PHILIPPINES: Burma’s tragedy requires more than a team

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) welcomes your intervention for the people of Burma but is saddened by how meagre the assistance the Government of the Philippines ought to provide.

As it has been widely reported, you have already ordered that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Health (DOH) to create a medical team, which is actually composed of 15-persons, that would proceed to Burma for their medical mission. The Government of Burma has also been involved in terms of medicines needed which the Philippines could also provide.

While we appreciate your intervention, we feel that there is a huge disparity between what is urgently and practically needed there and the assistance you have ordered so far. In a place were number of reported deaths soars over 22,000, what this medical team can do is obviously trivial. It may have been born out of concern but unless the Philippine government and its concerned agencies would do more, this would have little meaning in addressing the extent of suffering that requires adequate relief. The people of Burma need more than a medical team and medicines by now.

To give you an example of the extent of damages there; for instance, in the Irrawaddy Delta region, the towns of Bogalay, Laputta and Pantanaw and its surroundings is amongst the hardest hit place. The extent of devastation was so severe that it has been reported to have been flattened. Based on the available information, the loss of lives and damage in the aftermath of cyclone is so horrible. The calamity in Burma is somehow an experience shared by the Philippines as well.

As a country that experiences calamities and disaster, particularly dozens of tropical typhoons, your country’s government agencies may have had skills and knowledge that could be shared with the government of Burma in responding to disasters. Unlike your country though, the disaster response under the Burmese junta is virtually nonexistent as what has been shown in the aftermath of cyclone. Due to lack of an existing systematic, effective and adequate service on disaster response, the affected people are themselves forced to do the cleanup operation.

As a result of terrible loss of lives, proper identification and burial can’t also be expected from a country which actually does not have adequate expertise on this. This, too, had been problematic as this already threatens the health of those who had survived the calamity. Several days after the tragedy, there has not been adequate supply of water for drinking and bathing. In fact, there have been reports of profiteering; for instance, fire brigades are selling water for a huge cost deepening the suffering of the people even further.

We therefore urge you to do more by sending a substantial number of rescue teams, more medical doctors with expertise on disaster response and to produce the relief assistance needed. Your country’s experience on how to deal with natural disasters would also be a tremendous help should it be passed on to the Burmese government. These are amongst the much needed assistance the people there require.

You could also help by ensuring that the Burmese government would allow the assistance and relief to reach the needy. We are deeply concerned over the delays in the delivery of assistance, as it has been reported, over the tightening of control in the process of delivering the relief by the junta. The rescue of human lives must not be hampered by this.

The Philippine government must also consider accumulating necessary relief and goods required by seeking the assistance of its concerned agencies, particularly the member agencies of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC). The Philippines may have limited resources to offer for the Burmese people; however, it bears a moral obligation in helping people in Asian countries in need.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong


1. Gilberto C. Teodoro Jr., chairman, National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), Camp Emiliio Aguinado, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-013-2008
Countries : Philippines,