Sun. May 9th, 2021
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Leyte Gulf, in the Philippines, nearly dead-on November 8, 2013, creating a 13-foot storm surge that funneled water into Tacloban City. (NOAA Office Of Coast Survey)

(Part One: Mayor Duterte and President Noynoy in Tacloban)

It might surprise Leni Rodredo that while she was looking for an opportunity to insert herself and her cameras herself into the complex maze of the four Rs of disaster management – rescue, relief, recovery and rehabilitation – the superior preparedness of the Rodrigo Roa Duterte in handling calamities did not start when he assumed the presidency on July 1, 2016.

It began as hard knocks when he was mayor of Davao. Suffice it to say, in one typhoon alone, Pablo, Davao Oriental alone lost about ten million coconut trees. Serafin Ledesma in his column Messages from Mindanao, has many stories to tell and I will no longer repeat them. (

But perhaps the apogee of that preparedness was tested when he beat the national government of Noynoy Aquino becoming one of the first responders to the victims of the tsunami in Tacloban City brough about by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

I cannot resist temptation to ask the question, as congressman of the third district of Camarines Sur, thus as a public official, what was Madam Leni doing during that time to help alleviate the condition in her neighboring Eastern Visayas? Nothing.

So, let’s walk impetuous Robredo through some meteorological lessons.

This map from the NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory shows the amount of heat energy available to Typhoon Haiyan between October 28 and November 3. Darker purple indicates more available energy. Typhoons gain their strength by drawing heat out of the ocean. The path of the storm is marked with the black line in the center of the image.

Powerful typhoons are a commonplace in the eastern Pacific. But Haiyan’s devastation can be chalked up to a series of bad coincidences.

Typhoons — known in our part of the world as hurricanes — gain their strength by drawing heat out of the ocean. Tropical oceans are especially warm, which is why the biggest storms, Category 4 and Category 5, emerge there. These storms also intensify when there’s cool air over that hot ocean.

Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said “Once or twice a year we get a Category 5 typhoon out there.

“But it’s a great rarity, fortunately, that a storm (in the case of Haiyan) just happens to reach peak intensity when it’s making landfall. And that’s what happened in this case. As it approached one large island in the Philippines, the storm pushed up into a broad bay.”

Yolanda made its landfall on November 8, 2013 entering the Leyte Gulf nearly head-on, “creating a 13-foot storm surge that funneled water into Tacloban city. Mountains also wrang rainwater out of storms like these. And then there’s the wind… we had a triple whammy, of surge, very high winds and strong rainfall,” added Emmanuel. 

The afternoon of the next day Saturday, after hearing advance reports of what was happening in the Leyte province, he ordered a team of Davao 9-11 first responders to bring rescue equipment, relief supplies and medicines to Tacloban by land. He also created a stir when he said he ordered police and military who went with the team to shoot looters on their feet if they are stopped on their way to Tacloban.

Synchronizing arrival schedule with those travelling by road, on the evening of Sunday, November 10, Mayor Duterte left with a convoy of some military and three private choppers carrying medical teams that included 20 doctors, 20 nurses, and 40 relief workers to help in the massive search and rescue operations. He also brought P8 million in cash donation for Tacloban and Leyte.

The 911 team arrived in Tacloban Monday morning, after they hacked and cut their way through fallen trees along the way, and cleared some roads of debris, a bit later than the airlifted group that came with the mayor.

When got to the scene, however, Duterte said describing what met them at Ground Zero – “Di ko malaman kung iiyak ako (I do not know if I were to cry.) I cannot shout in anger because you cannot be mad at anybody there,”

He said he saw a policeman in full uniform lying dead on the street together with countless other men, women and children. “Tacloban may need more morticians and rescue workers whose job is to solely put corpses on body bags to prevent an epidemic, Duterte added.”

The mayor described Tacloban as being reduced to a plateau. “Patag kaayo (Everything has been flattened),” he said. “God must be [have been] somewhere else or he forgot that there’s a planet called Earth,” he told reporters the next day at the arrival area of the Davao International Airport.

What was once a city was flattened to miles upon miles of rubbles and destruction.

When Duterte started looking for those their relatives in Davao listed as people to locate, he said he failed to find them or even ask about their whereabouts because there was no local government to ask from.

“There was no semblance of a barangay (community),” he said. “They were overwhelmed by their own dead, death everywhere on the roads, no electricity, no food and water, and people walking on the streets like zombies, looking for food.”

“I don’t mean to dictate upon [anyone],” Duterte said, “A state of calamity is not enough, it has to be a state of emergency because there is no local government functioning anymore. The police, the army, the social workers, all of them have to attend to their own dead, no city government is functioning.”

The mayor advised those who have relatives in Tacloban to find a way to go to the devastated city, extract what is left of the family and bring them out of there because there was nothing to eat in Tacloban right now. “Not even a piece of candy,” he said.

Duterte and his first responders arrived in Tacloban from Davao by land and air, ready to assist in the rescue and relief effort, but tremendously overwhelmed by the situation. President Noynoy Aquino arrived in Tacloban the day before with the single agendum of “assessing the situation”. The best his national government could do was come on the third day after the disaster struck.

As Aquino walked the tarmac of the dysfunctional airport, people gathered nearby were shouting “Water, water, we have not drunk water for two days.” He came empty-handed and sorely unprepared.

Condemnations of slow government action in the relief effort in response to the typhoon mounted days after the storm had passed. Media reports criticized the Aquino administration for apparent lack of preparation and coordination among government agencies in the aid operation.

Up until November 12, five days after the typhoon struck, survivors continued to struggle with basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter while remote towns in Leyte and Samar were yet to be reached by aid. 

Aquino lamely justified the delay asserting that the response had been slow due to the breakdown of the local governance in affected areas where officials and employees, who were usually the first to respond in these events, were victims of the typhoon themselves. 

Roxas (right in blue) faces off with Romualdez (left in orange)

But as late as a month after, on December 9, Mar Roxas, of interior and local government was looking for a scapegoat, engaged in a tug-of-war with Mayor Alfred Romualdez as to who will be in charge of rehabilitation.

Roxas stench of politics was even more obnoxious than the rotting flesh of decomposing bodies Tacloban had grown accustomed to for weeks.

An oligarchic scion born with silver spoon in his mouth, Roxas said “You have to understand you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino…” noting the romanticized political feud between the Aquino family and the former first lady of President Marcos.

 What the presidential alter ego and secretary wanted to convey was that if Mayor Romualdez wants to be in-charge, then Tacloban is on its own. Mar Roxas’arrogant exact words were “we can’t help you bahala na kayo sa buhay nyo.”

In Malacanang, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras did not seem to realize the implication of what he was saying when he reasoned out the national government had to take over despite logistical challenges, as if it had a choice and Tacloban was not Philippine territory.

 The national Government was obviously caught flatfooted, running around in circles like a headless chicken.

Elmer Soria, the Eastern Visayas regional police chief who claimed that 10,000 people died in the onslaught of the super typhoon was relieved of his post and ordered to undergo “stress debriefing”. It was suggested that President Aquino wanted the figured mummed no more than 2,500.

The responsibility of handling the dead was also given to the Bureau of Fire instead to the Department of Health. Dr. Racquel Fortun, one of the forensic experts to go to the area three days after the typhoon insisted that handling of the bodies is a health matter and therefore a responsibility of DOH.

Streets of Tacloban littered by corpses.

As the Philippines faced a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions since World II, with 1.8 million homeless and more than 6,000,000 displaced, the United Nations fear that the possibility of the spread of disease is high due to the lack of food, water, shelter, and medication. Casualties have been reported as a result of the lack of aid in affected areas and the number of dead continued to rise even among the survivors.

Thousands of people who could not wait for government airlift to other cities to as far as Manila. Catbalogan alone reported that their population more than doubled with the influx of refugees into the city.

Wikipedia records Typhoon (Yolanda) Haiyan has been acknowledged as a sort of “trauma milestone” for mental health awareness in the Philippines – where Filipinos had previously seen counseling as an admission of weakness, it began to be acknowledged as “a sign of how extraordinary the circumstances are.”

It was not known if BS Aquino III consulted a shrink, but many are wondering why he remains scot-free, for the untold sufferings of the Filipino people for the six years they were insane having elected him as president.  

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