Wow, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has released a scathing statement regarding how local and national government officials responded to Tropical Storm Sendong (named Washi Internationally) both before and after the disaster in Mindanao.

As a visitor here and since I have no first hand knowledge, I’m not taking a position on this but instead shedding light on the AHRC’s position on this subject. This ogranization is clearly not happy. I am not familiar with their political leaning if they have any though I suspect it is to the left. I am basing that on their position which seems to be that the government has the respectability to provide safe housing to the people. I’m not sure it is a given that the state should provide safe housing to the people.

However, this comes out because the authorities are basically blaming the people for not leaving as advised. It seems many of the victims didn’t live along the river they lived in dried out river beds and have been for the last forty to fifty years.

I have seen authorities in the Philippines often blame the public. This happens quite often with dengue outbreaks. Officials usually blame outbreaks on trash providing breeding locations for mosquitoes. Since dengue is more common in urban areas, that does seem give credibility to the position often taken by officials as to the cause but it really doesn’t speak to the issue of who has the responsibility to clean it up. I’m not sure that all of the responsibility lies upon the blame of the public.

The AHRC position could be summed up in the following damning statement:

Apart from the local officials, we also observed some of government leaders and even broadcast journalists, based on their public commentaries, are obviously disconnected and indifferent to the immense suffering due to loss of lives, properties and livelihood of the ordinary and nameless people in the affected areas. It is shocking and unacceptable that those who died, survived and had lost their loved ones are the ones being blamed for their suffering as a result of the disaster….. Full Story

 

Much of the controversy also revolves around the apparent intention and reports of premature mass burials in Cagayan de Oro  I was surprised to hear that there was talk of officials wanting to carry out mass burials without identification of the bodies.  It seems many bodies had been taken to local dumps!

However, I don’t know how bad the situation is. I know there were calls for body bags and coffins as the officials clearly stated they were not prepared for the large number of dead. This is not the first time there has been controversy over these kinds of decisions being made after disasters. Though this disaster isn’t of the scale of tsunami that devastated much of Thailand and Asia a few years ago (I think in 2005) nor does the 1000 dead even approach the 250,000 dead in the Haiti earthquake, there was much controversy around the need to dispose of the dead in both of those disasters.

It seems some officials are now saying they never intended to dump the bodies there but instead the bodies were moved there in order to identify them. If that’s true, if that is the claim, it just isn’t credible to me. Why move the bodies and reports are some bodies were in the dump, not stacked up for identification. Also there are reports that the bodies were exposed to the sun which would speed up decomposition while making identification unlikely. In other words, the bodies were not be treated as if they were there for identification. However, I don’t know that any official made this claim or if others are behind the explanation. People do strange things in times of stress, but moving bodies to dumps makes no sense to me if the purpose was to identify them. Why not leave them at morgues, even outside of them if necessary rather than move them to a dump.

I don’t know who is to blame and I’m not looking to place blame myself. That is for the Filipino people to do. Still, with over 1000 people dead from a tropical storm, clearly there is room for improvement. Fewer people die in he USA when a category five hurricane slams into several states along the Gulf Coast. The death toll is clearly too high for this size of a storm and steps needs to be taken to prevent a repeat of this horrible situation.

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