By Manuel L. Quezon III on October 26, 2009 1:02 AM
Yesterday, the Inquirer's editorial, Turtle-paced relief, looked at the controversy caused by a blog entry that questioned the speed at which donated relief goods made it out the door and into the hands of intended aid recipients. The editorial gave DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral's response to the questions raised in the blog entry, but also pointed out that the DSWD's own records showed a senator, congressmen, and cabinet members intervened in the release of relief goods, contradicting Secretary Cabral's own policy of making relief and rehabilitation "politico-proof."
The editorial also mentioned the 2006 South Leyte Mudslide, which had relief efforts marred by officials plundering relief goods and sending often inedible goods to the victims (Stella Arnaldo in her blog, points out the deterioration of the DSWD and corruption in its ranks dates back to the Marcos administration; the Guinsaugon tragedy took place under the current administration's watch and partially explains the climate of hostility or suspicion that surrounds government relief).
By way of Cabral's pointing out that the DSWD and government has to attend not just to relief, but rehabilitation, the problems involved, in the context of the 2006 tragedy, are illustrated by this detailed report, CDRC reports on Guinsaugon relief, circa 2007. There is great frustration over the seemingly-insurmountable problems our country faces, and how even people who want to help, sometimes find their efforts met with official hostility, or indifference, or even when embraced, ends up appearing to be too little too late: I tackled this in a previous entry, Republic of Sisyphus.
Today, my column, In defense of Esperanza Cabral, looks at the same issue: it essentially distills the findings I discussed at length in my blog entry, Flooded with relief. There were two incidents I mentioned by way of illustrating an ongoing debate on whether it is healthy or productive to question how officials go about their duties in times of emergency. The first concerns PNRC Chairman Richard Gordon and incidents such as the one chronicled in Urban Hermitage and in the blog of Faith Salazar, the response of the PNRC Chairman was to vow that no such things would happen again. Absolutely the correct response, considering an unusual burden Gordon has to bear, as the elected Chairman of a neutral humanitarian organization, while being, at the same time, an elected senator and presidential aspirant: balancing all these is something no previous chairman has had to contend with.
In times like these, I expect the DSWD to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The DSWD says there are not enough volunteers. I disagree. There are tens of thousands of Filipinos willing to help. The DSWD should have gone to the schools to ask for volunteers. There are countless employees in the private sector willing to help. The DSWD could have asked the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police to help.
I expect the department to take a more pro-active rather than a reactive stance. I expect the secretary to DEMAND that everyone help out. Lest we forget, human lives are at stake.
The value of the public fuss lies in the Secretary responding to the issues raised, by asking for help, which she did by contacting Gang Badoy, who has taken it upon herself to muster volunteers to help the DSWD (the only inaccuracy in the Secretary's statement is that they are operating around-the-clock, which is not true in terms of the DSWD Relief Operations Center in Pasay: both in terms of the duty hours Cabral recommended to Badoy, 3-11 PM, which if true, meant that when we went we should have seen things winding down, or if round-the-clock as Cabral said, then certainly there would have been more activity than the sleeping guard and fluffy white dog we encountered: and that, incidentally, was the purpose of checking by going to Church Street that night).
Another problem is that the relief effort, even if government-sponsored, relies on volunteer manpower and the DSWD did not make calls for volunteers until it was faced with questions raised by the blogger. One lingering problem, too, is that the DSWD, when presented with volunteers, has told some that they're not needed; but if volunteers are persistent and say they want to help with UNICEF, then they're allowed in -to the same compound.
Please take time to read Been there done that DSWD! in Deviliscious's Blog, which clarifies the issues quite thoroughly, and deserves being quoted at length:
There are 5 (if my memory doesn't fail me this time) huge warehouses. 1 warehouse housed the goods from UNICEF. The rest housed rice and other food stuff. The UNICEF goods are packed as starter packs for those families who have been relocated due to the floods. A starter pack consists of cooking pot stuffed with towels, bath soap, laundry detergent, water jug stuffed with 4 blankets, 2 plastic mats. These are then picked up by trucks and supposed to be delivered to the relocation centers. The rest of the warehouses pack food and snack packs, as far as I know because I did not actually pack one. Distribution is centralized through DSWD.
Those are the facts as I've seen them.
The blog that started it all, after checking the posted pics and what I actually saw, referred to the UNICEF warehouse. Is there corruption? I don't think there is. At least not at the warehouse packing stages. Ensha and the volunteers seem intent only on the job at hand. (Bless you guys!)Security seems strict and I see no signs of pilferage. I'm not sure what happens after the goods leave the warehouse. I just hope they get to their supposed destinations. Someone needs to check on that.
Is there intentional hoarding? I don't think there is either.
Goods are just moving slow. I posit 2 reasons:
1. There are not enough volunteers. Ms. Fabian says that on weekdays they only get around 40 volunteers. When I came there, there were not more than 15 working on a Saturday even when I posted on my FB page with my 1800 "FB friends", several FB groups totaling around 400 members, twittered it, and SMSed to 20 buddies. 15/2000 is not a good ratio. Gang, I hope you are more successful. No volunteers.
2. Limits set by the management. When I was told that DSWD is no longer accepting volunteers for the weekend because there were already a lot of volunteers from UPS. I don't have the exact count but I saw several hundreds. However, after 2 hours of work, I noticed that the other warehouses were empty. I strongly think the 5 huge warehouses could accomodate and harness at least 1000 per warehouse. When we were repacking at Red Cross Rizal in a 40sqm room, we had 600 volunteers at some points and managed to release 1000-2000 packs per mission and we ran several missions per day. The DSWD warehouses should be able to improve their output. They could run 24/7 on continous shifts when volunteers and managers (from DSWD, UNICEF, or volunteers) running the packing lines. In business, we call this a good problem. It is a scale problem.
Train more packing line managers from staff and volunteers.
Run the lines as a 24/7 operation with your trained line managers.
Make the schedules public. Use social media, the internet, radio, whatever. (I know of some who volunteered but returned home when they were told they need no more volunteers. If I, myself, [emphasis mine] did not ask for UNICEF, the peeps at the DSWD office wouldn't have volunteered the info. Clearly, we have communication problem here.)
Get more volunteers.
Those are my recommendations to the people in charge of the warehouses.
And there's also this informative video by the same blogger, which was uploaded to YouTube:
Now early on it became clear that the climate of suspicion concerning the DSWD and all officials engaged in relief, is the sad history of previous relief efforts being marred by controversy. Combined with the wounded amor propio of DSWD officials and employees, you have a case of official denial combined with hostility aimed at all criticism and reaching for the bureaucratic equivalent of a gun to silence dissent (talk of the DSWD mulling filing libel suits against the offending blogger).
The thing is that the DSWD from its Secretary on down, can only be accused of working at government speed, when the public demands working at the double -a clash of cultures.
On the other hand, as I pointed out in my column, the DSWD can take pride in it opening up its activities to greater scrutiny than perhaps ever before, which is both good and bad. Good in that it proves that even if it's doing its work more slowly (the DSWD could've easily said, but at least more methodically) than the public might desire, it can claim it's being a good steward of the relief goods entrusted to it.
Consider the records that represent full disclosure the department's prepared and put on line.
There are many ways to look at these documents to see what information they provide. Here are some that I attempted.
For example, you can look at the documents to see whether, in the face of the Secretary's pledge to make the distribution of donated relief goods "politico-proof," whether her pledge was carried out to the letter: