Making the rounds online is an entry titled Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (A special report from a volunteer) originally published in ellaganda.com. When I first posted this entry, the site had vanished, but the entry had been preserved in Google’s cache; now the site is back up. Over at the Multiply site of Jenny Epperson you can find the entry reproduced as well.
The entry does not allege that relief goods donated by foreign governments are being pilfered, or have been stolen, or kept in conditions that are destroying the goods. The entry bewails the fact that the DSWD lacks manpower to repack the goods and distribute them. The entry also pointed out imported relief goods remained unopened while volunteers focused on repacking domestically-produced relief goods.
The entry allows the reproduction of photos in the entry so here they are.
First, of goods in the DSWD warehouse:
(unopened, and unused foreign bedding)
(domestically-produced banig, or sleeping mats, which were repacked in DSWD relief packs)
Second, what goes into a standard DSWD relief pack:
Into an aluminum cooking pot goes ten cans of sardines and nine bars of soap (all domestic products);
Plus a towel and a pack of sanitary napkins.
Three rolls of bedding and a blue water jug.
Followed by two banig (sleeping mats).
The whole thing then sewn shut.
According to the entry, in the prescribed manner, the volunteers, in one afternoon, were able to pack 150 sacks of relief goods, which were then dispatched.
The relief good consisted entirely of domestic goods, while imported relief goods remained untouched. As the goods packed were dispatched, more relief goods arrived at the DSWD warehouse.
But this is a far cry from the assumption many seem to be making, that something criminal has actually taken place. Surveying public opinion on Twitter, people seem upset on the following grounds:
1. The lack of a public call for volunteers.
2. Questions over what happens to relief goods, once the emergency passes.
Media’s being urged to swoop down on the DSWD Warehouse at Chapel Road, Pasay City (at the back of the Air Transportation Office, towards NAIA II) and see what’s actually going on.
The only thing the DSWD can be held to account for, at this point, is tardiness when it comes to distributing aid from overseas. Over on Twitter, there’s a claim that the Palace will be holding a relief-repacking event tomorrow, featuring United Nations workers and volunteers. So the only other criticism might be of politicking by means of turning the repacking of relief goods into a photo-op for the Palace.
4:09 PM The best I have been able to find out from my own sources is the following SMS:
Sir according to Dir. Reynes of PMS that there’s an information about the foreign donations and volunteers but not yet confirm. They will have a meeting today with Usec. Oca regarding the matter.
4:58 PM Update is that 150 United Nations people will be going to the Palace at 7 AM tomorrow, to observe relief operations taking place, and possibly help in repacking relief goods already stored at the ground floor of Kalayaan Hall.
The Palace had a problem in that public mistrust of officialdom led to a lukewarm, at best, response to its appeals for donations from the public. At one point, the relief effort going on at the Ateneo de Manila University had to give relief goods to the Palace so that something could be given the volunteers who showed up (and officials and government workers drafted into relief operations) something to do.
The entry also said the following exchange took place between Philippine News and the DSWD Secretary on October 21:
Kahapon, tinanong ng Philippine News si DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral:
Editor of Philippine News: Why are the relief goods in DSWD warehouses not moving?
DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral: Wala kasing volunteers.
This short interview was done over the phone. Philippine News wanted to hear her side pero ayaw niyang makipag-usap sa press. After four tries, pinasabi na lang niya ang maikling sagot na ito sa secretary niya – “Walang volunteers”.
What the DSWD itself has said (reported on October 19) is this, in DSWD vows ‘politico-proof’ distribution of relief goods:
In a radio interview, DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral said her department will handle the food items from the UN, while its personnel will keep watch over the distribution process.
“Hindi po [mga pulitiko ang magre-repack] ng relief goods. Kami ang humahawak at nandodoon ang mga tauhan namin habang dini-distribute ang mga iyon (We will not allow politicos to repack the UN-donated goods. These will go through us and our personnel will be there while the goods are distributed),” Cabral said on dzBB radio.
An initial 100-ton food shipment from the UN World Food Program (WFP) arrived in the country Sunday for victims of cyclones “Ondoy” (Ketsana) and typhoon “Pepeng” (Parma). [See story on UN flash appeal for relief assistance]
WFP country director Stephen Anderson said another 100 tons of biscuits is scheduled to arrive on Oct. 24.
Cabral noted the UN also gave rice for the cyclone victims. But she said that while the UN-donated rice will be included in food packs for victims, it will be placed with other goods in containers with the UN logo.
“May bigas na binigay ang UN sa atin at ito [ay] isasama sa food pack na iba. Nakalagay ang kanilang tatak sa rice pack (The UN gave some rice and we will include it in our food packs. The packs with UN donations will have the UN logos),” she said.
Believe it or not? It depends on where you are in the current zeitgeist.
Postscript, 2 AM Saturday (updated further 2 PM)
In Blog about ‘rotting’ relief goods at DSWD warehouse sparks cyberspace, the DSWD Secretary answered a non-question:
According to her, it is impossible for relief goods to be rotting inside the warehouse as they do not store perishable items. She said the warehouse — a complex of five buildings — only has rice, clothes, non-food items and canned goods.
“Walang nabubulok. Stocks ‘yun na hindi perishable (Nothing is rotting. Those stocks are non-perishable), ” she said.
Cabral also explained the photos circulated from the blog showing towering boxes of relief goods, saying the stockpile in the warehouse stemmed from the outpouring of donations from various individuals and groups at the height of Ondoy and Pepeng.
Cabral said the relief goods would be used in case Typhoon Ramil, which has been forecast to hit Luzon on Sunday, causes another disaster.
She also said they cannot release the relief goods right away since they need to check on the items and make an inventory.
“This takes two to three hours to do,” she said.
“Over the past 24 days, we have already given out 500,000 family food packs, 300,000 clothing packs and several non-food items like mosquito nets, blankets and water containers. We are now distributing 10,000 packs a day,” Cabral added.
The relief goods, per the entry, were figuratively rotting in the warehouse, not actually rotting; and if you notice the entry never mentioned that there were people busily taking down inventory about the shipments; and the volunteer blogged that all they were able to pack amounted to 150 bags of goods. The blogger, ella, says so herself in her response to the manner in which the networks carried the story:
I know what non-perishable goods are. You see, doon tuloy na-focus ang denial ng DSWD, hindi sa santambak na goods. Kakaiba.
On to the next point. Marami akong nabasang comments, posts at kung ano-ano pa, doubting the veracity of my “allegations”. I was there in the warehouse. I presented the pictures. I think I’ve done my part as a concerned citizen.
To the DSWD officials and Ms. Cabral:
The burden of proof is on you. The donors expect that everything they sent be distributed immediately to the intended recipients and not be stored in some warehouse. As government officials, it is your social responsibility to the people.
The article ends with Sec. Cabral denying -or not remembering, anyway- she talked to Philippine News. Here’s a comment posted on blog ni ella by Beting Dolor, October 23, 10:51 PM:
My name is Beting Dolor and I am a columnist and contributing editor for US-based Philippine News. I have been with this paper since 2002.
I was the one who called DSWD four times to try and get their side. I was told that Sec. Cabral was 1) at a meeting, 2) interviewing applicants, 3) in the comfort room, and 4) about to leave for Pampanga.
It was her office secretary who relayed to me her message that there are not enough volunteers.
I wrote my piece for Philippine News because I was disturbed by the relative inaction of the department. The Philippines is under a state of calamity. As such, action is needed now, not tomorrow.
The hundreds of thousands of displaced Filipinos need all the help they can get. They cannot wait.
In times like these, I expect the DSWD to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The DSWD says there are not enough volunteers. I disagree. There are tens of thousands of Filipinos willing to help. The DSWD should have gone to the schools to ask for volunteers. There are countless employees in the private sector willing to help. The DSWD could have asked the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to help.
I expect the department to take a more pro-active rather than a reactive stance. I expect the secretary to DEMAND that everyone help out. Lest we forget, human lives are at stake.
The victims are dying by the score everyday. It’s in the news.
As for the rotting of the goods, we all know that it is not only food that can rot. So, too, can clothes, canned goods, biscuits, blankets and everything else that can be found in the DSWD warehouses.
Time is of the essence. The food that the DSWD hands out today will be forgotten tomorrow. Believe it or not, the victims still need to eat every day. Three square meals, if possible.
Finally, the hoarding of the relief goods for future calamities does not make sense. We have just undergone the worst calamity in 40 years. Does the DSWD plan to keep those goods for the next four decades?
Distribute them now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next month.
Agreed, Madame Cabral?
This is “Madame” Cabral’s official statement on the matter, see Statement of Dr. Esperanza Cabral on the issue of relief goods in the DSWD Warehouse:
When typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng hit the country, we received and are continuing to receive donations. Our warehouses are indeed full, inspite of the fact that we have distributed 500,000 food packs and 200,000 clothing packs as well as thousands of sacks of rice, blankets, beddings, and items of personal hygiene in the past almost 4 weeks. That is the reason why when asked if we still have enough goods, my constant reply is yes, so far we do, thanks to the many kind-hearted individuals and organizations as well as countries who responded and are still responding to the plight of the typhoon victims.
There are no rotting relief goods in our warehouses as we do not keep perishables there and the relief goods that are there, save for the donated old clothes are quite new since they have been either recently purchased by us or have been just donated.
Our goods are repacked by volunteers who are there because they want to help. But they are volunteers and report when they have time to help us. Sometimes there are two hundred of them and sometimes there are only a dozen. However many or few they are, we appreciate their presence and their assistance. Weekdays are usually quiet but on Saturdays and Sundays, the students, along with others who work Monday to Friday, including our own employees, are there.
Our staff at the warehouse work round the clock even now, making sure that the requests for relief goods are met in a timely manner. They work hard, they work quietly and they work humbly and I feel bad that they have been subjected to public vilification that they do not deserve.
Around the clock!?
Around 11 PM some friends and I went to the DSWD warehouse, just to take a look-see.
The warehouse is located near the NAIA Centennial Terminal (DSWD National Resource Operation Center, Chapel Road, Pasay City, behind the Air Transport Office).
According to Gang Badoy, DSWD Sec. Cabral had agreed to allow her to organize shifts of volunteers to sort and pack relief goods at the DSWD warehouse from Monday to Friday, 3-11 PM.
So at the time we showed up, I was expecting to see things winding down, the last trucks loading or in the process of departing, or people filing home after a tiring day’s work.
There was a white fluffy dog that was awake, and a guard that was asleep; through the gate I could spot part of the open-sided warehouse in the last picture above. Otherwise, everything was sleepy and quiet.
The guard, when he finally woke up, mumbled something about our being at the wrong gate. We asked whether volunteers were coming in, and he said yes, and when asked what time, replied, all the time, but when pressed further said only until 11. He said a few days previously, 200 students from the Philippine Maritime Institute had shown up; and more recently, 50 volunteers had shown up.
Asked how much got packed and shipped out, he declined to guess. And then said if we wanted to know details about volunteering, to go to the other gate.
Here’s how one of my companions related the conversation that night to blogger Bury Me in This Dress:
friend#1: Gusto namin mag volunteer, san kami pupunta?
guard: Ah, punta kayo sa kabilang gate pero wala ng volunteers ngayon, umalis na at kakaalis lang ng 3 truck dala ang relief goods papuntang region 1 and 2.
friend#2: Marami bang volunteers pumunta dito kanina?
guard: Oo, madami.
friend#2: Ano sila? Puro estudyante?
guard: Oo, mga 200 sila.
friend#2: Ano? Mga elementary students ba to? (feigning ignorance at the kind of volunteers that shows up)
guard: Hindi, mga college students to, mga taga-PMI.
friend#2: Anong oras ba nagsisimula at natatapos?
guard: Sa umaga, tapos natatapos kahit anong oras sa gabi.
friend#2: Kahit anong oras? So bakit sabi mo tapos na ngayon at di na pwede mag volunteer?
guard: Nagsisimula minsan sa umaga tapos hanggang alas-9 or 10 or hanggang 11pm.
friend#2: So san nga kami pupunta kung pwede pala hanggang 11pm?
guard: punta kayo sa kabilang gate
The other gate was a big one covered with rust-colored sheet iron and after knocking on it another guard in a sando said that three military trucks full of goods bound for Regions 1 and 2 had left earlier.
But he kept asking why we were asking questions, if we were doing “coverage,” and that he should get clearance first; he said volunteers could show up at 8 AM, even on weekends, but seemed less certain about what time things were supposed to wind down.
Here’s how one of my companions related the conversation to blogger Bury Me in This Dress:
friend#1: Dito kami tinuro ng guard sa kabilang gate para mag volunteer sa relief operations.
guard: Ha? Anong balak nyong gawin? San kayong grupo?
friend#1: Sa RockEd kame. Gusto namin sana makita ang warehouse para sa volunteer work.
guard: Ah balik na lang kayo bukas, kse sarado na ang warehouse.
friend#1: Bakit di pwede tingnan, sabi sa balita na pwede kami mag volunteer kaya nga nandito kami eh tapos sasabihin mo sarado?
guard: Sarado na kse nag lo loading ngayon dun ng relief goods.
friend#1: Eh bakit sinabi mo sarado kung may loading pala nangyayari dun.
guard: Ano ba balak nyo? Di pwede dito ng coverage. Di pwede tumingin lang, kailangan mag volunteer.
friend#1: Sige, pero gusto namin tingnan para lam namin kung pano magbigay ng instructions sa ibang volunteers pero since ayaw mo lang na tumingin kme, mag vovolunteer na din kami ngayon na.
guard: Magbubuhat kayo ng carton?
friend#1: Hindi, magre repack kami.
guard: Bakit gusto nyo lang tingnan?
friend#1: Sinabi na nga namin mag vo volunteer na nga kami kse ayaw mo na tumingin lang kami eh. Lam mo ba na wala kaming problema na makita ang relief goods sa red cross at sa abs-cbn kahit late na ng gabi? Sikreto ba ang location ng sardinas?
guard: (already pissed off) Bakit paulit-ulit ang sinasabi mo?
friend#1: Bakit nga? Anong problema talga? Talgang sikreto nga ang taguan ng sardinas?
guard: akin na ID mo.
guard: (went away for a few minutes and returned with the ID)
friend#1: So ano?
guard: Balik na lang kayo bukas ng umaga.
friend#1: Anong oras ba talga relief ops dito? Meron ba kanina?
guard: Oo meron, mga 50 lang na estudyante.
friend#2: 50 lang? Pano sila makaka repack ng marami para sa 3 trucks?
guard: (irked again, maybe he was irked of how stupid his answers were.) Bukas na lang kayo bumalik kse walang advise sa amin sa ganitong oras ng pag volunteer.
friend#1: Eh bakit sabi sa amin ng isang guard minsan hanggang 11pm or hanggang gabi talga ang repacking? Anong oras ba talga nagsisimula at natatapos?
guard: basta bukas sa umaga tapos hanggang hapon o gabi.
friend#1: anong pangalan mo?
guard: bukas na lang.
friend#1: Bakit ayaw mo ibigay pangalan mo? Di ba sa gobyerno ka nagtratrabaho? Kinuha mo ID ko, alam mo pangalan ko tapos ayaw mo ibigay pangalan mo sa akin?
guard: (hesitated and stalled) Jay Lou Sadaya
friend#1: Jay Lou Sadaya? Jay Lou Sadaya?
friend#2: sige babalik kami bukas.
One thing’s certain: the place is not a beehive of activity, even in what is an ongoing emergency with areas still needing relief.
If there hadn’t been the blog entry and pictures that provoked so much indignation, the public would never have been alerted to the -apparently- great and pressing need of the DSWD for “volunteers,” something the state media and all media could have amplified if a call had been made.
I asked a senior Red Cross official what their protocols are concerning foreign aid shipments.
My Red Cross source said upon receipt of inventory, the packages are opened, to check their contents, make a preliminary allocation of the contents based on the Red Cross’ protocols for sending relief (there are different stages of relief: the first round, for survival, and subsequent rounds for more sustained relief), the contents are therefore unpacked and resorted and repacked in combination with other items, and then dispatched as requests from various chapters and localities come in.No effort is made to “conserve” one kind of donation in favor of using up another.
An editor I talked to reminded me of past practices in the Visayas some years back when government officials set aside imported canned food, and sent domestic items only as relief, in some cases the domestic items sent were past their shelf life.
At this point I think it’s safe to say that the DSWD was caught:
1. Reacting slowly to an ongoing emergency;
2. Trying to blame the public -the “lack of volunteers”- for not getting its (the DSWD’s) job done (within hours of the story gaining wide readership on the Internet, guess who Tweets an appeal for volunteers);
3. Trying to reassure the public by means of press releases saying they’re “working around the clock” when the only thing awake tonight was a fluffy white dog.
Here is the DSWD’s official list of donations received, last updated September 27, 2009. Note that the donations from the Kingdom of Jordan and the US Peace Corps, for example, are classified as “for monetization,” which I guess means they cannot be dispatched until their value has been calculated.
You’ll notice a lot was sent to the Palace (recall early on it had to ask for relief goods from Ateneo de Manila University to keep operations going):
For affected personnel of the government or released to specific officials (Secretary Bello, Reps. Puno, Ermita-Buhain, Abayon, Antonino, Arquiza, Crisologo, Pizarro, and Senator Revilla, a certain Atty. Maramba and the Vice-President:
And here is a list of institutional donations, including international agencies, foreign governments, and large corporations; the items should be easily cross-referenced with the official list of disbursements; a spot check of some, e.g. bananas and Coca-Cola, suggests most items should be trackable based on donations received and goods sent out.
You can help correlate the DSWD’s list of items received, with items sent out, by helping with this Google Doc. By correlating the two, we can figure out: What items have been sent out, and to where, and which items have not.
Update Sunday 12:09 AM
From Deviliscious’ Blog, this entry which ties all of the above together, worth quoting extensively:
I just want to share my experience at the DSWD to shed some light into the DSWD controversy because I had enough of the online speculation and just wanted to go there and see it for myself and volunteer to help.
When I got there I looked for Miss Fabian who’s managing the warehouse for DSWD. She informed me that they no longer need volunteers for the weekend because they have too many. So I asked about UNICEF and they exclaimed that I could help there. UNICEF needs volunteers.
So I met with Ensha of UNICEF, some volunteers from Don Bosco and Jordan, a volunteer from Boston. We were about 15. After about an hour, my fellow volunteers from Red Cross, including Geraldine Repollo, who’s managing Rizal chapter, followed and relieved the students from Don Bosco. We were still about 15.
There are 5 (if my memory doesn’t fail me this time) huge warehouses. 1 warehouse housed the goods from UNICEF. The rest housed rice and other food stuff. The UNICEF goods are packed as starter packs for those families who have been relocated due to the floods. A starter pack consists of cooking pot stuffed with towels, bath soap, laundry detergent, water jug stuffed with 4 blankets, 2 plastic mats. These are then picked up by trucks and supposed to be delivered to the relocation centers. The rest of the warehouses pack food and snack packs, as far as I know because I did not actually pack one. Distribution is centralized through DSWD.
Those are the facts as I’ve seen them.
The blog that started it all, after checking the posted pics and what I actually saw, referred to the UNICEF warehouse. Is there corruption? I don’t think there is. At least not at the warehouse packing stages. Ensha and the volunteers seem intent only on the job at hand. (Bless you guys!)Security seems strict and I see no signs of pilferage. I’m not sure what happens after the goods leave the warehouse. I just hope they get to their supposed destinations. Someone needs to check on that.
Is there intentional hoarding? I don’t think there is either.
Goods are just moving slow. I posit 2 reasons:
1. There are not enough volunteers. Ms. Fabian says that on weekdays they only get around 40 volunteers. When I came there, there were not more than 15 working on a Saturday even when I posted on my FB page with my 1800 “FB friends”, several FB groups totaling around 400 members, twittered it, and SMSed to 20 buddies. 15/2000 is not a good ratio. Gang, I hope you are more successful. No volunteers.
2. Limits set by the management. When I was told that DSWD is no longer accepting volunteers for the weekend because there were already a lot of volunteers from UPS. I don’t have the exact count but I saw several hundreds. However, after 2 hours of work, I noticed that the other warehouses were empty. I strongly think the 5 huge warehouses could accomodate and harness at least 1000 per warehouse. When we were repacking at Red Cross Rizal in a 40sqm room, we had 600 volunteers at some points and managed to release 1000-2000 packs per mission and we ran several missions per day. The DSWD warehouses should be able to improve their output. They could run 24/7 on continous shifts when volunteers and managers (from DSWD, UNICEF, or volunteers) running the packing lines. In business, we call this a good problem. It is a scale problem.
- Train more packing line managers from staff and volunteers.
- Run the lines as a 24/7 operation with your trained line managers.
- Make the schedules public. Use social media, the internet, radio, whatever. (I know of some who volunteered but returned home when they were told they need no more volunteers. If I, myself, [emphasis mine] did not ask for UNICEF, the peeps at the DSWD office wouldn’t have volunteered the info. Clearly, we have communication problem here.)
- Get more volunteers.
Those are my recommendations to the people in charge of the warehouses.
From the above then, it’s safe to conclude the following:
1. There isn’t, hasn’t been, and there’s no reason to suspect, will be, pilfering/stealing of relief goods. Most accounts have been careful to avoid any such insinuations; if you go through the documents, as I’ve begun to do, it’s safe to say the government is trying its best to be transparent about what’s received and sent out. One problem is the (necessary) bureaucratic nature of things (having to assign a monetary value to donated goods, for example); another is receiving goods in one kind of quantity (per box) and doling them out in another (per piece): unless, from the very start, a standard unit is assigned from receipt to disbursement, it makes for a messy inventory system. Messy inventory systems do not inspire public confidence, but it’s not proof of anything other than a sloppy system.
2. The DSWD, dependent on volunteers, lacks them. A public fuss led to appeals for volunteers. Sometimes, even those willing to help can’t help because of scheduling/management snafus. This brings up a policy question: the President has the power to compel the attendance of the necessary manpower or hire necessary manpower to get the job done.
3. The goods are moving slowly. This is the main cause of the public fuss.
Final update Sunday 1:31PM
Blogger Delivilicious posts YouTube video of his visit: