Gov’t definition of storm casualty: Better not be sick
What does it take to be on the government’s list of typhoon casualties?
Get hit by debris or stricken by lightning? Drown? Most likely.
But fatalities with prior illnesses are more likely to be excluded from the list, if Department of Health (DOH) and Office of Civil Defense (OCD) guidelines are to be followed to the letter.
Since their loved ones will not be classified as typhoon victims, the families of those who die at the height of storms are not entitled to government assistance.
The controversy surrounding a discrepancy in casualty figures from Typhoon “Ruby” between the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Philippine Red Cross has raised questions on how the government is validating deaths and injuries related to typhoons and natural disasters.
Government casualty reports in Western and Eastern Visayas have been edited after the government agencies declared that some fatalities were “not directly related” to the typhoon.
Two deaths were reported in Cebu, according to the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO).
A 14-year-old boy was electrocuted inside his house in Malabuyoc town, said PDRRMO executive officer Baltz Tribunalo.
In Bogo City, a 60-year-old man died of hypothermia.
But in Western Visayas, the OCD reported zero casualty after the five deaths reported earlier there were ruled to be not typhoon-related because the dead had prior illnesses or medical conditions, according to the DOH.
One of these is the case of 65-year-old Ernesto Baylon, who died of hypothermia in his house in Estancia town in Iloilo province where he was left alone after his family had evacuated.
Dr. Jessie Glen Alonsabe, Western Visayas epidemiologist, said based on medical records and death certificate, Baylon had tuberculosis.
Nicholas Centeno could also not be considered a typhoon fatality after he died of cardiac arrest because he had a heart disease. This is similar to the case of Romeo Disbaro, 72, who died on December 6 in Ajuy town.
Gene Castor, 34, was excluded from the list of fatalities because she died of eclampsia (pregnancy complications marked by seizures and high blood pressure) after undergoing a cesarian section operation and getting stranded at the height of Ruby in a relative’s house.
The death of 16-month-old Althea Angelique Rojo was also not considered typhoon-related because she died of pneumonia complications.
Rojo died inside the evacuation center in Balasan town, Iloilo on December 6 as Ruby was making its first landfall in Dolores town in Eastern Samar.
She could not be brought to the hospital earlier because of a power interruption that hit the town.
Alonsabe said DOH guidelines provide that only deaths and injuries directly caused by typhoons and other natural disasters are included on the list of casualties.
“We based our validation on medical records and death certificates provided by municipal health offices,” Alonsable told the Inquirer.
He said deaths considered directly related to typhoons or natural disasters usually include drowning victims and victims who suffer injuries from disaster-related events, like being hit by debris.
Government agencies in Eastern Visayas reported seven fatalities instead of the 16 earlier reported.
The local government of Dolores town in Eastern Samar initially reported two typhoon fatalities—Valeriano Sumook and Juanito Nuguid.
Sumook died on December 4 due to a heart attack triggered by his fear of the coming typhoon. But on December 8, Sumook’s name was removed from the disaster office’s list of storm fatalities.
In a Facebook post, Nelson Cortez, a staff member of Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, said there were nine fatalities in Eastern Samar, based on a report of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. These include four in Borongan City, two each in Dolores and Sulat towns and one in Jipapad town.
Cortez said the figures were “not for official purposes, but for the benefit of my fellow Estehanons who wanted to know the real situation of our beloved province.”
The Red Cross reported at least 21 deaths in Eastern Samar alone but the NDRRMC reported 11 deaths due to Ruby as of 10 p.m. of December 10.
Under Memorandum Order No. 13 issued in 1998 by the then National Disaster Coordinating Council, families of each typhoon fatality will receive P10,000 in cash assistance from the government. Those injured will receive P5,000 each.
Rosario Cabrera, OCD Western Visayas director, said the protocols on validation of casualties provide that the deaths attributed to typhoons and natural disaster need DOH validation and certification.
She said this would help ensure that government assistance is given only to those who deserve it.
But a group of typhoon survivors and advocates helping them said there is an “apparent scheme to downplay or reduce the number of casualties.”
Fr. Marco Sulayao, spokesperson of the group Kusog Pumuluo, said the propensity for “zero-casualty” propaganda in natural disasters seeks to “score pogi points for the government.”
“The national government was exposed as inutile and inefficient in the preparation and response to (Supertyphoon) Yolanda. It has also failed in adequately helping survivors in the rehabilitation and recovery efforts. Now it wants to decieve us by deliberately downplaying the casualty count in (Typhoon) Ruby,” Sulayao told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Should be on the list…
He said even those with prior illnesses, who died during the typhoon, should be on the list of fatalities and their families should receive assistance.
“You do not need to be [a] doctor to know that typhoons and other natural disasters can exacerbate existing illnesses due to emotional, psychological and physical stress,” he said.
Sulayao said refusing to recognize as casualties those who died during the typhoon simply because they were already suffering from illnesses is “a grave injustice to their already grieving families.” With reports from Joey A. Gabieta and Carmel Loise Matus, Inquirer Visayas and Maricar P. Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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