MANILA, PHILIPPINES—In the aftermath of Typhoon Ketsana, every school, NGO, and company did what they could to bring relief goods to the thousands of victims whose lives had been devastated by the storm. Numerous medical missions went out everyday, as did missions to deliver relief goods to people who had lost their homes, food, and clothing. Philippine and U.S. military troops were also involved in the relief efforts.
The people I spoke with during my trip said that in the first few weeks this was no easy task. Despite the major efforts of people at home and abroad, victims were still struggling to get the resources they needed to survive the flood. Desperate survivors often swarmed missions in the most affected areas. Even volunteers required bodyguards, as victims shook their vans and cars, attempting to steal relief goods for their own starving families.
What did some Philippine Presidential hopefuls of 2010 see in this heartbreaking situation? As some of my readers might have noticed, I have hardly expressed much optimism when it comes to the current Philippine administration. Honestly, when this typhoon hit, I thought politicians were more likely to pursue a photo-op than a substantive effort to demonstrate their preparedness for dealing with natural disasters.
But apparently, Philippine politicians have reached a new low. Viewing the hopeless desperation that had plagued thousands, candidates such as Senator Manny Villar and former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada found a new avenue for campaign advertising!
Former President Estrada, ousted from power in 2001 facing corruption charges, quickly returned to the political scene after current President Arroyo (his former Vice President) granted him presidential pardon. After the typhoon, the “Erap Relief Good Tickets” were released. These coupons—branded with Estrada’s photo so that they almost resembled money—allowed victims to collect a relief package.
Villar’s packaged relief goods have raised even more outcry. Immediately, water bottles and noodles branded with Villar’s name and picture were handed out to victims. A few weeks later, a whole line of Villar relief good/advertising merchandise was delivered with the letter “V” written on an orange sticker.
Most people I spoke with during my trip to Manila were absolutely disgusted, as I was, by this new method of personal advertising. Yet it does reveal something about Philippine psychology that I’m happy to see is slowly changing.
The success of Villar and Estrada’s “relief goods” as advertisements depended heavily on the fact that many of the poorer classes of Filipinos have lacked any sense of entitlement. That is why politicians have stamped their names and faces on every public work or project for decades. Many people did not recognize that such projects were a part of their elected officials’ jobs. Rather, poorer Filipinos were expected to feel grateful that any work had been done at all, and politicians made sure they never forgot every tiny little project they had ever completed when the next election came around.
While these outrageous relief goods have made me feel absolutely disgusted, it’s much more inspiring to me that they have been received by the same disgust by those desperate for help. In the upcoming election, my country requires not only a leader that will help change the system of corruption, but also a change in mentality. Filipinos must be willing to recognize that they are entitled to some things, and that the price of receiving help in the midst of tragedy shouldn’t have to be their vote.