MANILA — There are signs here in the Philippine capital that the government simply cannot handle the massive challenges the country faces in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Villeamor Airbase — home of the Philippine Air Force and the main staging area for relief flights to the disaster zone — seems to be operating at half-speed. There is no thrum of activity, no evidence that there’s a real sense of urgency among the Philippine troops here. Every once in a while a civilian car pulls up and unloads a few boxes of goods some neighbors have collected. They put them on the sidewalk and drive away. A little while later, some Filipino troops (or reporters) move them inside. No method. No organization. It’s as if an earthquake hit southern California and Vandenburg or Nellis AFB were quiet and half-populated.
The U.S. Marines have swung into action, certainly. But there are just 215 of them right now, and they must coordinate with the Philippine government. As one high-ranking officer told me here about the host government, “They’re paralyzed.”
An Israeli Foreign Ministry official confirmed that impression privately to me. The Israeli team is here to assess what their country can contribute and where. Over the years, Israel has developed excellent field hospital capabilities that they’ve brought to disasters in Haiti and elsewhere.
But the Israelis, too, need to coordinate with the Philippine government. “When we ask them what they need, they tell us to talk to the Americans,” the official said.
And then early today, about 5 a.m. local time, we went to what we were told was a major relief staging area at the National Resource Operations Center. No one was there. Repeat: No one was there. A few pallets of water were on the ground. A couple of dogs barked at us. We were told everyone else had gone home for the night.
Now, of course, this is one day’s view of a bit of the huge effort beginning here. And the sheer scale of this catastrophe would overwhelm the governments of the most advanced and wealthiest countries. Superstorm Sandy revealed that in the U.S. And the Philippine government is still reeling from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake last month.
Still, there is what seems like a strange lethargy and lack of direction on the ground here. They need to fix that.