The next 100 days

February 18, 2014 at 10:58am

Much has been said about the last 100 days since typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan killed thousands and caused tens of thousands to be homeless and millions to be displaced in varying degrees. In addition, the economic damage has run in the billions, exceeding the costs of previous disasters. Most of all, we are now seeing serious unrest and anger about perceived failures of the government to respond adequately and comprehensively to the impacts of the disaster.

In this column, I will not dwell on the nightmare of the last 100 days. Instead, I would like to look forward to the next 100. If we learn our lessons, we would do better in the months to come. If we ignore the reasons why we are so far abysmally failing, then we are condemned to repeat Yolanda’s immediate aftermath – chaos and confusion, followed by a lot of finger pointing.

While I share the frustration of many, I do not think that there has been criminal neglect by the government in its response to Yolanda. On the contrary, I acknowledge the herculean efforts of many agencies, the international community, citizen organizations, and ordinary Filipinos to respond to the disaster. This is why I have praised Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) leaders and personnel for their tireless work and unceasing dedication before the endless disasters that hit our islands in 2013. Other agencies, including the local governments, also deserve recognition.

I am impressed at how quickly former Senator and now Yolanda reconstruction “czar” Panfilo Lacson, his able colleague Undersecretary Danilo Antonio, and staff of the Office if the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) have put together a framework and strategy for reconstruction of the afflicted areas. I am impressed most of all by their can-do attitude even as they admit that the challenges are immense. I personally have questions about the effectiveness of a private sector-led rehabilitation effort but I am willing to give it a chance so long as it is inclusive, with citizen and peoples’ organizations being given an opportunity to participate in decision-making and implementation.


I do not agree with the term disaster capitalism as I believe the private sector is motivated only by good will and patriotism in participating in this effort. But precisely, it is because there is really very little profit possible (and even that will be seriously scrutinized and severely criticized) in this effort, that I think the strategy could fail. The private sector works best when there is a business case for its participation. When that happens, companies will reach out to their deep pockets to plow in capital. But I seriously doubt this is the case here. I am willing to bet that, collectively, international and domestic citizen organizations (Oxfam, Christian Aid, World Vision, Philippine National Red Cross, members of the Disaster Risk Reduction Network, etc.) will put in more money than their private sector counterparts. Worst, the private sector will actually compete with citizen organizations for funds from international and charitable organizations.

In addition, while appreciative of the government efforts and grateful to the international community for their response to Yolanda, I think there are many corrections to be made in the disaster response if the next 100 days are to be better. And the most important and urgent is the adoption and implementation of a rights-based approach to the response to Yolanda.

Last week, in a think piece that was published online, my co-author Arvin Jo and I explained why a rights-based approach, rooted in the body of international human rights instruments the country is a party to, is imperative. See excerpts below from that piece.

“Since disasters do not affect everyone equally, the poor, who cannot escape the brunt of the disaster impact are necessarily put at a disadvantage position; sometimes at an even more disadvantaged position prior to the happening of the disaster. This is because the resulting household casualty or disability, as well as the lost of meager properties or livelihoods, pushes the poor even more towards the back end of the social mobility spectrum.

“From this view, the framework of responding to disaster ought not to be charity based. Service delivery and rehabilitation efforts in disaster situations that are based on charity reinforce mendicancy and sense of dependence among the poor. It is a highly disempowering vicious cycle that only serves to perpetuate the poor in the doldrums of impoverishment, and which we must immediately put an end to.

“The framework that we must work with should start with the premise that those who are in most need must be given the most help, because they are inherently entitled to it. The reason for having this context is that disaster assistance is not a neutral activity; it is always impelled by some force, some reason or motivation. The reason that moves one to extend help to disaster victims may be different from that of the other, but it must always be carried under a framework that identifies rights holders and duty bearers.”

In a rights-based approach, the disaster survivors as rights holders are freed from dependency and the burden of gratitude. Instead, they are empowered, knowing that the disaster assistance was or is being provided as matter of right, and not as an act of charity. They are also able to engage with dignity government officials, and those from the private sector and civil society that come to help. Concretely, their right to land and settlement security and to food and other basic necessities, and to livelihood assistance becomes the priorities.

In sum, the narrow focus that characterized the first 100 days of responding to Yolanda must give way to a new paradigm.  If we are to turn this disastrous response to a disaster (pun intended) around, we must urgently give power to the people. Otherwise, the next 100 days will even be uglier and the future bleaker.