An irrelevant president
This was not just a case of shoulda, woulda and coulda. And Anderson Cooper had nothing to do with it. Notice that even Philippine media reported similarly. Even without CNN (add to that BBC and Al Jazeera) and the commentaries, the cries from the hungry and homeless survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Tacloban sounded more than pleading, to say the least.
As the whole world heard the same cries as we did, Malacañang’s response (or lack thereof) to the already full-blown-and-still-worsening crisis became all the more baffling with each passing day. The sobering reality couldn’t seem to get into the heads of administration officials. As baffling was their seeming ignorance of the breadth and length of destruction. For example, it was media that told us that even some small islands off northern Cebu had been without food and shelter for days. And that no government help had reached them.
The impression President Aquino tried to project in the CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour was of a government in control. But the situation on the ground told a far different story. That disconnect now appears to have sent the once much-vaunted popularity of the President into a nosedive.
Six days later—remember that six days without food and water is an eternity, and the fact that the whole world was watching—Mr. Aquino announced that he was overall in-charge of the relief operations. Even as that was understood as a tacit admission of Malacañang’s shortcomings, the frustration had by then burrowed deep into the public’s consciousness and sentiments. The Aquino “charm” had imploded.
Did he fumble or was he “jumbled”?
To be fair with him, no one is expected to emerge an expert from the strongest typhoon in recorded history to hit land. If Mr. Aquino fumbled, that’s understandable. We can forgive him for that.
But after that Amanpour interview it was clear that he was jumbled. He said that the estimate of 10,000 deaths could be too high and, apparently the figure so irked him that he sacked the police director who reportedly gave that number. President Aquino seemed so fixated on his pre-Yolanda framework of “zero deaths”; he told Amanpour that the around 1,000 deaths reported so far would most likely not increase substantially. At that time, news reports were mostly coming from Tacloban or focused on that city. Capiz, Iloilo, Cebu, Coron and even nearby Eastern Samar and Ormoc were as yet unknown territories. Now that the death toll has reached 3,600 as we write, and still counting and proving the President wrong, we are wondering: Were his lieutenants feeding him wrong or guarded information? Was there a cordon sanitaire in the first days following the tragedy?
On the same sixth day, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas reappeared in Tacloban. We know that Roxas was in Tacloban since the day before Yolanda made landfall. When hotel guests were already crying for help, hotel guests claimed Roxas just walked past them, surrounded by his bodyguards, unperturbed by the chaos that was starting to unravel. Then he was lost from television cameras—for days. Meantime, Korina Sanchez threw a tantrum on air over CNN’s Anderson Cooper’s reporting on the “no-organized” government response and relief efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda. That effectively gave the President more minus points from a public that had by then grown depressed over the heart-wrenching images of death and devastation Yolanda left behind.
Notice as well that in his interviews, Mr. Aquino would continually refer to the “local government.” Tacloban’s Alfred Romualdez is not only an opposition mayor. He is a living species of the family that many see as the nemesis of the Aquinos. To be sure, Romualdez’s and his wife’s recounting of the mayor’s “inspecting the ballroom of a family resort” to see how much damage Yolanda was inflicting on it did not register well with the public, which will have to make him accountable for that too. But notice as well that the same references on “local government” as “shoulda, woulda, coulda reacted to the crisis” were echoed by Roxas in subsequent interviews coming six and seven days after the fact. Was the Aquino administration, in the long “interregnum” when concrete, effective response and relief
efforts from Malacañang were lacking, punishing Romualdez by not coming to the aid of his suffering constituents?
Overnight, the public’s pet name “P-Noy” metamorphosed in social media into BS Aquino. Don’t ask me what that means.
We honor all those who have died in this heart-rending calamity. We honor the woman who slept for nights with the corpses of her three young children because government was nowhere to give them even the decency of a mass burial. We honor the old woman whose
only daughter had to leave her in her debilitating condition in order to look for food. We honor each and everyone who now wake up to another day of sorrow they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
We honor them not because the most powerful man of this country has not, but because it is the rightful and the most humane thing to do. The whole world’s humanity, now converging in the Philippines, honors them. Never mind if the most powerful man in the Philippines has not. He does not matter now. He has begun to reveal his irrelevance. He no longer is our leader.
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