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‘Yolanda’ was a test of character

04:01 AM November 20, 2019

Imagine: Nov. 8, 2013, in Tacloban City, the monster named “Yolanda” has taken away your whole family, your home, your livelihood; and your future is an incapacitating void. Like many others, you walk around absently in the suddenly emptied landscape, to wherever your legs take you, because your raison d’être itself is a fatality and you have literally nowhere to go. And then, a redemption moment: The President of the Philippines is present, actively at work, with help for you and others like you. Instantly, you regain your spirit, you feel it being uplifted—there is hope personified.

It’s the symbolic role that a nation’s leader plays wherever he/she goes, whether he/she knows it or not. The administration then didn’t know, and viewed Yolanda as merely a disaster for the operations personnel to address. And apparently, some of its former officials still consider it that way: “President Benigno S. Aquino III tried to make a rational response—visit later, rather than get in the way,” Manuel Quezon III wrote (“The barrio versus modernity,” 11/6/19).

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How could a leader “get in the way” in a time of cataclysmic human tragedy? Yolanda was a test of character; there might have been good intentions, but also mediocrity and inadequacy, the kind that couldn’t see and feel the need for something beyond the “rational,” for symbols—for hope among the wholly lost, in their thousands. What appeared, not for the first or the last time, was an inexplicable shortage of caring.

ATIS ALTAMIRANO, [email protected]

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TAGS: Government, letters, President Benigno Aquino III, super typhoon, Tacloban, Yolanda
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