Ella's blog entry truly deserves all the attention. Even the prestigious Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote an editorial about it.
To be cited as a primary source for an editorial of a respected broadsheet is a double honor. The paper takes you seriously and you have a strong point that deserves support.
That was what the PDI did for Ella's entry Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (A special report from a volunteer) .
The editorial reads:
MANILA, Philippines—On October 21, a blogger named “Ella” posted an entry chronicling her experience as a volunteer at the DSWD warehouse on Church Road, Pasay City. She photographed heaps of relief goods, many of them donations from foreign governments and organizations, and asked why so little seemed to have been done with the supplies. (The blogger never alleged outright theft or mishandling of relief goods, only frustration over how goods didn’t seem to be moving out the door with any speed at all.)
The blogger also asked why imported goods seemed to have been set aside. After all, the last thing we need is a repeat of the Guinsaugon relief efforts, where officials cornered imported relief goods and sent expired domestic relief items to the victims.
Within two days the entry had been read, and passed on to others, by a growing number of people online, and had piqued the interest of the Philippine News in the United States and media here at home.
Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral responded with a statement saying the department was working “around the clock,” and that while the DSWD’s warehouses were, indeed, full, “we have distributed 500,000 food packs and 200,000 clothing packs as well as thousands of sacks of rice, blankets, beddings, and items of personal hygiene in the past almost 4 weeks.”
Cabral says that what is taking place is a “calibrated release” of goods, and her response is worth reproducing at length: “Relief response is not just emergency assistance. There will come a time when we have to do recovery work and rehabilitation work and when that time comes there will not be many volunteers left. There will be large NGOs that we usually work with but mostly it will be the government that will provide relief to these people who are starting to recover and who need to be rehabilitated. We need to keep some resources for them because when that time comes, there will be no more donations coming in, some will be reserved.”
And yet in her official statement, she pursued the line put forward by her secretary—blame it on a lack of volunteers: “Our goods are repacked by volunteers who are there because they want to help. But they are volunteers and report when they have time to help us. Sometimes there are two hundred of them and sometimes there are only a dozen.”
There is something incongruous about the welfare secretary saying government will do the job, as it expects volunteers to peter out, only to then blame its inability to act in a swifter manner, on a lack of volunteers. Public opinion has been—deservedly, we believe—harsh on the DSWD precisely because while the private sector required volunteers to accomplish what is a temporary job, the DSWD has a continuing task and enormous resources at the command of the President. Or, she could have made a public appeal—and indeed did make one, but only after the blogger’s entry started making the rounds.
We understand Secretary Cabral means well. As reported in the papers on Oct. 19, she vowed a “politico-proof” distribution of relief. She told radio station dzBB, “We will not allow politicos to repack UN-donated goods. These will go through us and our personnel will be there while the goods are distributed.”
We bring this up because a “politico-proof” policy is the right thing and ought to have been applied to all relief goods. But she seems to have established one set of behavior for one set of goods, and another set of behavior for another.
The DSWD’s own record of disbursements of relief goods lists the following: disbursements to Secretary Bello on Sept. 27; to Representative Puno (brother of the interior secretary) on Sept. 28; to Representative Ermita-Buhain (daughter of the executive secretary) on Sep. 29 and Oct. 7; to Senator Revilla on Oct. 1; to Representative Crisologo on Oct. 2 and 13; to Rep. Rodrigo Antonino on Oct. 9; to Representative Pizarro on Oct. 10; Representative Abayon on Oct. 11; Representative Arquiza on Oct. 12; and Vice President De Castro on Oct. 3 and 15. In addition, there were at least 15 disbursements to the Malacañang Disaster Operations Center, and three to Camp Aguinaldo.
Far from “politico-proof”!
Ella opened it all. Hail to advocates like Ella.