Editorial: Going after saboteurs

·3 min read

Worse than any disaster are the ensuing days when communities are trying to recover and coping with not just the destructiveness of natural forces but something even more unsparing: inhuman greed and opportunism.

Overpricing of commodities, particularly essential goods, afflicts residents from the southernmost tip of Cebu to as far north as Catmon after Typhoon Odette (international code: Rai) left significant areas of Cebu Province without power, water, and telecommunication signal on Dec. 16.

More than two weeks after the typhoon struck, the deprivations of power, water, and communication are exacerbated by individuals exploiting the post-disaster vacuum and the seeming failure of the authorities to curb the widespread and unconscionable hoarding and overpricing of basic goods, such as drinking water, fuel, construction materials, and even candles.

Barangay officials, private volunteer organizations (PVOs), and citizens are crucial for grassroots monitoring and enforcement of law and order, especially in post-disaster situations that impedes prompt interventions by line agencies, such as the Department of Trade and Industry, which is mandated to conduct price monitoring and penalize hoarding, profiteering, and other acts of economic sabotage.

Initially, gas stations sold fuel to motorists bringing all shapes and sizes of containers. In the first days after Odette struck, the queues for fuel stretched for blocks and involved hours of waiting.

This practice of selling fuel in containers was stopped after two major drawbacks were noted. First, several buyers resold fuel at exorbitant prices, asking as much as thrice or four times as much as the gas station rate of about P50 a liter. Some buyers also complained that resellers were diluting or adulterating content, which damages engines.

The stockpiling of fuel by resellers also poses fire hazards, given the inadequate storage and conditions of informal settlements where this trade is brisk.

In the second week after Odette, it is notable that gas stations now only sell fuel to consumers who can present proof that this supply will be used for power generators.

The vigilance and mobilization of citizens is crucial during emergencies that curtail the authorities from immediately moving against violators of law and order. Boycotting hurts opportunists and profiteers from raking in quick profits at the expense of public welfare.

Homeowners’ associations blocked individuals who excessively marked up mineral water, which, at the peak of its scarcity during the blackouts, quickly climbed up in selling price from P10-25 for a refilled container of five gallons to P35 then P100, with P1,000 even pushed in some communities in Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu Cities.

It is in the traffic of another vital resource—information—that the authorities, the private sector, particularly the telecommunication companies (telcos), and civil society face many challenges. In emergencies, circulating information is arguably as vital a public service as granting access to power and water.

The post-Odette situation shows the vulnerabilities of a society that has shifted its dependence from traditional or legacy media to digital communication, particularly social media.

It is not just that the portable transistor radio powered by batteries, the traditional source of updates after calamities and disasters, is no longer considered as an essential feature in households.

Into the vacuum left by Odette, disinformation seeped and circulated, as gauged from disturbances created by fake news reporting the distribution of free water, aid, and calamity assistance and exaggerated accounts of damaged bridges and casualties in the south of Cebu.

By raising unmet expectations and heightening anxieties in a crisis, disinformation derails the process of recovery and rehabilitation. Perpetrators of disinformation, along with profiteering, should be meted out the full punishment by the Law.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting