MANILA, NOVEMBER 18, 2013 (PHILSTAR) BABE’S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez - Saturday afternoon after Typhoon Yolanda pounded Central Visayas, I received a call from my cousin, Leyte 1st District Congressman Martin Romualdez, who described in a choking voice the overwhelming destruction in Leyte as “completely ravaged,” relaying that another cousin, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, almost lost his life and that his wife and children also had a very close call.

Martin asked me if I had contact with the US Embassy because his immediate assessment was that the massive damage was simply too much that it would require airlifts for rescue units to reach the worst hit barangays, and that airdrops would be the fastest way to deliver relief items and goods most especially to hard-to-reach areas.

I patched Martin in a conference call to the US Embassy Military Attaché – Air Force Col. Rick Matton – who advised us they would need a formal request from the Philippine government. A friend at the DFA told me that the national government was hesitant to ask for assistance and was waiting for the US to offer help.

Clearly in cases like Super Typhoon Yolanda, it’s obvious that waiting was not an option — this was a matter of life and death.

In any case, Congressman Romualdez offered to write the letter himself using his congressional letterhead and luckily, the USS George Washington happened to be at Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong. The arrival of USS George Washington in Leyte Gulf is reminiscent of the time in our history when Filipinos rejoiced at the arrival of General MacArthur on the shores of Palo, Leyte in October 1944 heralding our country’s liberation from Japanese occupation — the same sentiment that survivors and the public now feel at witnessing the rapid deployment of the Nimitz class super carrier and its strike wing, with cargo jets, choppers and American troops dispatched on the ground to help bring some semblance of order in the chaos and confusion that was hampering relief efforts several days after the typhoon.

The V-22 Osprey aircraft are particularly useful because they can land or takeoff anywhere, able to fly at the speed of a plane, four times faster than regular helicopters. MC-130 cargo aircraft were also deployed while a destroyer and several amphibious vessels equipped with medical facilities and water desalination systems were dispatched from Sasebo, Japan.

Administration officials may not like the reports filed by seasoned reporters Paula Hancocks and Anderson Cooper from American international news network CNN — the pioneer in nonstop all-news coverage and considered the most credible source of news information — who were stunned to see the massive destruction, the misery and the utter chaos with dead bodies and sick, hungry survivors not knowing who to turn to for food, water, medicine — but they have to admit the CNN reportage created worldwide sympathy because it highlighted the pitiful situation of victims, spurring foreign governments like Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore and Israel and many others to send aid, with donor organizations, private corporations and individuals digging deep in their pockets to send cash and relief goods.

Cooper found it incredulous that we only have three C-130 cargo planes while CNN weather reporter Mari Ramos was surprised that people were unfamiliar with storm surges that come with a super typhoon like Yolanda packing maximum sustained winds of 315 kilometers per hour. But as The Weather Channel pointed out, the evacuation centers were “simply no match for the jet-force winds and massive walls of waves that swept ashore,” describing the disaster as “of epic proportions.” It’s obviously clear that no amount of preparation from LGUs could have withstood the force of the typhoon, with key infrastructure like airports razed. According to the UN, the death toll has breached 4,400 — almost halfway through the 10,000 estimate of the Leyte police chief who was summarily removed for giving a high casualty figure.

But like they say, leaders are defined by how they handle a crisis, and the great ones are those who can inspire people and kindle hope amid great adversity – something that America has demonstrated once again, leaving no doubt why even with the crisis it faces at home, the US is an indisputable leader in the league of nations. The rapid response of the US in deploying its air and naval assets/hardware at the quickest possible time is sending a clear message to all, particularly China, that the US can flex its muscle in the Asia-Pacific region at short notice. Analysts also say that “disaster diplomacy” is doing more to promote US interests in the region, while China seems to have missed out on a great opportunity to capitalize on the disenchantment of Filipinos when Barack Obama and then John Kerry were both “no show” for their scheduled visits to the Philippines.

There should be no more finger pointing at this time. What is important — is for everyone to learn our lesson. Authorities have to reevaluate their protocols and procedures for disaster relief operations, especially with Metro Manila listed as the No. 2 city in Maplecroft’s climate change vulnerability and environmental risk index, next only to Dhaka in Bangladesh. Obviously, no country can stand on its own with the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters that are sure to come — which is all the more reason why we should work with international bodies like the United Nations.

The faces of the people who suffered in this mega disaster will haunt all of us forever — but we will always be grateful to all the countries that came to their succor, most especially to our No. 1 ally — the United States. God bless America!

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Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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