Typhoon Haiyan did not just bring destruction and tragedy in the Philippines. It also brought with it a total collapse of law and order and civil structures. As expected through past experience in Hurricane Katrina and other natural calamities, the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan created chaos and disorder among survivors who were desperate for food and water. It also brought about opportunism, criminality, looting and stealing, amonst those who simply wanted to take advantage of the situation. No police were available in the week after the Typhoon hit the City of Tacloban, Leyte: among 300 or so police only 20 reported for duty, as most we also victimized by the Typhoon, dead or injured, or abandoned their posts. The slow response by the government, both local and national, to quell the rioting and looting resulted in numerous shops and stores ranscaked and their goods stolen. Upscale homes were not spared as marauders broke in and beat up the owners, raped their women, and took away whatever they could. About 600 Local prisoners who had escaped from a prison and local insurgents foraging for food, compounded the problem.
One news account even stated that a store owner in the town of Guian Leyte, witnessed uniformed policemen were among the looters of her store.
The only homes and stores which were spared from this criminality, were those whose owners were armed with guns. Numerous first had accounts, homeowners whse houses were being broken into had to fire warning shots and declare that they were armed before the looters stopped and went on to the other house. And there were harrowing accounts of wives and daughters who were left alone at home who were desperately trying to send messages to their father because of people trying to break down their door. Those households which had no guns were broken into and their occupants robbed and raped. One news account stated that a store owner who was armed had been forced to shot and kill two looters who were armed with swords, who tried to rob his store of car tires.
Thus one newspaper headline read, “Typhoon Survivors ask for bullets, not food.”
It has always been said, “It will never happen here.” Well, it just did.
The military and police have always said, “Trust us, we will handle your security.” The military and police weren’t there, and by eyewitness accounts some were even engaging in looting.
We have been there before, and we ought to have learned our lesson. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Fort Lauderdale riots, private armed citizens were the only ones who protected their homes and businesses, after law and order had collapse due to the absence of government response. In the LA riots of 1992, the only stores which were not looted and destroyed were those protected by their Korean owners who wielded assault weapons and radios. In the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, armed homeowners protected their homes in Provident Village, Marikina City against looters and marauders.
Clearly, disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan leave the government and authorities overwhelmed and unable to exercise their functions. The inability or refusal of government authorities to recognize this limitation, and insist that they can handle the situation when they cannot, is the gratest disservice to the people whose lives and properties are at stake. With problems in climate change, there will be more of similar super typhoons and calamities. That is expected. Another lesson learned is that the only thing that will stop a violent criminal or looter is a gun in the hands of a determined defender. Are you prepared for the next calamity or do you want to be the next victim?