Mar Roxas to CNN: No response fast enough

Ayee Macaraig

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Roxas seeks to address criticism that the government response was ineffective and inefficient

'ALL BULLETS.' Embattled Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says no response will be good enough and the Philippine government is doing all it can. Screengrab from CNN

MANILA, Philippines – A day after CNN called out the Philippine government for its slow relief effort, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas told the network that “no response will be good enough.”

In an interview with CNN’s Andrew Stevens in storm-ravaged Tacloban City, Roxas sought to address criticism that the government response was ineffective and inefficient 6 days after Haiyan, the world’s most powerful storm, hit central Philippines. 

Roxas said the “entire force of the government” is “looking after our people here.”

“You know, Andrew, nothing is fast enough in a situation like this. The point is everything we have, if this were a gun, all bullets are being deployed. If this is a fire hose, all hoses are being deployed. Slowly, as we’re clearing the streets, we’re able to reach the people in the interior. Imagine a situation where from zero – no power, light, water, communication – you have to build the social infrastructure as well as the physical infrastructure for 275,000 families,” Roxas said.

Stevens repeatedly pressed Roxas about the slow relief effort, saying the government knew beforehand that the biggest storm was coming. The anchor has been in Tacloban even before Haiyan made landfall. 

Despite the President’s promise to help a day before the storm, Stevens said his own assessment was that the relief effort “did not happen quickly enough.”

Roxas responded, “In our doctrine or our framework, the local government unit is the first responder. The national government is supposed to come in on day two or three to support that. What happened is that the local government unit not just here in Tacloban but in many of the communities in Leyte was basically, literally swept away.”

Stevens said, “We are at the [Tacloban] airport, the staging post for relief supplies. I get asked for water. My crew gets asked for water every day, several times a day. If you can’t supply water here…”

Roxas replied that the government brings all the water bottles to the warehouse of the Social Welfare Department, then distributes it to communities. “What you see here is multiplied a thousand times by all the other localities inside.”

Stevens said, “I have been travelling to the city every day and every day, I passed through the same bodies on the street. You are trying to reassure the people. They are still living next to the decomposing bodies.”

Roxas was quick to respond. “Let me just correct that. They are not the same bodies. Every day, we pick up the bodies. I myself led a pick-up, a cadaver recovery team yesterday and the day before.”

Stevens told him, “With respect, I see the same ones.”

Roxas went on. “They might look like they’re the same because they’re the same-looking body bags. The point is what’s happening is we pick up along the main road all the bodies.”

Stevens also asked Roxas about an observation several CNN reporters and other journalists made: that there seemed to be no one in charge.

“Is there an effective chain of command, is there coordination? Do you think you have the right structure in place to deal with this? From where I’m sitting it seems to be uncoordinated, it doesn’t seem to be working nearly efficiently enough.”

Roxas said, “Every effort, there’s nothing as big or as fast in a situation like this. It’s chaotic. There’s no baggage tags. All the supplies just come in in unmarked boxes. Yes, it’s very easy for 700 body bags to get lost. Nonetheless as of yesterday, the army and the local city already have 500 body bags they’re deploying.”

At one point, Stevens commented, “Surely, you need to override bureaucracy in this situation.”

The situation in the storm-ravaged areas has become increasingly desperate days since Haiyan hit the Visayas on November 8. The death toll is over 2,000 but Roxas admitted it could go up to a “horrific” figure. Residents of Tacloban have been begging for food and water while others have resorted to looting and violence.

Roxas ‘upset’ by Anderson Cooper ‘tweet’’

In a separate segment on CNN, Anderson Cooper and Paula Hancocks discussed Roxas’ reported reaction to a supposed tweet from Cooper. Hancocks had also spoken to Roxas.

Hancocks said Roxas was “upset” by a tweet Cooper supposedly posted that there seemed to be no government presence in Tacloban. She said the local media picked it up, and it became a “big story.”

Cooper said he did not send out any tweet because there was no Internet service, and his staff was only tweeting what he said on air.

“I want to clarify I did not tweet that there was no government presence because obviously there is. There are soldiers around but in terms of organized, large-scale efforts out in this community I just haven’t seen that. Everybody I talked to were searching for their dead children, dead husbands, dead wives. They said they haven’t received help in the search,” Cooper said.

Cooper asked his colleagues about their assessment and Hancocks said she got the same reports from the ground and the relief effort was slower than what she observed in her coverage of past disasters.

Hancocks said, “You gotta say what you see.”

Roxas’ wife, ABS-CBN anchor Korina Sanchez, had ranted on her DZMM radio program about Cooper’s coverage, saying Cooper did not know what he was saying. 

Roxas: Other countries have problems too

Hancocks said, “When I asked him, look around you. There are so many people desperate to get out because of the chaotic [situation]. He said to me, ‘Other countries have problems as well.’”

She added, “I pointed out that’s not something you want to aspire for, you wanna be better, you want to make sure that you have a better response. He said no response will be good enough.”

Cooper and the team though did acknowledge an “uptick” in relief efforts on the sixth day after the disaster.

Hancocks said she was with the World Food Programme, which distributed food packs to the victims.

Reporter Nick Paton Walsh said he went to nearby Palo, Leyte and the relief effort there was much organized, with 813 bodies buried in the first 48 hours and food being given out.

“That’s all great but it begs the question: this is the biggest city here (Tacloban), it’s a huge gulf in the government’s capability. There are still dead bodies on that round as you go in, the same ones day after day.” 

“People do have to ask themselves, ‘Why, what’s the priority here in the initial 4 days?” – 

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