Catholic Bishop Blames Gaming for Slow Recovery after Typhoon Yolanda
A prominent Filipino bishop in Eastern Samar says that many of the refugees from Typhoon Yolanda have wasted charity donations on gambling. Borongan Bishop Crispin Varquez says, a year and a half after the typhoon ravaged the Philippines, most of the families hit hardest by the natural disaster are still mired in the financial assistance programs. Little sign of recovery seems evident.
Bishop Varquez says that much of the largesse has been lost gambling on legal and illegal games. Though casino gambling is being established in Manila, in the Philippines, cockfighting is the game of choice. Pitting roosters in deadly bloodsport is legal in most places due to a 1974 law, but it illegal in others. In a nation with a thousand islands, though, it is hard for authorities to enforce bans on gaming.
Cockfighting Has Replaced Traditional Jobs
It is unknown whether the cardinal’s statements are the hand-wringing of a clergyman at the acts of a few ne’er-do-wells, or indicative of a large scale problem. The cardinal was evocative in his charges, though.
Varquez wrote to his superiors in the church, “Gambling, especially cockfighting, both legal and illegal, has registered more occurrences in our communities. Even fishing is on the downswing, with the price of fish in the markets increasing, simply because fewer fishermen go fishing despite having received free fishing boats, fishing nets, and other paraphernalia.”
The History of Sabong
Cockfighting, known as “Sabong” by the locals, has existed in the Philippines since before the Ferdinand conquest. When he arrived in the islands in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan wrote, “We found the natives fighting huge, but tamed, roosters.”
In 1974, Ferdinand Marcos signed a law which made cockfighting legal. Since that time, many cities and municipalities have their own legal stadium or outdoor arena for fighting roosters. Sabong is considered a democratic game of chance, because even the poorest of Filipinos can defeat the wealthy Sabong aficionados. Bootleg arenas exist, too, which tend to be operated by small-time mobsters.
Financial Assistance Was Misused
While Sabong is a part of the culture of the Philippines, Bishop Varquez said it is having a negative effect on recovery attempts. The Catholic bishop says that the Typhoon Haiyan, known in the west as Typhoon Yolanda, received plenty of foreign aid from government and private donors. The problem is, many of the people who lost their homes and livelihoods have fallen to lives of dissipation since the tragic events which killed 6,340 people.
Crispin Varquez said, “Out of the millions or even billions of money that have come into survivors’ hands through different interventions of various institutions or persons, it is observed that only very few families and individuals have properly utilized such financial assistance. In fact, many families and individuals have used such financial assistance for other deplorable purposes [gambling].”
Typhoon Yolanda Relief Efforts
In the wake of the disaster, donations poured in from around the world. The wealthiest nations, such the United States and Japan, contributed massive sums of money and resources to aid in relief efforts. The USA sent U.S. Marines to help with relief. Many other governments worldwide also helped, including Mexico, which sent $1,000,000. China only sent $100,000 in the beginning, because it had been trying to isolate the Philippines internationally before the disaster, but it eventually sent $1.4 million and a medical aid ship from its Navy to assist.
In the private sector, dozens of organizations and thousands of private donors offered help. Just some examples include Major League Baseball, The International Society for Krishna Consciousness’s Food For Life Global, and the Catholic Relief Services, which each sent aid. UNICEF, The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army, and Doctors Without Borders each sent major assets to help.
Businesses like IKEA, Samsung, Royal Caribbean Cruises, and Wal-Mart sent money. The band Journey sent several hundred thousand dollars, while entertainers and celebrities like David Guetta, Stephen Colbert, and Kim Kardashian sent cash. Even the TV show, The X Factor, go in the spirit of things. The United Nations had a $300 million “action plan” to assist. All said and done, hundreds of millions of dollars flowed to the Philippines. It was not enough, says the cardinal, due to the prodigal lives of many refugees.
Reception of Cardinal’s Comments
Reception of Cardinal Varquez’s comments are likely to be unwelcome by the national government of the Philippines, along with the city leaders and people of Borongan City. While some of the refugees might have squandered money on gambling, by no means is anyone suggesting that every person who’s life was affected by the typhoon are gambling. Under the circumstances, such comments are likely to hurt efforts to maintain aid, if those giving money believe their funds are being misused.
It would be well-served if the national and local governments studied to see whether fishermen stay home to gamble instead of fish the sea, as they have done for generations. Such statistics might put the clergyman’s charges into perspective.