Typhoon Rai aftermath highlights Duterte’s sluggish disaster response

Affected communities continue to appeal for help

By Karlo Mongaya/Global Voices

The prolonged aftermath of Typhoon Rai (local name Odette) highlights the Rodrigo Duterte government’s sluggish response to the storm, which wreaked havoc across

the Visayan Islands and parts of Mindanao in the Southern Philippines on December 16, 2021.

Affected communities and local governments have been appealing for help after the typhoon-ravaged agricultural zones across Samar, Leyte, Bohol, Cebu, and Negros Islands and even overwhelmed Cebu City, a major commercial and cultural hub in the Visayas-Mindanao regions.

Typhoon Rai destroyed thousands of homes while the damage to agriculture, infrastructure, and other properties displaced people’s livelihoods and left many more without electricity, internet connectivity, or access to water.

Various civil society groups and private sector actors are leading relief and donation drives to provide immediate assistance to affected communities.

Initial relief goods and other assistance gathered by Balsa Mindanao and Sisters Association in Mindanao arrived in Surigao City on Christmas Day. Thank you to all volunteers and those who donated for this relief mission.

Yet Duterte and his officials have failed to respond to the crisis, using excuses such as depleted governmental funds, media underreporting, and impassable roads to deflect blame for the government’s delayed disaster response and garner public sympathy.

Depleted funds?

The impending arrival of Typhoon Rai did not merit any public statement from President Duterte.

When the president spoke in a televised government briefing a day after the typhoon amid calls for immediate government response, he claimed he was still looking for funds to assist typhoon survivors as the government’s money had been “depleted” because of the pandemic:

This COVID really emptied our coffers. So we’re trying to screen how much we can raise so that we can marshal it to the areas affected.

On December 22, Duterte announced that he would be directing USD 199 million (PHP 10 billion) for typhoon relief. Yet his budget department would not commit to expediting the funds to provide immediate assistance to affected areas.

Duterte’s claim of “depleted” funds was challenged by left-wing opposition legislators who pointed out that the Philippines was, in fact, the biggest borrower from the World Bank in 2021. Bayan Muna (People First Party) chairperson Neri Colmenares commented:

The country has a history of being ravaged by typhoons, and it should have the budget to mitigate and provide immediate relief even while responding to the pandemic.

Later that week, on December 27, Duterte would draw criticism for suggesting the government should use the relief funds to purchase “trapal” or tarpaulin sheets as temporary shelters for typhoon survivors.

He’s the president. Why can’t I demand for something better than tarpaulin sheets especially since more than a week has passed since Odette? This is an exact quote. It’s not taken out of context. The President literally said let’s buy trapal 2 weeks after Odette hit the Philippines.

Inadequate preparations

Indeed, for many Filipinos, Typhoon Rai’s aftermath once more highlighted the Duterte government’s lack of adequate disaster preparedness and delayed response that had been the subject of scathing public criticism in the past.

Kara Ahorro, a resident of world-renowned surfing paradise Siargao Island, shared that before the storm, she felt confident that Typhoon Rai would not be as strong as Typhoon Haiyan (local name Yolanda) in 2013, in an interview with SunStar news:

It was forecasted to be just 150 kph at its peak, We were here during Yolanda and that was 300 plus kph, though Yolanda did not made landfall in Siargao, we just thought ‘ah, kaya lang’ [we can handle it].

The economic impact has been especially dire on Siargao Island, where resort and business owners had been prepping to open for visitors again after coronavirus travel restrictions were eased during the Christmas holidays.

Speaking to the Guardian, marketing coordinator Elka Requinta shares how the strength of Typhoon Rai caught everyone by surprise in Siargao:

We didn’t expect it to be this bad. You have locals who were hit because I don’t think there was a call for any evacuation from the government.

Blaming Media

But a top Duterte official, Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino, blamed the national media for the slow disaster response, claiming they failed to adequately report about the typhoon beforehand.

Journalists pushed back on these accusations, noting the constant steam of coverage in the aftermath of the typhoon amidst great challenges, as Rappler’s Head of Regions Inday Espina-Varona underlines:

From Siargao and Dinagat in Mindanao, Silago, Sipalay, and Ubay in the Visayas, all the way to Palawan, officials and residents waded for hours through mud and water, inching their way through on motorcycles, bangkas, and on foot, just to get their first scratchy messages out into the world. Media reported that.

Ironically, government itself now controls the most extensive regional media network after it denied ABS-CBN, the country’s biggest broadcast network, the right to operate in 2020:


Kodao publishes Global Voices articles as part of a content-sharing partnership.

Former Dubai resident recounts typhoon ordeal in the Philippines

We stayed in our bathroom for hours until our neighbor helped us out of the rubble’

By Angel L. Tesorero

DUBAI: For Budo Baylosis, 37, a former Dubai resident, Siargao is a paradise island in the Philippines – a perfect holiday destination for local and international tourists and a blissful home with white-sand beaches and enchanting lagoons.

But things changed last week when super typhoon Odette (international name: Rai) wreaked havoc in central Philippines with torrential rains, violent winds and storm surges. The hardest hit area was Siargao.

The category 5 super typhoon – the strongest that hit the disaster-prone Southeast Asian country this year – first made landfall in the island on December 16. Packing a maximum sustained winds of up to 260 kph, Typhoon Odette destroyed homes and properties, uprooted trees, and toppled power and communication lines.

Livelihoods were destroyed, many people were injured, numerous died. On Tuesday, authorities said Odette has claimed at least 375 lives while 56 people are still missing and 515 were injured across several provinces and cities.

Budo Baylosis with his family in happier times.

Flattened to the ground

The entire Siargao Island was almost flattened to the ground by the onslaught of the typhoon. Videos and pictures of the destruction were shared on social media, including one showing the newly-inaugurated Siargao Sports Complex Gym that was used by evacuees to weather the storm. The roof of the gymnasium collapsed due to the strong winds, less than two hours after Odette hit the island.

Budo’s apartment was totally destroyed like the rest of Siargao Island.

“We stayed in our bathroom for hours until our neighbour helped us out of the rubble,” Baylosis told Gulf News.

He recalled: “We took shelter in their (neighbour) home until the next day (Friday, December 17) together with other families in our street. They prepared food for everybody and gave us a place to sleep for the night.

“The next morning we saw the extent of the damage and at the same time, the best sunrise. The following days were busy checking up on friends and families, recovering what we can save from our things; finding shelter, food and water,” added Baylosis.

Families struggled to salvage their belongings in the aftermath of the typhoon, says Baylosis.

Leaving the island

On Sunday, Baylosis, his six-year old son Gat, and partner Marcella, 34, a lawyer, took a small outrigger boat to leave the island, together with a friend – a mother and her one-year old baby.

The boat brought them to Surigao del Norte and from there they took a van that brought them to Davao City, where the mother has a house.

“We did not bring any other belongings – except for some change of clothes, important documents and laptop,” said Baylosis, whose family moved to Siargao only four months ago.

“We brought everything to Siargao when we moved. After the storm, we still saved a majority of our belongings but we were not able to carry them out of the island,” he added.

‘We are the news’

Baylosis said: “We used to watch (on TV) this kind of situation from the comforts of our apartment, now we are the news. It was a scrabble to manage everything without electricity and phone communication.”

He added he also witnessed how people reacted to tragedies. “Disasters brought out the true colours of people – from stories of looting and depriving a six-year old with a glass of water; to people who had less in life but were kind and generous in opening their doors to strangers and giving them meals.”

Baylosis and his family took a small outrigger boat to leave the island, together with a friend – a mother and her one-year old baby.

Safe in another city

Baylosis continued: “Siargao has been our home in the last four months. It was with a heavy heart we left the island during these tough times. For now, I had to secure the safety of my family. We’ve managed to get out of the island on a small boat and van; and now we are safe in the nearest big city.”

“The following days and weeks will be uncertain. Electricity will be out for months. There is no reliable means of communication and everywhere in the island has turned into rubbish,” he added.

Baylosis said his family will be returning soon to their old apartment in Manila. “We will definitely come back to Siargao. But for now, what we can do is to help remotely and send aid. There are a lot of ongoing relief missions for the island but we are planning to send construction materials for people to have roofs over their heads and slowly rebuild the homes they’ve lost,” he underlined.

“Our friends in Davao are mobilizing a relief effort. Hopefully, help will get from here quicker as we are closer to the island,” he added.

When asked how his family and the island people of Siargao will recover from the tragedy, Baylosis shared a photo of his six-year old son, Gat, showing his infectious smile and playing with his dog after the storm. “It’s a hopeful reassurance that people can recover from the tragedy. Siargao is paradise lost; but it will also be a paradise regained.”

Communication lines still affected, say Filipino expats

Many Filipinos in the UAE are still grappling to communicate with their families back home, almost a week after the super typhoon.

Rodeo Pagay, 43, an accountant and Dubai resident who is originally from Matalom, Leyte, told Gulf News on Wednesday the last he spoke with his wife and kids was last Thursday night, right after Typhoon Odette made its third and fourth landfall in the province.

Authorities said the typhoon crossed central Philippines with maximum sustained winds of 195 kph near the centre and gustiness of up to 270 kph, toppling most of the power and communication lines.

Sleepless nights

“I was sleepless for three days,” said Pagay, adding: “I was very worried. I couldn’t contact my wife and kids – there were no phone signal or internet. It was only on Monday that I heard from a friend about the situation in our hometown in Santa Fe.”

“Although I was still not able to hear anything from my family – I have two kids, seven-year-old girl and one-year old baby boy – I was assured by my friend that they are safe. Our town was heavily affected by the storm but there were no injuries or casualties in our neighborhood,” Pagay noted with relief.

“My biggest worry is that I still cannot contact them. People had to travel for three hours to go to the next town to get a phone signal but because we have a baby, my wife could not go out,” he added.

Pagay said his niece from the nearby city of Cebu had booked a flight to Leyte, bringing with her relief goods and some needed groceries for the family.

“I hope I will be able to speak to my family immediately, especially now that Christmas is coming,” he added.

Erratic signal

Erik Briones, 40, a web designer in Dubai, said intermittent communication signal is one of the biggest concerns at his hometown in Talisay, Cebu.

He said: “After the typhoon hit, I was only able to talk to my mother and sister this morning (Wednesday) for just five minutes and the signal was really very bad.”

“Several towns in Cebu remain inaccessible and communication is really a big challenge,” underlined Briones, adding: “Thankfully, my mother and sister are safe.”

Briones continued: “Our old house was damaged and flood went inside but my mother and sister were in another house when the typhoon battered our province. I was able to talk to them on Thursday night at 10pm, and they were okay. They even housed our neighbours who had two kids and they remained safe for the night.”

For now, Briones said the people in their province immediately need potable drinking water. “People line up for four hours at water refilling stations to get water,” he added.

UAE solidarity

Meanwhile, the UAE on Monday “expressed its sincere condolences and solidarity with the Philippines over the victims of Typhoon Rai. WAM (Emirates News Agency) said: “The typhoon caused hundreds of fatalities and left thousands homeless. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation expressed its sincere condolences and sympathy to the Philippines government and victims’ families over this enormous loss, wishing the injured a speedy recovery.”

The Philippine Consulate General in Dubai also posted on its official Facebook account the contact details of regional headquarters of the Philippine Office of Civil Defence, to help Filipino expats in the UAE contact their families back home. #

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This report is original to Gulf News where Angel L. Tesorero is a senior reporter.