What ought to be

Some of us are dismayed over the behavior of blaming and bitching government for the slow, disorganized, or powerless response to the Typhoon Yolanda devastation.

Here’s a sample of Facebook comments that I liked:

Please, if you are not doing anything to help, just shut up. We are all hurting, especially those in the affected areas. Let us unite in helping in any way we can. Criticizing, spreading false stories, predicting failure and all that negative stuff have got to stop.
I hope all those know-it-all critics of the typhoon relief efforts sit down together and produce a magic master plan for the survivors. I’ve been waiting days for them to stop bitching and to come up with an alternative to what the government is doing.
The damage from Yolanda is incalculable. The worst is psychical. The aftermath has made bitching a national pastime.

Don’t get me or us wrong.

First, everyone is not faultless. Even PNoy.  Recall that he criticized the local government of Tacloban, expressing doubts over its preparedness. In times of great distress and disaster, emotional outbursts are difficult to control.  In fact, they are better released.

Second, criticisms are necessary. Government is not omniscient. Criticisms make government awake and responsive.

But the type of criticism we have to avoid is one that weakens the collective effort to provide relief and rehabilitation to the suffering millions.

Some criticisms or complaints stem from the thinking of what ought to be. Government must or should do this or do that.  Dapat ganito, dapat ganyan.

What ought to be is the best situation; it is the ideal.  But the ideal is not the real world. We face too many constraints to achieve our objectives. Apply this to the response to the devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda:  The information and logistics failure overwhelm the people on the ground. Without information, infrastructure, and logistics, we can expect chaos.

Thus, attributing the absence of government’s presence as a cause of the worsening situation is misplaced. Government’s invisibility in some areas is but the effect of an objective problem—information and infrastructure facilities having been knocked off, leading to inefficiency and miscoordination.

It is also true that in remote areas, government cannot be found. But this has been the case since time immemorial. It is thus a constraint in the context of the ongoing relief and rehabilitation.

Another example of the “what-ought-to-be syndrome” is the tendency of some, particularly the foreign commentators, to compare the Philippines’ poor response to that of advanced countries like Japan. In other words, we ought to be doing what Japan is doing. Again, that is the ideal, but far from real. How can we become a Japan that soon?

This reminds me of the weakness of the most incisive analysis of Douglass North on the role of institutions, which earned him the Nobel laureate. North and his colleagues distinguish between countries (developing ones) that have limit access orders—characterized by corruption, rent-seeking and oligarchic rule—and countries (the advanced market economies) that have open access orders.  So what ought to be for developing countries is to achieve open access orders. But North et al. so far cannot provide the concrete answers how to get there.

When next time, we say government must do this and must do that, we better exercise prudence and caution. Let us be sensitive to the constraints. Let us also acknowledge our own constraint that we ourselves do not have enough information that will be the basis of the most appropriate response.

But below is one example where our commentary can be most helpful to the relief and rehabilitation effort.  Note that the writer EJ Galang, a young, internationally awarded creative professional, avoids saying we must do this or must do that.

To my friends in government, I know it’s a tall order, but can we expect a transparency report, an accounting of the donations that are meant for relief. I know it’s a hard task but this recent expose made the people lose its confidence on how the government keeps track of the people’s money. It will do the government good if you can restore a little bit of that trust.

Filomeno S. Sta Ana III

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms (www.aer.ph)

  • UPnnGrd ,

    So the dude EJ Galang could not see what the alternative plan being aired by ‘dem bitchy folks? How about —-> Bring the help to the affected sooner. The bitchy folks have weak stomachs… don’t want to see pictures of dead people on the streets 2 days after they had died. So they say kami na lang, just leave the bitching to the naunang mag-bitchy-bitch, iwan ninyo na lang sa aming mga bitchy- bigtchy. There is no time for you to join the bitches kasi importante ang tarrr-baho ninyo. Really…. just stop bitching about those who are bitching and just bring the help to the affected, sooner. And maybe next time, bilisan to bring the censors para iyong photographers and parachute journalists do not show pictures of dead people on the streets two days after they had died. Ayaw ninyo kaming mag-grumble, huwag kayong magpakita ng letrato. Eh di kumbaya, lahat masaya.

    • andrew lim ,


      Everyone had a reaction to and opinion
      on the tragedy. Who wouldn’t have one? Thousands dead, economies
      destroyed, the living made to live in hell.

      We try to classify the various species
      and their distinct reactions:

      HEADLESS CHICKENS- These are the
      people who were so emotionally affected by it all, and are so
      distraught they lose sight of everything else – the bigger picture,
      what can be done, etc.

      They swing from one extreme position to
      the other end even if it means destroying themselves in the process.
      Their level of frustration and cynicism is so high it clouds
      everything else. They can be described as binary thinkers, either-or
      thinkers, or on/off thinkers.

      Examples of this are Peque Gallaga (who
      ranted on Facebook) , Katrina Stuart Santiago, Ellen Tordesillas
      (frustrated with the Burgos disapperance case, she is now

      These people are correct when they say
      helping and criticizing can be done simultaneously. But then they
      impose their own false dichotomy like Gallaga: Either you side with
      the people, or you side with the government. As if those were the
      choices to be made.

      the ones who really dont care that much about the victims; they are
      actually more gleeful over the inadequacy of the government’s
      response because it gives them significant ammunition to achieve what
      they had wanted since May 2010: the destruction of the Aquino

      Members of this species are remnants of
      the Marcos, Arroyo and Estrada corrupt regimes.

      Examples: Kit Tatad (he believes his
      extreme right wing politics and support for corrupt regimes does not
      contradict his Catholicism) , Jojo Robles (who writes creative
      fiction, not opinions) , Belinda Cunanan (why did Sandy Prieto kick
      her out from Inquirer?) , Bobi Tiglao (nuff said) .

      PRIMATES – Those who simply act, help
      and do what they can to get things done. People like the volunteers
      at the relief centers. The Red Cross personnel. Private companies who
      lend their heavy construction equipment for debris removal. Private
      individuals who mobilize in small groups for efficiency and speed.
      (e.g. Joel Binamira of MarketManila) and James Deakin) The anonymous
      donors. Corporations who forego parties and advertising. The people
      in the bureaucracy who have had to deal with successive disasters –
      Santi storm, Zamboanga siege, Bohol quake and now this.

      Because they are busy, they do not have
      too much idle time to pound away on keyboards their frustrations and
      get destructive.

      I concede that in a calamity of this
      magnitude, the government was like a turtle. Millions affected,
      thousands dead, all located in a huge region with many small islands
      and everyone requiring immediate and simultaneous attention. Any
      response will make you look like a turtle.

      Which one would you rather be? And what
      have you done?

      What have you done, keyboard pounder?

      • Emmanuel Doy Santos ,

        I agree with your thesis that people expect the ideal and grumble when it’s not delivered.

        Even in open access countries like the US where a weaker hurricane called Katrina hit we observed the same problems as well. And even international donor organisations are not as transparent as you might think.

        So my point is this: there will be enough time for examining what went wrong and assessing the lessons later on. For now because we haven’t got all the facts and frankly are too close to events to be objective let us be respectful to the men and women who are responding to the crisis by not adding to the pressure that they already must be feeling.