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Cabinet exec appalled by looting in Tacloban.

Byline: Christian V. Esguerra

MANILA -- Typhoon victims in Tacloban City ransacked stores for food and water, unable to await government relief. But others also walked away with LED TVs, washing machines and even an ice cream chest.

As if to highlight the senselessness of some of the looting, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras recalled spotting a man carrying a McDonald's "drive-thru" sign.

"Tell me, please, what will you do with that?" asked an incredulous Almendras, who was back from an inspection of Leyte and nearby areas devasted by supertyphoon "Yolanda."

But is there any moral justification for looting in times of calamities?

President Aquino on Monday said he was looking into the possibility of declaring a state of emergency in the wake of reports of widespread looting in Tacloban.

"When I was told about the looting, what we were thinking of was state of emergency or martial law," he told reporters in Filipino.

Aquino raised the possibility of designating "all departments" to attend to the needs of Tacloban residents. He said the Department of Interior and Local Government would be the "overall supervisor until such time that the people of the Tacloban City governmet report back to work."

Aquino said national agencies would perform the tasks until local government officials "regain their ability to run the city."

The national government earlier deployed police and military officers to restore order in Tacloban. A businessman showed up at the President's meeting with local officials the other day, complaining of massive looting. A stone's throw away from Aquino was another resident carrying what appeared to be the remains of a vehicle chassis.

"Is it legal to loot, to steal food when you're hungry? That's both a legal and a philosophical and a moral question. I'm not here to answer that," said Almendras.

He focused instead on the importance of establishing "command and control in a disaster scenario immediately."

"The minute you let go of it, the tendency is it catches all. So that is what.... has been reestablished in Tacloban," he said.

In his essay, "Moral Looting in the Aftermath of Disasters," author Rick Garlikov cited six conditions for looting to be considered "pardonable" during a natural disaster.

One is when "there is no other legal, legitimate, or more reasonable way for those who loot to obtain necessities." Another is if looters "would have been able to obtain the necessities legitimately if social/economic mechanisms of an interdependent society had not been disrupted."

In an article in the New York Times, Donald McNeil Jr. noted that "academics who study looting parse it into three separate rungs on a ladder of moral ambiguity."

"Stealing food to survive is accepted by most," he wrote in 2010. "Stealing TVs slides into a grey area. Yes, a starving man could sell a TV for food, but it's never clear his motives are that pure."

He added: "And the third level - rampage and mayhem that is really ethnic or class warfare or the Hobbesian 'war of all against all' - is universally condemned, even though many say the poor of every country have a right to be angry and ought to be forgiven for showing it during a crisis."

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 11, 2013
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