The Philippine government’s estimate for the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan stands at approximately 2,500 dead, although non-official estimates have placed the death toll nearer 10,000. The lack of food and clean water in the hardest-hit areas are another serious problem.
Looting was observed on the day after the typhoon hit, and although there is some truth in suspicions that this theft was due to opportunism, the need for food and water supplies was also a major factor.
Disaster victims interviewed stressed the immediacy of their need for relief. The past few days have seen the public security situation on the streets of disaster areas very much in flux, with intermittent flare-ups of gunbattles between police and civilians.
International aid continues to arrive in the Philippines; Taiwan has dispatched several C-130 Hercules tactical airlift planes and the Japan Self Defense Force has sent a 1,000-strong relief team to help in post-disaster efforts, along with Ise-class ships carrying US Air Force MV-22 Osprey helicopters to help in the relief operation.
The USS George Washington, cutting short its stay there, has led a fleet of vessels out of Hong Kong Harbor bound for the Philippines and laden with relief supplies.
The UK and Australia have also sent disaster relief.
The Philippines is an archipelagic nation. The north and the south of the country differ greatly. The north is predominantly Catholic, heavily influenced by its Spanish colonial past.
The south is predominantly Muslim, and consists of scattered islands and islets with forested areas, and uneven economic development.
For many years there has been an insurgency in the south seeking independence from the national government in Manila.
After much effort and help from Japan, in August 2011, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front laid down their arms and signed a peace agreement with Manila in Tokyo, which allowed for the establishment of a “state-within-a-state” highly autonomous zone.
However, the government is still fighting the Maoist New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the NPA has been ambushing government convoys transporting relief supplies for typhoon victims.
The ability of the Philippine government to handle the situation is a source of concern. Even disregarding the endemic corruption, it does not have sufficient resources to guarantee the safe transport of disaster relief into the hands of those who need it.
If the situation drags on, there is a danger that the frustration and desperation of the disaster victims will erupt into an uprising.
If this does happen, all political progress made after many years of hard work may well be lost, and it will be back to the drawing board.
A fragmented Philippines in the east of the South China sea will not be in the interests of its regional neighbors.
Given this, and despite the previous tensions between Taiwan and the Philippines over the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by Philippine Coast Guard personnel, it is important that Taiwan helps the Philippines, and that the government sends emergency relief to the victims of this latest disaster, if not for humanitarian reasons, then for our mutual strategic interests.
HoonTing is a commentator in Taipei.
Translated by Paul Cooper