The Struggle for Relief / by John Javellana

People lining up for aid distributed by BALSA Mindanao, a citizen-led action group that provides various help to disaster struck areas.

It was a gorgeous afternoon. The golden light was falling softly everywhere. For a while it didn’t look like a disaster area even if the landscape said otherwise because it was backdropped by a fantastic golden light. 

What brought me back was the sight of people surrounding a truck which I immediately assumed was relief since it’s the only reason I could think of for them doing so. True enough, it was a truck with a banner of BALSA, a citizen-led organisation that I’ve been seeing in other disasters such as typhoon Pablo as well as Sendong. 

The survivors were in line across the highway but it was obvious that there was no clear line. Children, pregnant women, the elderly fought hard against grown men just to jostle for position in their line. Individuals raising their stubs meant to keep the lines in check gave you a feeling that these stubs contributed more to the feeling of righteousness these certain individuals have to haggle each other instead of keeping them in line. You see the faces of the elderly trying their best to stay conscious and not to cry amidst the bruising bodies of grown men. The kids disappeared from sight as they tried to grasp for air within the crowd that dwarfed them. The crooked lines of three became five. And then six. And then it was a free for all that was trying to surround the truck. It was a mob that was waiting to happen.

The natural instinct was to get out and re-group which was a good thing for the distribution team to do despite the disappointment of the residents. The barangay captain was clearly overwhelmed and couldn’t handle the situation anymore even with the proper initial coordination that BALSA has made to ensure a systematic distribution.

Relief distribution is not something as easy as simply giving things away. A system or proper coordination with authorities other than the LGU's might be a good idea for smaller groups such as BALSA which do not have the same manpower as the bigger international aid agencies might not have.