Based on statements made by President Aquino, and reporting from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, it is now absolutely clear that the Philippine government is intentionally under-reporting fatalities from Typhoon Haiyan. The President and NDRRMC openly admit that, for example, only the identified dead, certified by a coroner’s report, are added to the count. When unidentified victims are buried — they die not only without a name, but without their death being added to the total. And in Tacloban alone there are currently 1,755 bodies recovered between November 15 and 21 which are unidentified and are not included in the official count of 5,235 that was announced on Saturday.
Filipinos are brilliant at being self-critical, yet are sometimes touchy when a foreigner wades into the fray. And so I am very, very hesitant to raise my foreign voice in this sensitive matter. But I do have 65 family members who are homeless as a result of the typhoon, and so I will risk saying the following because it needs to be said. There is something deeply disturbing about the deliberate manipulation of the death toll by under-reporting the fatalities. It’s as if the unidentified dead don’t matter — as if their lives don’t warrant recognition. President Aquino’s explanation as quoted in the Inquirer and elsewhere: “We want to give figures [that cannot be doubted], because we don’t want to increase the people’s anxiety, especially those with missing relatives.”
Mr. President, the government’s figures ARE doubted precisely BECAUSE the government is holding back the truth. People know the death toll is much higher than is being acknowledged. The policy you’re describing is simply a government in denial. Being in denial about the death toll gives no comfort to the families of the missing. Now, 17 days after the typhoon struck, they know what “missing” means, and the government pretending otherwise gives them no comfort.
It is also deeply offensive that the government sacked regional police director for Eastern Visayas, Chief Supt. Elmer Soria, for quotig the figure of 10,000 (that now seems likely to be low, if true figures are ever released) before a briefing by Leyte Gov. Dominic Petilla on Nov. 9. The sacking of Soria and the foolish system of reporting the death toll undermines the government’s credibility.
Worse, it is an affront to the families of the missing.
There is still time to correct this and make it right for the families, and for the memories of the unnamed dead.
UPDATE: Read Leo Reyes Op-Ed on the subject.
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