Small-town squabbles blamed for stalling Philippine storm aid

Small-town squabbles blamed for stalling Philippine storm aid

PALO, Philippines -Nena Obrero and her family survived without government aid for three weeks after Super Typhoon Haiyan churned across the central Philippines and reduced much of her hometown to rubble.

Obrero lives in Guindapunan, a barangay, or district, of the city of Palo, on the east of Leyte island, where more than 1,000 people were killed on Nov. 8.

The family of seven got by on handouts from a charity and local church. But they missed out on the initial shipments of rice from the municipal office, the main channel for redistributing aid in the disaster-prone Southeast Asian archipelago, due to political squabbling, Obrero said.

Even in a tiny barangay, residents say the biggest loyalties are at play - in this case to the clan of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos's widow, whose supporters belong to a collection of opposition parties, and to rival assassinated politician Benigno Aquino, whose son is now president.

The mayor of Palo, Remedios Petilla, is the mother of both the provincial governor and a minister in Aquino's cabinet. In Guindapunan, her barangay "captain", the highest elected official, was Annalisa Yu, an ally of two nephews of former first lady Imelda Marcos. Following elections in October, Yu's husband took over as captain at the end of last month.

Obrero, 49, claimed a longstanding feud between Yu and Petilla was the reason her family failed to receive anything from the four initial shipments of rice to Guindapunan in the first three weeks after the storm.

"Those two are always quarrelling," Obrero said outside her gutted coconut lumber and chainsaw-rental store, speaking two days before the mayor delivered food packs to her area. "We are caught in the middle."

Petilla said she had distributed aid through other leaders in Guindapunan because Yu had not come to her seeking help, and that if anyone fell through the cracks, it was unintentional.

"We cannot really be perfect. Maybe one or two didn't get (anything), but on the whole they were given," Petilla said.

Allegations of "colour-coding" - the selective distribution of aid along political lines, or by the colours associated with different parties - were common along the typhoon's path.

In assessing the veracity of those allegations, it is difficult to draw a clean line between the influence of politics and what may simply be the unintended consequence of a massive and often chaotic relief operation.

But in interviews with more than 50 government officials, local leaders and residents across Leyte province, a picture emerges of an aid campaign riven with rivalries and vulnerable to abuse.

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