Romualdezes as fall guy in Leyte disaster
The feud between two of the leading dynastic families in the Philippines–those of President Aquino of Tarlac and of the Romualdezes of Leyte–has flared again in the wake of the devastation wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in Eastern Visayas. The revisiting of the feud has held hostage the rehabilitation of the region, the hardest hit by the storm. It also the discharged a heavy load of unwanted toxic material that undermined recovery plans as relief and financial aid from foreign donors flowed into the country.
In a Christmas message to the nation, Mr. Aquino appealed for national unity and more foreign aid to kick-start the recovery plan, but at the same time, he undercut the effort by politicizing the distribution of relief goods and services to the survivors. Last week. US Secretary of State John Kerry, after visiting the Leyte disaster area, described it as “like a war zone.” He was referring not only to the physical devastation left by Yolanda but, apparently, also to the acrimonious debate between Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez on Nov. 14, over desperate pleas by the mayor for immediate assistance to his stricken people. The slow response of the central government to deliver relief to the survivors was not lost on the perceptive Kerry.
Roxas introduced the politically noxious issue when he told Romualdez: “You have to understand, we are talking very straight here… You have to understand you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino.” From now on, let us never forget that, to the Aquinos of Tarlac, the Romualdezes of Leyte are a dirty name, not because they have committed an abominable offense to the latter but because the Aquinos associate the Romualdezes with the conjugal partnership of the Marcos dictatorship (their real enemy), under which Imelda Romualdez Marcos shared power with the dictator as minister of human settlements and governor of Metro Manila.
The Aquinos have therefore dragged the Romualdez clan collaterally into their vendetta with Ferdinand Marcos, whom they have blamed for the assassination of the late former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., the President’s father. Why Roxas brought up the irrelevant Aquino-Romualdez issue in the Tacloban aid logjam defies explanation, but it seems clear that the current-generation Aquino is digging up the assassination issue to find a scapegoat to blame for the slow response of both the local government and the central government to deliver aid to the survivors of the typhoon. The scapegoat effort is backfiring on the central government, not on the Tacloban authorities.
To begin with, Tacloban was completely obliterated, including its infrastructure and municipal services, and the city government had no one to turn to for aid in a disaster of such scale, but to the central government, whose presence in the disaster area was scarcely visible, except for national officials scrambling about with no relief to distribute, and with no means or vehicles to deliver the goods. During the first three weeks on the storm’s landfall, any semblance of government–whether national or local–disappeared, prompting foreign correspondents, who were on the site ahead of officials, to report in horror and ask where the government was in an hour when its presence was badly needed. One CNN correspondent told Mr. Aquino in an interview that the response of his administration during the crisis could have defined its legacy in his remaining two years in office. This remark traumatized Mr. Aquino more than the devastation he saw in the few days of his inspection of the disaster areas.
During the first three weeks after the landfall of Yolanda on Nov. 8, two task forces–those led by US aircraft and the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier–served as the hospital and provided services for the delivery of relief goods, mostly donated by foreign donors, and not supplied by the nonexistent Philippine government, while the Philippine Army and Air Force were immobilized.
All the while, Roxas, the most senior Cabinet official in charge of delivering relief goods, squandered precious time, trying to push Mayor Romualdez to sign papers declaring himself incompetent of discharging his functions and responsibilities as the local official of first resort in emergencies. Roxas wanted Romualdez to formally hand over his powers to Roxas, who sought to take over powers legally from an elected official.
But Roxas did not need Romualdez’s abdication papers to take over and get relief moving. He is head of the Department of Interior and Local Government, and Romualdez is his subordinate. All Roxas was interested in was to nail down a scapegoat upon whom to shift the blame of the incompetence of the central government.
It was easy to do this usurpation because the mayor is a Romualdez and Roxas’ boss is an Aquino, telling us all that the Aquinos have immunity from accountability for the incompetence of the national government. They have found a fall guy in a Romualdez, while settling scores with Marcos, the real tormentor and oppressor of the Aquino oligarchy. Marcos, not Imelda, was the principal suspect of the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr.
Too bad for them, the Romualdezes cannot change their surname. The Aquinos’ vindictiveness have stigmatized them for life.
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