bankers and the current of the water is so strong I just can’t lift my feet. Jet and my cousin were pulling me to my feet. We reached home at last. I saw the mansions with crached fences, and muddy furnitures. All light posts and telephone lines are dead and were actually down. And my house, it’s all chocoloate covered mud!!! I saw my helpers shoveling the mud out of our gate. Dad approached us teary eyed saying that “Guba gid ya balay ta, wala gid ko nag expektar na amu ni matabo” (It’s all damaged. I didn’t expect this to happen).

See iloilo flood 2008 photos at trigo26’s Flickr account.

Matters can only have been compounded by the perpetually ad hoc nature of emergency response measures, and how nothing really functions unless the big bosses are around the lean on their subordinates. It’s only been a few weeks since the national government came in for strong criticism over its sluggish handling of the typhoon damage to Pangasinan. And yet it was only yesterday that NDCC convenes in wake of ‘Frank’.

This basic reality of what passes for government management in our country, helps explain why whatever the President does, there really is no substitute for her being here, and for her subordinates being here, either. You’d think that our officials, who’ve borrowed so many pages from the Republican playbook, would have learned the lessons taught by Bush’s plummeting in the ratings because of his response to Hurricane Katrina.

Closer to home (see pictures in TheBachelorGirl), another point I raised was courtesy of the age of brillig:

According to the 10:30 p.m. bulletin from PAGASA, Typhoon Fengshen (i.e., Frank) had altered course and is now projected to pass over Metro Manila at around 5:00 a.m., or 5 hours from the time I write this. Its not good that this bulletin came out after many Metro Manila residents have gone to bed, especially since the storm is expected to hit while most of Metro Manila is sleeping.

Urban poor areas in Manila hardest hit by floods presents a political Catch-22 for local governments, too: humanitarian considerations, and the responsibilities of leadership, requires mayors and governors to dissuade residents from rebuilding in areas notoriously flood-prone (I have read many press accounts from the past, in which local and national leaders intervened, by force if necessary, to prevent residents from rebuilding in areas proven to be disaster-prone, but that was then); but to do so now would mean alienating manageable votes. So nothing will be done, which only means the casualties will pile up the next time, but perhaps not before the next elections.

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I took this photo some time ago, precisely for a blog entry I intended to write, on the crumbling infrastructure of the metropolis. This rant in The Personal Blog of David Gonzales reminded me of the point I wanted to raise, concerning electrical lines. You only have to look at the scary state of the electrical lines, particularly in older neighborhoods or congested urban areas, to understand why there can be such a thing as systems losses, but more importantly, how every day that ends represents a kind of miracle.

In the wake of the typhoon, fires broke out because of voltage fluctuations but the exploding transformers and downed poles and lines simply demonstrates that whatever infrastructure we have is basically kept functioning by means of patchwork and sheer luck.

Returning to the (rather frantic) efforts of the President to appear to be doing something, there’s the already-famous tongue-lashing (portions of which were published by RG Cruz) the President gave the head of the Coast Guard as news broke of the sinking of the Suplicio Lines vessel. The limits of technology were demonstrated when it took some time for the President and the Coast Guard commander to get on the same page, and eventually, the media were led out of the room to spare the officials further embarrassment.

In another blog entry, RG Cruz recounts how officials were subsequently summoned to the Palace at 1 a.m. so that the President could teleconference with them and exhibit her officials to Filipinos in the USA. Along the way, he publishes the transcript of another tongue-lashing, this time, of a Sulpicio Lines official, and again, at the hands of the President:

[VP de Castro]: mr go, how about the condition of the ship, how old is the ship[?]

[Mr. Go]: the ship was 24-year-old passenger ship, it passed all the maritime requirements it has all the certificate, updated certificate […]

[VP de Castro]: what are you doing now to help the passengers[?]

[Mr. Go]: our company has committed to compensate to the victims and bring them to their home town, whatever expenses our company will take care of, all expenses […]

[The President]: im just looking at the guidelines (gap) policy general … if any vessel is scheduled to depart and the operator of the vessel should study carefully the typhoon movement to ensure that the vessel will not be within the area directly affected by the typhoon signals 1, 2, 3 and 4 within the danger sector until they reach their destination. so hindi totoo yung sinasabi mong walang prohibition, nadito yun sa guidelines ninyo[…]

and then furthermore number 3, no vessel shall sail except to take shelter if public storm signal warning is hoisted in the point of origin, the route, and the point of destination, so it’s not true what you said yesterday that there are no absolute prohibitions, there are.

Cruz says Go said compensation will be given, since passengers are insured, anyway, to the tune of 200,000 pesos per person. So perhaps if you were to add up the costs of following safety regulations, and balance those costs out with the costs of a one-time cash pay-out in the case of a disaster, the company still comes out ahead.

The President demonstrated her particular gifts -for detail, and for putting subordinates on the spot- both in terms of the Coast Guard and with the Sulpicio Lines official.

She has also unleashed a torrent of directives:

The directives were: (1) Congress to certify a bill that would consider rice hoarding and profiteering as economic sabotage with disaster as aggravating circumstance; (2) state of calamity should include imposing maximum rice price and giving decent return for farmers/traders, plus wholesale of hoarded rice;

(3) announce government aid for ferry disaster victims or families; (4) pending review of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) protocols so that no vessel sails if it would pass possible typhoon path; (5) assign an NDCC official at Sulpicio Lines to get and release information on victims;

(6) embassies in the US, Europe and Middle East should open disaster relief donation accounts plus NDCC account website or text number; (7) National Telecommunications Co. (NTC) and Philippine Information Agency (PIA) should help ensure NDCC site to be able to work amid high traffic.

However, what will register with the public is that she’s abroad.

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The sinking shocked the nation. Tingog.com, who has been a passenger on Sulpicio and other steamship lines, says the ship should never have sailed in the first place:

This is a wide ranging generalization, but I have experienced it first hand to know, that there are many many times, where both coast guard inspectors and the ship captain, have turned a blind eye to procedure.

In many instances, it is the coziness of those in the passenger ship industry, as well as those who provide oversight to this industry, that has made such tragedies possible.

I’ve been a passenger not only to Sulpicio Lines, but to many other companies as well. There are a lot of blame to go around here, for Sulpicio Lines, they definitely should always heed the warning signals, even if a direct hit on their travel path is not expected. To the coast guard, to the inspectors, to the government, who must ensure that these boats leave dock inspected, with proper amount of passengers, and by also erring on the side of caution as they should always monitor any chance of a slight weather complication.

One thing is clear, the ship should never have departed, and that is, I’m afraid to say, the fault of the coast guard, and whoever made that decision must pay, either held administratively liable, criminally liable, or both. As for now, I’m not really sure if the criminal aspect of it is a worthy pursuit, but in all actuality this was negligence which could have cost our nation hundreds of innocent lives.

At Midfield asks how Sulpicio Lines manages to even stay in business:

Yes, this is the same company that owned the MV Dona Paz whose sinking in December 1987 is considered the world’s worst ferry disaster and the worst peace-time maritime disaster in history with the official death count at 1,565. Survivors claim the overloaded ferry carried up to 4,000. In October 24, 1988, the sinking of still another of Sulpicio Lines ferry, the MV Doña Marilyn reportedly killed over 600 people… The now customary apology, incredible as it is, has come from Sulpicio Lines with the hollow promise to help the victims. No comfort. We know that to this day the damage claims of the earlier victims in the Dona Paz and MV Marilyn tragedies are locked in court. One wonders how and why a shipping company like this continues to operate given its woeful record of sinking ships, and stealng the lives of it hapless passengers. They are left only to light candles and wail. In other countries people would have long expressed outrage by putting such firms to the torch.

Indeed if left only to the tender mercies of market forces, disasters alone might not be enough to kill off negligent steamship companies: what killed off the White Star Line wasn’t the sinking of the Titanic, it was the Great Depression, which forced its merger with main rival, Cunard. But then again Sulpicio Lines has probably set a world record as the most ill-fated steamship company in history. (update) Reading Alternation101‘s link to a Reuters article, Sulpicio Lines seems to have given the White Star Line a run for its money in the Unfortunate Trio of Sister Ships Department. White Star had Titanic, Olympic, and Britannic, and Sulpicio had two Donas: Paz and Marilyn, and their other sister ship, the Princess of the Orient!

Daily Musings has a bone to pick with ABS-CBN for showing video of corpses (what about the Inquirer photo of a corpse, displayed Pieta-style, on its front page?) .

A sprinkling of bloggers’ reactions to the typhoon, from Punzi’s Corner and Coffee with Amee being disgruntled over the President’s absence, to the interesting tandem of Touched by an Angel and The Warrior Lawyer giving a (literally) Mom and Pop view of the storm.

DSC00050.JPGToday is my father’s 82nd birth anniversary, and as a token of remembrance let me put forward two of his essays: Our undemocratic mentality from January 11, 1967 and The meaning of equality from January 25, 1967.

109 comments

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  1. leytenian

    UP N . tha’s a looking forward statement. future planning. thanks.

  2. The Ca t

    as you have said, it is inane so i do not want to waste my energy. thanks anyway. 🙂

  3. The Ca t

    where are you? cuba? btw, i didn’t know there was “blog(ing)” in leyte in the 80’s.

    Pardon this commenter, she still can not get what blogging means. so she does not know that the word blog word came out only in the 90’s.

    she thinks that commenting is synonymous to blogging. aiaiai.

  4. hawaiianguy

    cvj,

    Sulpicio should be held accountable because of the poor/non-existent evacuation procedure, engine failure, and recklessness in proceeding to sail. The government should be faulted for its posturing and slow response.

    Not only that. The govt should be faulted for absconding and NOT DOING (or NOT KNOWING) its job. The Coast Guard should not have allowed the ship to sail under the condition, knowing the unpredictability of the weather, and of Pag-Asa’s almost unreliability in making forecasts.

    This tragedy is Sulpicio’s fourth, I believe. It has not learned a lesson over the years of accumulated mishaps. And so does this inept govt, many of whose officials are mere appointees who don’t know their jobs.

  5. Michael V. Padua

    Hi Manolo,

    Thanks for the remark on my website…maybagyo.com

    Cheers and more power!

  6. UP n student

    Tabako’s administration —– AT FAULT.

  7. hector olympus

    I could understand that there are times when the weather forecast just wouldn’t be that accurate.

    However, the sight of PAGASA chief Nilo’s “laughing reactions” on Sulpicio Line’s damage suit just made me feel awkward.

    I mean, he should just explain things thoroughly in front of the media instead of making that kind of gesture.

    Parang hindi kagalang galang

  8. Bencard

    hector, but that’s just one of pinoy’s reaction when put on the spot. he laughs usually when he slips on a banana peel, doesn’t he?

  9. hector olympus

    Hi, Bencard- yes, it’s a typical pinoy’s reaction.

    But look at him. This is an issue of countless bodies that died and couldn’t be recovered. It’s so unbecoming of a high government official to laugh like that in front of TV cameras concerning a Major Disaster.

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