Development & Education

Philippine President Aquino vows to take care of his people, but many are skeptical

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Credit: US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paolo Bayas

Naval Aircrewman 2nd Class Jason Rimando hands out water containers to Filipino civilians in Henane.

Ten days after Typhoon Haiyan, aid is flowing. Ertharin Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Program, spent the weekend touring Tacloban and Cebu to make sure. 

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She described the devastation as profound. “I was at Katrina, I represented the United States during Haiti, and I can tell you this is one of the worst disaster zones I have ever been in,” she said.

A week ago, she said, relief agencies couldn't get into Tacloban and had reached only 50,000 affected people. Today, aid has reached almost a million people.

The biggest remaining challenge is shelter. Cousin described seeing 200 families, some 2,000 people, staying in a school, sleeping side-by-side on mats on the floor.

Besides shelter, the rice fields will need to be rehabilitated very soon. "Many of the rice paddies have been covered in mud. The planting season starts in December," Cousin said. “If they don’t get to plant in December, come March, people won’t have any income at all." 

Cousin noted that the other main means of livelihood is fishing. "And unfortunately, many of the fish ponds suffered the same type of damage as the rice paddies. And now, they are full of mud and many of the fish were killed."

People who have already lost everything in the typhoon face the loss of their livelihood, as well.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino flew to Tacloban and said he isn't leaving until he's certain the people are being helped. He slammed local authorities for not being fully prepared for the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan.

But Aquino is facing criticism himself for the slow response to the disaster. John Sidel, a professor of international and comparative politics at the London School of Economics, says Aquino has been under fire for some time now.  

His government's widely perceived weak, and even irresponsible, response to the typhoon, says Sidel, diminishes his political power. It makes it all the more likely Aquino won't have much influence when it comes to picking a successor. Aquino's term ends in 2016 and the country's constitution keeps him from running again. 

But the frustration with the Philippine government isn't limited to people inside the country. 

Roughly one in 10 Filipinos live and work overseas, and they are growing impatient with the relief effort. This global community continues to struggle to reach family back home.

“Each time I threw food into the rubbish,  I was thinking of the people in the Philippines,” says Kathleen Da, a Filipina who lives in London. “My family, I didn't hear from them for a few days. I was thinking, are they hungry? Are they thirsty? Where are they getting their resources from?"

Jarin Gul lost two family members in the storm. "Now, our definition of being safe is just being alive."

“I managed to contact my mom very quickly on Sunday. The signal was cut off. It was difficult because you have several questions in your mind," Gul said. "[You] want to ask, but you were unable to ask because the signal wasn't good. You know the torture — the mental anguish. It is just too much, really.”

Many are furious at the way the Philippine government has handled the aid effort. And Irene Reyes, in London, says she's worried that many people suffering won't get help at all.

“Even though the aid is starting to flow, it still might not reach those most in need," she says. "I know there was so many overwhelming aid coming from different countries. Our concern now is if it really goes to the victims of this typhoon.“ Some of the hardest-hit places are areas that the government has traditionally overlooked.

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    Credit: Leo Hornak

    In East London, members of the Leyte-Samar Organization, a Philippine community group, offer prayers in front of the Santo Nino de Tacloban, the protective spirit of Tacloban. Almost every member of the group has family affected by the disaster.

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