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Blame game intensifies over Philippines typhoon response

The Philippines were hit hard by two recent storms. Critics say politicians have ignored repeated warnings of the capital's vulnerability.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 15, 2009

Typhoon victims in northern Philippines queue for relief goods Thursday.

Erik de Castro/REUTERS

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Bangkok, Thailand

The floodwaters around the deluged Philippine capital Manila have yet to fully subside after the onslaught of two successive tropical storms. But the blame game over the response to the crisis, and the nation's lack of preparedness, is rippling outward.

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In total, more than 700 people have died and at least 6 million have been displaced, first by tropical storm Ketsana, which reached Manila on Sept. 26, and then by typhoon Parma, which circled for a week over northern Luzon island and inundated communities, roads, and fields in the country's breadbasket. Losses to agriculture are estimated at $400 million.

On Wednesday, President Gloria Arroyo described the Philippines as a victim of climate change and said she would seek as much as $1 billion in foreign aid to pay for rehabilitation. A donor conference is expected by early December. The UN has launched a separate $74 million relief appeal.

But questions have been raised about the extent to which hillside deforestation, watershed urbanization, and the growth of riverside slums had undermined Manila's disaster management. Critics say the politicians pleading for aid have ignored repeated warnings of the capital's vulnerability to tropical storms.

The result may be less a parable of climate change – some experts say extreme weather events are increasing as a result of global warming – than the failings of successive elected governments to heed the advice of urban planners.

"A country that doesn't protect its people before disasters has no business panhandling after," wrote Juan Mercado, a columnist in the Philippine Inquirer.

The row may have political consequences as the Philippines prepares to elect a new president next May. Ms. Arroyo, who took office in 2001, isn't eligible to run again. Her defense secretary, Gilbert Teodoro, who has declared his candidacy, chairs a disaster coordinating council that has been criticized over the sluggish flow of aid to storm victims, as well as the continued inundation of some communities.

In a national poll taken before the storms struck and released Wednesday, Mr. Teodoro trailed far behind Sen. Benigno Aquino, who was the choice of 60 percent of respondents. Only 4 percent of respondents named him as their preferred choice.

Mr. Aquino is the largely untested son of popular former President Corazon Aquino, who died in July and is credited for steering the nation to democracy after the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. The second placed candidate, Sen. Manuel Villar, polled 37 percent in the survey. Former President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001 and put on trial for corruption, came third.

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