Altruistic Exploitation: A Story of Corruption in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan

It’s a story the mainstream media may never tell, but Keb Darge, Scottish international living in the Philippines, wants you to know the truth. His life, and thousands of affected in the Philippines, depend on it.

Disaster strikes an impoverished nation and a worldwide plea is sent. Millions of dollars in foreign aid is provided from the world’s most affluent countries and leading foreign agencies. The aid provided should, in most cases, solve the country’s rebuilding effort; In the case of the Philippines, the outpour of foreign aid provided by generous patrons across the globe will never reach its intended recipients.

A recent poll has listed the Philippines as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Ranking 105th out of 176 examined countries, the Philippines have made a slight improvement over previous years due to the passage of mandates such as the ‘freedom of information’ bill. However, even with the slight improvements the Filipino government has made, corruption has not been more evident than in their recovery from the tragic events of ‘Haiyan’.

According to CBC news, the World Bank has pledged $480 million on top of a $500 million dollar emergency loan with additional funds used to rebuild communities and crucial infrastructure such as roads, water, and clinics.

As of November 18th, $270 million in foreign aid had been donated.

The United Nations appealed for $300 million and released $25 million in emergency funds to provide immediate assistance.

Only a fraction of this aid has reached the people.

[quote style=”1″]There has been so much money donated, and the President has appointed local mayors of each district to distribute the money. The money that has been donated is much more than what is needed. Those figures are using US dollars and British pounds, about $40 million pounds should be more than enough. The government keeps claiming that we need more.[/quote]

In addition to the questionable distribution of funding, Keb explains that there have been issues regarding the distribution of food as well.

[quote style=”1″]The US Navy arrived on day 8 to drop off food and Filipinos safely attained goods for their families. On the second day of the food drop, the Americans were told to back off and there were local armed guards keeping people away from what rightfully belonged to them. The mayor in my region of Hernani began stockpiling that food into storage facilities and claimed nothing was left. Donated food is disappearing into the mayors hands, despite the amount pouring in from the world.[/quote]

The truth of this matter is much more grave than one would expect. Food, freely donated by good people all over the world, is being sold to its intended recipients in grocery stores at an inflated price.

Typhoon Haiyan devastated many of the key agricultural regions in the Philippines. This in turn, raised food prices and destroyed the traditional means that most of the citizens of the rural areas depend on. According to the BBC, in the month of November, inflation of food prices has risen 3.3% and the government is taking full advantage.

[quote style=”1″]Many Filipino people live off the land. They grow a lot of their own fruits, vegetables, and traditional food. They don’t rely on going to the grocery stores that are government controlled and privately owned. Now that a lot of the crops and rural lands have been destroyed, they don’t have a choice but to go to the stores, especially since they don’t have access to the donated relief food[/quote]


Haiyan (30 of 53)

Charitable organizations have performed their duties to the best of their ability.

The International Red Cross has lived up to its reputation and provided utmost care to the Filipino people despite the severe conditions.

Plan International, one of the oldest and largest children’s developmental organizations in the world, has also done fantastic work, along with armed forces from the United States, Britain, and Japan.

The effort to provide assistance to the Filipino people is strong, however there are many barriers for relief workers.

[quote style=”1″]The Mayors asked the US Naval officers to take charge of the goods in my town and the officers obliged. They’ve been forced to keep a Philippine face on things out of a fear of ‘offending’ the government and the people. This isn’t the time for that. The US has been fantastic during their time here but now the people will receive no help. The Filipino government only sent 2 busses to help people within a 300 mile radius; they aren’t providing the means that foreign aid can. Aid agencies aren’t allowed to collaborate and share equipment. The head of the red cross agency here was told that she couldn’t use US vehicles by her bosses because it wouldn’t look good in the world press. People are dying but the aid agencies can’t work together because it won’t look good.[/quote]

In addition to this, Keb explains that for each foreign agency that has provided exceptional aid, there are a few opportunists, other than the government, who using the tragedy with selfish intentions.

“There are many Filipino church based groups, hastily set up private organizations ready to cash in on donations, and television channels that spring up for a day, film a promotional video, and leave without providing any assistance. It’s a complete public relations race.”

When asked whether any of the charities have demanded checks and balances to ensure that the relief is safely monitored and delivered to the people, Keb explains further difficulty.

[quote style=”1″]Since the local mayors are in charge of food distribution, foreign agencies have their hands tied. Many of the Mayors have ties to local gangs. When food is being distributed, the mayors send gang members to the distribution sites to pretend they are some of the wounded and affected. Not only do these mayors give a fraction of what they’re supposed to, they’re also taking that fraction back. Foreign aid isn’t giving strength to the people, it’s giving strength to corrupt local officials and making things worse than they were before[/quote].

Keb suggests a few ways foreign agencies can stem the tide of corruption,

[quote style=”1″]For starters, they should be providing equipment. Out of the $480 million in additional funds that the World Bank provided, they could have spent $3 million and sent a crew of construction workers down here. They also need to have more people on the ground controlling the distribution. Agencies also need to identify the trusted locals themselves and work closely with them. You can’t just throw money at the problem and expect it to be solved. The focus should be on getting down here and ensuring that the work is done. Too many people are putting on a show.[/quote]

In the United States, activists have petitioned the government to allow Filipino immigrants with temporary protected status so they can assist their loved ones back home. Many of these immigrants don’t have the income to sustain themselves while supporting loved ones back home, so by providing temporary status, the United States government will be allowing them to attain jobs that can facilitate their desires. So far, 20 US senators are on board. There are numerous Filipino families and churches in Canada that are making every effort to raise funds for loved ones as well.

Many of these revelations of corruption in countries following the wake of a crisis are not new. Many countries in crisis experience systematic theft from the leaders they are forced to trust. Despite this, foreign agencies, such as the international red cross, continue to wade through the waters of corruption to provide the service Filipino citizens deserve. These agencies deserve and need continued support. Men such as Keb Darge continue to highlight the issues of corruption that the world deserves to hear so that our efforts and focus can be redirected. Keb does not mean to discourage donations to causes as important as crisis relief, but merely to inform the public that we need to do more to ensure our aid reaches the people who need it the most.

[quote style=”1″]People keep saying that I need to get out of here because the mayor in my region of Hernani wants me shot. People are saying that I’m in danger even if I go to Manila because of everything I’m saying. I’ve never been shot before, and I don’t plan on letting it happen. I know the risks of everything I’m doing but the corruption that is happening here needs to be exposed. There has to be a change in the way the world handles charity. Do not give money to local officials. People need to be put in place to ensure the aid is reaching its intended recipients[/quote].


Special thank you to Keb Darge for the story and the images.



Nana Sechere is the Co-Publisher & Managing Editor of the Antidote Magazine. Armed with knowledge of pop culture events that happened long before he was born, Nana may just possess the most random assortment of knowledge you could ever imagine. With interests in all things relating to entertainment, media theory, sports, bartending, social psychology, and traveling to as many countries as he possibly can in his lifetime, it's his hope that his articles will provide a unique and fresh perspective. Nana hopes you enjoy all things Antidote and is working hard to facilitate the release of many more of our projects. Twitter/Instagram/Facebook/Soundcloud: @NanaCoppertone