Philippines citizens and the Filipino government, struggling to come to terms with the destruction and devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, find themselves playing the blame game while wondering why their country was so ill-prepared to handle the storm. The Filipino government insists they were prepared for the typhoon and broadcasted warnings every hour starting two days prior to the typhoon’s surge.
Meanwhile, other factions of the country are blaming the Filipinos themselves. According to Jerry Yaokasin, the vice mayor of Tacloban, it was difficult for people to believe that the typhoon was on its way and that it would be so large because the days leading up to the disaster were sunny. Quite a few locals remained in their homes in order to keep looters out. University of the Philippines professor Toby Monsod believes that locals prepared for a much less damaging storm, saying that a typhoon of this size was almost unthinkable and that it was “off the scales.”
Some Filipinos are placing blame on the shoddy construction of buildings and residences in their country due to long-standing corruption in the government, which prevented the residents from building stronger structures. Whether such stronger structures would have stood up to the reported 175 mph typhoon winds is anybody’s guess.
Home builder Antonio Lilles laments the lack of preparation by Filipinos, citing that the mayor of Tacloban, which is the hardest hit city inside of the disaster area, decided to remain in his home, at sea level, during the storm. Wondering about the hours leading up to the typhoon, Lilles said, “Why didn’t people, especially car owners, drive up the slopes or away from the coast? It must mean they didn’t know about the 15-foot tsunami heading their way, or just didn’t care.”
Monsod further stated that her country needs to invest in technology to build housing with wind-proof materials at a low cost. “Historically, Filipinos adapt to the climate,” she said. “They get through the storms and rebuild if they have to. But this is not sustainable in the long run.”
In the last three years, typhoons in the Philippines have been blamed for the deaths of more than 1,000 people. Hitting land on Nov. 8, Haiyan reportedly injured upwards of 12,100 people, took the lives of more than 4400 and drove 2 million people from their homes. Over 1,000 people remain missing. Over the last twenty years, more than 300 natural disasters have hit the Philippines. Catastrophes ranging from flooding to landslides to volcanoes erupting are becoming even worse, according to official Filipino sources. The past decade has seen four of the country’s most severe disasters, leaving the Philippines’ citizens and the government playing the blame game.
Architect Roberto Lilles adds that lower cost housing built of brick and mortar, instead of the wood and tin homes traditionally built today, could greatly reduce the damage from the dozens of storms that hit the Philippines each year. The problem, according to Lilles, is that the people in the rural parts of the country would still not be able to afford the stronger structures. C0rruption in the government has so far negated any chance of government subsidies for the people.
Corruption is widespread in the Philippines and is responsible for taking $50 billion every year from the government. The Philippine president, Benigno Aquino III, or “Noynoy” as he is known, won the 2010 election based on promises to reform the government, but now finds that he is embroiled in a scheme to use more than $500 million to buy the loyalty of senators. While no hard evidence as yet exists, the accusations include claims that the money used to buy off senators was taken from funds meant to shore up roads, bridges, and other infrastructure in the same areas hit by Haiyan. Aquino strongly denies accusations of corruption in his government.
Typhoon Haiyan itself was one of the strongest ever seen in the Philippines, which historically has been plagued by poor city design, ever-heightening population numbers, poverty and global warning. According to Aquino, the typhoon’s deadly impact would have been greater by far had he not called for more than 750,000 people to evacuate. “Nobody imagined the magnitude that this super typhoon brought on us,” he said. Now that the citizens and government of the Philippines are beginning the long process of rebuilding, both sides find themselves playing the blame game in an attempt to prevent another epic disaster like Haiyan.
By Jennifer Pfalz