It is a vicious cycle. Every year, billions of pesos are spent and lost when monstrous typhoons, powerful earthquakes, and cataclysmic volcanic eruptions happen in the country.

After the destruction, the slow rehabilitation begins. More often than not, the rebuilding takes years, taking a toll on the people who are affected by the natural disasters.

In between, there is a more urgent need to provide relief for affected communities, sending people emergency food, water, shelter, and non-food items for them to stand up again and start all over.

It was shocking to hear reports of canned goods and other food items wasted because they were not immediately distributed to the communities in need and were allowed to expire because the government kept them for too long.

This was the story in November 2013 after Typhoon “Yolanda,” internationally known as “Haiyan,” when news outlets reported that tons of food items were found to be no longer fit for consumption because they were kept for too long and simply forgotten.

Some of the food items were imported canned goods donated by the international community as massive relief operations rolled out after the foreign news agencies reported that about 10,000 people died in the most powerful-ever cyclone to hit landfall in the country’s belly. It also left more than 200,000 households homeless.

The scenes in 2013 were seen again in northern Mindanao and in the Visayas region after Typhoon “Odette” slammed the country a week before Christmas.

But the horrors of the Yolanda relief operations — when the government controlled the distribution of food and non-food items to people in need — should not be repeated.

The then president, Benigno Aquino III, took the blame for incompetence and the inefficiency of relief operations when people complained of not getting enough assistance despite the huge foreign aid that poured into the disaster areas.

The problem really lies not in the national government but in the local governments which carry out the actual distribution of the relief goods.

Government has devolved much of its executive functions, like health, education, and social services to the provinces, cities, and towns.

Perhaps, Aquino and his Cabinet officials could be faulted for not checking and supervising the distribution of relief goods, and leaving local agencies to handle the operations.

The horror stories of relief operations did not end with expired canned goods. There were also reports of substitution. Imported canned goods, like sardines and corned beef, did not reach the intended beneficiaries in many rural communities.

Instead, the people were given locally manufactured sardines and meat products. The imported goods ended up in the homes of local government officials, or worse sold in some grocery stores.

In some areas, for instance, after Typhoon Yolanda slammed the Visayas regions, bags of imported rice and European sardines were delivered to local governments but were re-packed.

In some cases, rice stocks from the National Food Authority (NFA) were distributed and the high-quality and imported stocks were kept by the officials and given to relatives and friends.

A week after Typhoon Odette left nearly 400 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people without homes, power, water, and communications services, foreign aid started to pour in the devastated areas.

The United States has promised to provide a billion pesos in aid, including shelter, food, water, sanitation, and hygiene kits. Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, and other countries have also rushed emergency assistance to the Philippines.

But many countries have learned their lessons from the Yolanda relief operations. They were channeling the assistance to the Red Cross and other humanitarian and relief agencies to avoid the inefficiency, incompetence, and corruption in the distribution of emergency food and non-food items.

The Catholic Church, through its humanitarian arm Caritas Philippines, has been doing a better job than the government as there is no bureaucratic red tape in the release and distribution of funds. The Church serves its dioceses but charity is extended to people regardless of religious beliefs.

The international community trusted humanitarian agencies to distribute equitably and swiftly the emergency relief supplies rather than local governments, which may swap imported goods with local products and choose the people who will get the assistance.

The elections next year could be another factor why there is a reluctance to allow the government to distribute the assistance as there could be some shameless public officials who might take advantage of the situation to promote their own political interests.

Some presidential aspirants have rushed to the disaster areas to make their presence felt, but some of them really had a good excuse to be on the ground as elected national leaders.

But they should not distribute food packs and bags of rice with their campaign color or names on the label. And they should not expect to win votes from the people for the humanitarian effort.

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr was highly visible in disaster areas giving assistance through local officials, but his efforts were clearly political.

There had been numerous disasters, like Typhoon “Ulysses” last year and in the Marawi conflict in 2017, but Marcos Junior was nowhere to be found. He was too busy distorting the country’s history and rehabilitating his family’s sullied reputation.

The people must see through his propaganda and the massive disinformation to discredit his political rivals.

Clearly, there are people who take advantage of the misery of the people during natural calamities. From presidential aspirants to local politicians, they will find opportunities to promote selfish political interests.

But the biggest headaches are not the politicians but the government workers who are supposed to help disaster victims but make a profit out of relief supplies.

People who work in the local social welfare and development offices, however, do not have the monopoly of petty thefts and other wrongdoing. There could also be some unscrupulous people in non-government humanitarian agencies, including the Red Cross and the Church.

Taking advantage of the victims of natural calamities is, perhaps, one bad Filipino trait that should be discarded. Or is it only human for some people to profit out of the misery of money?

The horrors of relief operations might be repeated over and over again. It’s the right time to put a stop to this detestable practice.