0169C: The Philippine Government Was Doomed To Fail

Like most of you with access to the internet right now, I have no idea what the full extent of the situation is in Leyte, Samar and other provinces severely damaged by Typhoon Yolanda / Haiyan. Like most of you, I rely on either local or foreign news reports, social media updates and whatever else information I can scrounge up from around the internet. It's hardly a perfect method, but like many of you, I'm just concerned about what's going on. I want to try and understand what's happening and I want to walk away with some sense of reassurance that things are going to be okay. We all have friends or family who are affected by Typhoon Yolanda in one way or another.

Yesterday I stressed that we're a third world country and we're hardly equipped to deal with these sorts of calamities. A disaster of this scale would tax any country's resources, so we don't stand much of a chance. Could we have done better? Of course. A lot of the opportunities that we've been able to glean from media reports do indicate a lot of gaps in terms of our ability to organize relief quickly and efficiently. But it will never be 100% clear how much better we could have done, really.

I'll be an annoying guy on the internet and look at Wikipedia now.

Wikipedia tells us that the Philippine Air Force has maybe 8 Combat Utility Helicopters in the form of PZL W-3 Sokol acquired from Poland and 5 refurbished UH-1D Huey utility helicopters. That's 13 helicopters in total and we're not sure what the state of these vehicles are. I don't know what helicopter assets the Army and the Navy may have at their disposal, but let's assume these assets aren't on the board right now, if only to leave something for national defense. I'm not too clear on transport planes, but it seems that we have at least 3 C130's, all of them refurbished units and a number of smaller transport planes.

I highlight helicopters since they're the most likely vehicle to prove useful in getting into hard-to-reach areas that are currently inaccessible by typical land-based vehicles. And I doubt we can do much with 13 helicopters. And with only 3 or so C130's transporting relief goods received in Manila down to Tacloban (the only halfway decent airport in the area), we can only transport so much. But international aid agencies only know to ship stuff to Manila or maybe Cebu. Shipping them directly to the affected areas would be outside a lot of their operating orders since their agency's safety regulations may not allow it. So the logistics of getting the stuff out to the survivors lands back in the lap of the Philippine Government.

Our expected supply chain involves the national government handing things off to the various local government units. But in many towns, the local government infrastructure appears to be non-existent and so how do we resolve that now? From the comfort of our homes, we expect the national government to simply step in and take over, but there's no policy book for that sort of thing.

In most countries the military tends to be the first responders - the ones who handle search and rescue, initial triage and restoring law and order. I am not ashamed to say that I don't know what our military was trained for. We have such a limited force available and we sort of charge them with defending the nation from threats from China, dealing with both communist insurgents and Mindanao separatist groups and of course disaster recovery situations like this. So yeah, I don't our military being set for success in terms of dealing with disaster relief.

Could we have done better? Oh heck yes, with true preparation months and years before in terms of sufficient training for relief operations, better resources to be utilized in these situations, more robust infrastructure in terms of roads and other transportation conduits, and other means of transporting relief workers and goods apart from land-based networks. And I'm no expert - these are ideas just off the top of my head. I'm sure people better trained in handling such situations that know a lot better than I do. I bet they have even more robust lists for what can be done.

So what's my point? I honestly don't think that our government has the resources or the expertise to handle a calamity of this scale. But at the same time, I also agree that we could have done better, but those kind of changes should have happened long ago. But sadly, our government officials rarely think long-term - they can only plan for the next elections or something. The PDAF could have been a good thing if we had actually used the money for worthwhile investments. Instead we get community centers and pathetic excuses for farm to market roads that are either horribly short or made of very poor quality since the project budget was way lower than it should have been.

We need to think bigger. If we're lucky, our current situation will act as a heck of a wake-up call and a major learning experience for everyone that will help us to better prepare for future typhoons and other natural disasters. But quite frankly, I'm not holding my breath yet.
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