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NOTES FROM GROUND ZERO | Ke Mayor o sa simbahan? Here’s why relief donors choose the latter

Posted on: December 7, 2013

CATBALOGAN, Samar – Volunteers and donors told me that whenever they arrive in an area devastated by Typhoon ‘Yolanda’, they’re often in a quandary when it comes to choosing what formal channel will they use in the distribution of relief goods.

But more often than not, private donors, especially those who are familiar with the locality, choose church-based organizations because they move faster and have no biases in prioritizing who should receive help. Locals told me that mayors tend to favor those areas that have 1) helped them win the elections; and 2) where they live or where their minions live.

If the donors are locals–such as the ones I have accompanied on my trip in one of the towns in Samar–they tend to do the relief distribution themselves since the local government units (LGUs) are crippled anyway or they can penetrate the remotest barangays that they have identified sans the politics. Louie Guillem of the Catbalogan Volunteer Firefighter Brigade has been asking the townsfolk when was the last relief has been given to them. As expected, the distribution was uneven–a similar story in areas we’ve been to.

The relief truck of Burublig: Tindog Waraynon in San Antonio, Basey, Samar

Big foreign donors, on the other hand, do not have any choice but to deal with the local politics. They had to course through everything through the LGUs because they do not know the area and they had to do everything through official channels.

Manuel Orejola, the Basey municipal development planning coordinator, related to me the USAID had donoted 1,000 units of mosquiteros (mosquito nets). Up until that moment, these were still stuck in the town hall’s makeshift storage room because the munisipyo still could not figure out which of the 23 barangays deserve these much-needed items (Ga-kalabaw ang lamok sa tabi ng dagat, residents told me). They advised the donors that 1,000 mosquiteros are not enough so they need to choose. First they passed on the responsibility of distributing these to USAID but of course the organization had to delegate this job to the LGU because obviously these Americans are not familiar with the place. Then Orejola said they finally settled on giving these to the victims in the poblacion, where some of the most affected barangays were.

From the way things were going, I could guess how many days have gone (or still counting) before these mosquiteros could be put to good use. Dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases are just lurking in every corner.

I could understand why they needed to use the master list of residents of every barangay in a town. Yes,  they needed to make sure that there would be no duplication and that everyone has been given relief items. But remember, the barangay elections was just a recent event and reigning barangay captains know who had voted for them, or so the volunteers and donors tell me. And in most rural areas, everyone knows everybody.

Speaking of barangy elections, I was told that winning barangay captains in a particular town demanded to be sworn-in first before they could do anything as village leaders. Among the rubble and roofless homes, these officials took their oath of service complete with all its pomp and glamor.

I may not know what it is to be an elected official nor be a victim of the worst typhoon disaster in recent memory so probably I cannot say what is right or wrong in these circumstances. All I know is, the mosquiteros must be distributed at once.


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life in business journalism

crazy. exciting. boring to some but hey, you get to understand the world better when you're a business journalist. you learn to be patient with tons of documents, make sense of numbers and charts. all geeky stuff. this is my story, behind the scenes.
December 2013
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