Nov 12, 2013

    Fine line from hunger to looting

    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    HUNGER and desperation are breeding violence and looting in Tacloban, which was flattened by a supertyphoon late last week.

    "People are walking like zombies looking for food," said medical student Jenny Chu. "It's like a movie."

    And, as in the movies, survivors ransacked banks' automated teller machines, malls and stores - or what remains of them.

    A bunch of looters showed up at the 578 Emporium convenience store, which was guarded by the owner, in the town's main avenue.

    "You cannot come in," the owner warned the crowd.

    "If you don't allow us to come in, we will use force," one man replied.

    Then the men started counting: "One, two, three…"

    The owner gave way.

    Before long, a line formed in front of the store, and people went out carrying crates of household goods, groceries and bottled water.

    The looting spread to other places, including branches of fast-food chains and shopping centres, among them the Gaisano Central in Justice Romualdez Street, and Robinson's Place in Marasbaras district.

    Air Force soldier Richard Bilisario was surveying the damage when he saw the looting of Robinson's Place.

    "Under the circumstances, I would say looting for food and water is justifiable. But, if you are taking a huge TV set on your Pajero, that's different," said Mr Bilisario.

    He recalled asking one man: "Going shopping?"

    "The man only smiled. I said: 'Go on.' Next week, this storm will happen again," Mr Bilisario said, shaking his head.

    Representatives Lucy Torres-Gomez of Leyte's fourth district and Rogelio Espina of the lone district of Biliran said that, although Tacloban suffered greatly, their districts also needed help.

    "We need tetanus vaccines, chlorine tablets, candles, blankets, tents, rice and ready-to-eat food," Ms Torres said.

    Public-school teacher Andrew Pomeda said that some people had lost their minds from hunger, or from losing their families.

    "People are becoming violent. They are looting business establishments, the malls, just to find food," the 36-year-old said. "I'm afraid that, in one week, people will be killing from hunger."

    The looting forced Philippine President Benigno Aquino to order special forces backed by armoured personnel carriers to Tacloban, to help local police restore order.

    The President said the government had thought of declaring a state of emergency or martial law when looting in Tacloban was reported.

    Instead, the national government decided to take over, with the Department of the Interior and Local Government overseeing operations until all local government employees could return to work, he said.