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/ 02:29 PM November 27, 2013

A conversation between ancient friends and a guest was more than a month overdue. But the lapse was excusable. An earthquake and Yolanda came inside that span of time. And since the topic was all about calamity and how the government falls short of people’s expectations their words soon became heated. The Austrian guest would be excused if he thought this was a quarrel. But this was a friendship spanning over two decades, now marked by a bond only a few notches lower than a true marriage. They all enjoyed a good fight.

“Why are you trying to defend the government? @#!! (expletive in Tagalog)” the photographer-farmer asks. The writer receives this as a rhetorical question needing no response since he knows they all know the answer. Otherwise, the farmer-photographer might not have become as riled up as he was. Asked why he thinks Mar Roxas was not as effective as he should been, he goes: “Because he’s an idiot!”

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The doctor at the other end of the garden table was as always the more sober. And yet his take cut like a sharp cold wind slicing through the air of a warm night: “This was his chance to shine. He could have been the next president of this country. And he blew it!”

The lone woman with them was quick to bring the exchange to the most personal level: “Yes, why are you defending him? What is your stake?”

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The writer knows better than to explain himself with this group. No need to explain that his views would have to be more guarded than his friends. Everything he writes he will have to answer for. Such as the claim the government fell far short of doing enough. That would be a no-brainer. Who can count how many suffered or died because the government was too slow? Is there a mathematics to apply to all these?

Let x equal everything that needed to be done to save Yolanda’s last victims. Now subtract from that the sum of everything the government could have possibly done. And then again subtract everything the government did do. And then you will have a remainder that would tell exactly how much the government fell short.

The government-man among them said the problem was only for government to direct the traffic of relief operations. He is now currently working with a relief organization. He describes the situation on the ground as chaotic. “There is absolutely no government presence even now.”

But when asked who in their group was charged with cooperating with government, he said, “No one.” In fact, they would rather not deal with government at all. And so the paradox: A complaint of no government presence and yet also a disinclination towards working with it. And yet, the question: Why does the government wait for relief organizations to come to it? Why won’t it simply intervene by directing proactively all relief efforts?

Perhaps the answer may be suggested by that recent fiasco with the mayor of Maribojoc in Bohol and the Red Cross. The relief organization pulled out because Mayor Leoncio Evasco required it to clear its relief efforts with the municipal government. Whether rightly or wrongly the mayor was pilloried everywhere especially in Facebook for seeking to use relief efforts to gain political capital.

Columnist Januar Yap wrote a cautionary essay about him and this issue. He advised closer inspection of the mayor’s motives before destroying him so quickly through media. But by then it was too late. Was he really as bad as Facebook made him out to be? By now, that truth is of no consequence. The damage has been done.

But this might explain why political leaders are naturally afraid to put themselves on the limelight over this issue. It is a fact Yolanda was too big for all of us. The government was completely unprepared for the final magnitude of its effect. Anything the government or its designated representative will do from here on will never be enough, or it will be wrong, or done too late; or worse, done for some corrupt political motive.

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If for instance, the President will now say to the Americans or the Chinese or the Canadians or anyone else: Clear all your actions with us first before doing them. The response to that act in Facebook and other media would be swift and immediate. And it would do no one any good. The government least of all. The truth is, the government is a little mouse caught on flypaper. Any move it makes only damns it even more.

Which might be why no politician will now openly touch this issue with a 10-foot-pole. But then again, it is not a politician we really need. The vacancy is for a true leader. The writer wonders if there are any left.

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