Friday, October 25, 2013

How Politicians Often Compound the Problems from Natural Disasters

Misuse of government power even during the best of  times is unacceptable. But in the aftermath of  a natural disaster such as last week's earthquake in Bohol province, Cebu,  malfeasance and exploitation by politicians of  such a tragedy for personal gain or glory is  unconscionable. Yet that's what apparently happened on Oct. 22 in the town of Maribojoc.

According to the "Philippine Star" it seems that the Red Cross was halted by the mayor, Leoncio Evasco while  the RC was in the process of distributing  relief goods to quake victims. Evasco demanded that the organization instead turn over the items to him to give to the people, the purpose of which was so that he could be the one to take credit for delivering the aid. But as per the "Star", there are good reason for having relief organizations  give the goods to the people directly: One is accountability. Recipients must sign for the supplies that they receive. Another is impartiality. There is no favoritism by the workers in distributing the aid to the people. However, if the local politicians were to act as middlemen in passing out the aid, they might well indulge in favoritism and give most of the goods to their families and supporters. . Maybe that's the reason that when the Red Cross volunteers refused to comply with the Mayor Evasco's orders, they were told to leave the area

This kind of grandstanding by politicians in the Philippines  is called  epal and is  commonly  practiced by elected officials in order to score points with their constituents. However, another more sinister practice than epal is hoarding of relief goods by politicos. officials. Hopefully, this was  not Evasco's real intention. As I see it,  diverting supplies this way is really a form of looting and should be treated accordingly, perhaps as plunder which in the Philippines is a capital crime.

And corruption before a disaster that results an increase of damage and causalities  when the calamity strikes is just as criminal. Case in point: non-compliance with and non-enforcement of building codes in Metro-Manila. As serious as the earthquake was in Bohol, if a magnitude 7.2 temblor (not including aftershocks) were to hit the National Capital Region, it is predicted that over 50,000  people would be killed due to collapsing structures, falling debris, and fires. Now, I'm not an engineer, but based on the obviously  poor quality of building and infrastructure construction that even a nearsighted lay person like me can see, I believe that the number of fatalities would  likely be much higher, as would  the currently projected number of  114,000 injured.

The only consolation in this otherwise tragic scenario is that maybe at least some of the crooked building inspectors and venal politicians who allowed the city to deteriorate into its present high-risk condition  and who would thus be responsible for the high number of casualties,  would also be among the victims.  And given  that the condition of area would be one of extreme if not total wreckage, it's not likely that any surviving opportunistic politicians could "epal" themselves out of that.

Oct. 28, 2013 Update:
"The Philippine Daily" one of the premier broadsheets in the Philippines has changed its position regrading Mayor Evasco's actions. In an editorial published today, the paper states that he may well have acted responsibly and in good faith by requiring the Red Cross to coordinate relief efforts with his office after all. Yet the fact remains that he may well be the exception that proves the rule, as too many (most?) local politicians unduly interfere in aid distribution for the purpose of  enhancing their image.