Something surprising happened this week after my colleagues Vijaya Ramachandran and Owen Barder posted a call for donors providing help in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a Yolanda) to rapidly post data on their plans and actions. Their post, Let’s Not Help the Philippines Like We Helped Haiti, which argued for helping the Philippines better through aid transparency, went viral overnight as thousands of Filipinos around the world visited the page and “liked” it on Facebook. For us at CGD a couple of dozen Facebook “likes” on a blog post is a good showing; we rarely get more than 100. As I write, four days after the post went live, the FB button on the page says 6.6k; oh, wait, it just turned over to 6.7k.
Where is all the traffic coming from? A quick look at Google Analytics told us which jurisdictions accounted for the sudden surge in interest, shown in the table to the right.
What these places have in common, of course, is the presence of large Filipino populations, whether in the Philippines itself, in Manila and other locations that still have power and Internet connectivity, or in other countries where there are large communities of overseas Filipino workers.
Another surprise for us: the volume of lively comments, more than 100 as I write, including many in Filipino. Of course, 100+ comments is nothing for many blogs on popular topics. For a modest-sized think tank on development policy, it’s huge; we think it’s a big deal when we get a dozen. Looking through the comments there is clearly wide support for the real-time posting of machine-readable data on plans and activities that Vij and Owen are proposing. There’s also plenty of concern, and active debate, about whether the government of the Philippines can be trusted with relief aid. A small sample:
Homer De Belen Espiritu: I am from the Philippines and I absolutely agree, accountability and transparency should go hand in hand with charity. Our government is so corrupt that if they handle the funds it will surely get stolen or pocketed by our public officials.
Jaylyn Parlade-Trogen: I hope our so-called "civil servants" read all the comments written here. The message is loud and clear, we have lost faith in our Philippine government to be honest, transparent and have the Filipinos best interest in mind. This is their time to shine and redeem their tarnished image.
CPA: Corruption in not monopolized by local and national governments only! Private groups can be corrupt as well. WHAT WE REALLY NEED IS ABSOLUTE TRANSPARENCY… BOTH GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE GROUPS.
Having lived two years in the Philippines while working as a correspondent for the Asian Wall Street Journal in the early 1990s, I have fond memories and a deep affection for the people of the Philippines. I also share their skepticism about Filipino politicians, though to be sure the Philippines has no monopoly on poorly performing leaders and civil servants. And I have learned here at CGD that on some ratings of government capability, including public health, the Philippines actually performs pretty well.
I also believe that President Benigno Aquino III is sincere in his opposition to corruption and the desire to improve the lives of Filipinos. For those who don’t follow Philippine politics, it’s worth recalling that the current president is the son of President Corazon Aquino and Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., whose assassination on the airport tarmac upon his return from exile in 1983 sparked the “People Power” movement that ended the Marcos dictatorship.
During a visit to the Philippines last year I heard many complaints about the government but people I spoke with were confident that the current President Aquino is honest and committed to his country’s successful development. I’m hoping he will hear about the outpouring of Filipino support for typhoon relief transparency and add his voice, thanking the foreign governments and charities now mobilizing to help the Philippines and asking them to be as transparent as possible. Do you agree? Like this post on Facebook!