Now it almost seems impossible not to talk about politics to pay respect to Yolanda disaster survivors and victims who have lost their loved ones when President B.S. Aquino himself has been callously playing the politics of blame avoidance.
Instead of doing his job as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and serving as an inspiration to his constituents, the President chose to blame others, particularly the local government of Tacloban , for lack of preparation and high death toll brought about by deadly storm surges created by the super-typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan.
The problem is, B.S. Aquino was a little too late in declaring a State of National Calamity. Presidential declaration of a state of calamity or emergency means that the Presidency or the Executive Office is taking over or assuming responsibility for the speedy rescue of calamity victims and for bringing normalcy to the affected areas. Which means that B.S. Aquino’s unsavory attempt to put the blame on local government officials for allegedly failing “to respond appropriately” is highly inappropriate and unpresidential.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, B.S. Aquino reiterated that the local government level should have acted properly as “first responders”. Prior to his CNN interview, the Aquino regime had been heaping blame on others for lack of preparation. Yet this was denied by the president’s spinsmeisters who said they’re not blaming anyone.
Here’s the timeline of the president’s blame game:
- November 10: The President blames local officials of Tacloban for lack of preparation that led to high death toll.
- November 11: The President’s henchmen claim their boss is not blaming anyone. Cabinet Sec. Jose Almendras said: “Hindi po kami nanunuro. Wala po kaming sinisi. Ang sinasabi ko lang po, napakaimportante na meron kaming katuwang, meron pong makakasabi sa amin kung saan dadalhin ang tulong.”
It seems that the entire Executive office has been successfully trapped in its own web of lies and denials.
Davao mayor Rody Duterte was right in saying there was no functioning government in Tacloban because even members of the military and local government agencies were victims of Yolanda devastation.
Here’s an excerpt of B.S. Aquino’s interview with Amanpour:
Amanpour: “Can I ask you first, you have toured some of the worst hit areas, on a personal note, how has it affected you? How do you manage to reassure your people who have gone through this typhoon after an earth quake, after a typhoon last year?”
Aquino: “First of all, typhoons are not an unusual occurrence in the Philippines. We get visited by about 20 of them every year. But this year has been an exceptionally bad year with more than 20. We have been able to demonstrate as a government and as a people collectively that we take care of each other. And the government’s immediate response has been reassuring to the vast majority of our people. Our ability to take care of our problems, rather quickly, except in this particular case… the foundation of our efforts rely on the local government units and unfortunately two or three were simply overwhelmed by the degree of this typhoon that affected us But other than that, in other areas there was preemptive evacuation, cooperation from the citizenry which brought down the casualty figures from the other areas affected. Except for this corridor in Leyte and Samar provinces.”
Amanpour: “It is obviously a huge emergency to get fresh food, water to the worst hit areas and we have seen some of the local officials, mayors for instance in the tacloban area, has said that, you know, survivors are piling looking up into the heavens and the dead are piling up. He says that there is no local government functioning, those that they depend on, the police, the army, even social workers are the victims themselves, even the police and army are dead… we have heard so many stories from our reporters… the slowness, the bottle neck of trying to get vital aid to the people… how can you open those routes.. that pipeline for disaster relief?”
Aquino: “Again, our system says our local government unit has to take care for the initial response. Unfortunately in the case of Tacloban, our police there assigned are about 290 and only 20 of them were available when disaster struck. Employees of the city government have also been affected, have been tending to their own families and there have been very few who have been reporting for work.” Hence, the national government had to not just augment what the local government could do but actually replace a lot of the personnel with personnel from other regions to take care of government’s vital functions. What hampers the effort is the typhoon wrought havoc on the powerlines and also the communications facilities giving us immense dificulty in identifying needs and thereby dispatching the necessary relief supplies and various equipment. So today, all the national roads are i understand reopened. We’re already working on the secondary roads. And most of the airports are almost back to normal operating levels. But still, the sheer number of people that were affected in these three provinces is quite daunting. We are tasked to provide something like 50,000 family food packs every two days.”
Amanpour: “Mr. President, we’ve heard catastrophic death toll estimates, some have said maybe 10,000 in the worst hit areas in Tacloban alone. Your initial government estimates are about a couple of thousand dead. Do you expect the death toll to go much higher, what can you tell us about the number of dead?”
Aquino: “Ten thousand I think is too much, perhaps that was brought about by a.. how shall I put it… being in the center of the destruction… being actual… there was emotional trauma involved with that particular estimate… quoting both a police official and a local government official… they were too close to the… they did not have basis for it… Two thousand.. the figure I have right now is about two thousand but this might still get higher… We are hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left… wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing… But so far, 2,000 to 2,500 is the figure we are working on as far as deaths are concerned.”
Amanpour: “And what about the… obviously the people are desperate, they are raiding some stores.. there are obviously some reports of some looting and outbreaks of some violence. What is your assessment of the state of law and order?”
Aquino: “Well, we have deployed an additional 2,000 personnel to these affected areas to restore order. And again, the problem is, the main government unit, which is the local government unit acting as first responders failed to respond appropriately, then there was that breakdown. People became desparate and that’s why we are trying to fast track the situation where the national government takes over the local government functions so that order is restored and people are gained the confidence that their needs are being addressed and will be addressed fully.”
Amanpour: “It just so happens that there is one of those major climate change conferences taking place in Europe in Warsaw, Copanhagan 19 and your Philippine climate negotiator made a really heart felt plea for international help and basically lambasted the failure of the world to deal with climate change. He said he has done a lot of interviews and he has talked to a lot of officials in the US and in the developed world. They say they can’t be held responsible, that they can’t be held morally obliged to do anything. Now the Philippines is the most storm wracked area in the world, we know that it is the third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What do you say to those negotiators sitting there in the world capitals while your country is practically submerged?”
Aquino: “Well, uhm, when… I think it is already an accepted reality for the Filipino community that the global community that climate change is a reality and that soon there will be no debate that it is happening. Areas, uhm, time when it should be raining suddenly become dry, the dry months suddenly become very very wet. For instance, since I’ve assumed office, practically every year, when we are supposed to be in the Christmas spirit, where we never had typhoons, we have very strong and devastating typhoons like what happened last year. We are again at the tail end, where the wet season is supposed to have been over, and we have this super typhoon. It wreaks havoc also on our planting season wherein our farmers are getting hard pressed to adjust to this global climate change. And we all live in one planet, either we come up with a solution that everyone adhers to and cooperates with or let us be prepared for ever increasing disasters on a global level. In one of the international conferences that I attended, there was a south pacific island that was discussing moving their entire because they … I am sorry I don’t remember exactly how much the level of increase but it will completely inundate their country… and they are actually discussing where to move their people to if that eventuality happens especially in the most developed countries contributing immensely to global warming, there has to be sense of moral responsibility, that what they wreak is playing havoc on the lives of so many less capable of fending for themselves.”
Amanpour: “Mr. President, you talk about a moral responsibility from the world. Can we ask you about your responsibility as President. Clearly, I don’t know whether you agree, the way you respond in your government responds to this terrible devastation, will probably define your Presidency. Many have talked about how much effor has gone in, reform you have done, how much work you’ve done against corruption But many people might end up judging you on how your government has responded.”
Aquino: “I think you can ask all of the governors for instance in the areas that have been saying that our making them aware of the dangers that were forthcoming from this typhoone enabled them to move their populations from danger areas and safer areas and thereby minimize casualties. A lot of them, with the exception of Leyte Province, Eastern and Western Samar, have reported that practically 1 or 2 casualties and even practically zero casualties. Wherein normally, when we have a typhoon you will have ships that will be travelling that would have sunk, casualties in the hundreds probably merit too much attention… So the knowledge, the geohazard mapping, the knowledge imparted to all of them has enabled them to reduce the risk inherent in all these disasters that visit us.”
Amanpour: “When you look to the future and you know what kind of place your archipelago occupies, storm buffeted over and over again, do you think this is going to get worse in the future? Do you envision worse storms, worse casualties, or do you think there might be the possibility of raising the game, raising the ability to react to this kind of…”
Aquino: “One would hope it would not be worse than this, at the same time, again when trying to plan a community whereby they are resilient to all of these ravages of nature… there is an ongoing program defining precisely geohazard maps .. some sort of ecological engineering whereby .. items like planting mangroves for instance as a defense against tsunamis … investments in the sciences particularly our weather bureau… our institute for volcanology… and other entities in government where they will provide us with the necessary knowledge that we can minimize risks inherent in all of these national disasters that unfortunately the Philippines finds itself in not just in typhoons but being in the ring of fire…”
Amanpour: “Finally, what is your most urgent need to deal with this disaster right now?”
Aquino: “The challenge for us right now after the relief efforts will be to rebuild the houses of tens of thousands of families affected … quite a major outlay … construction has to be better to withstand the ravages of this climate change and also later on the mapping out of areas prone to storm surges… that I think is the next phase of studies that we have to do to make our country more resilient to all these natural disasters.”
My take? You be the judge!
MEANWHILE… ABS-CBN’s and Marx Roxas’ wife Korina Sanchez attacked CNN’s Anderson Cooper for his eye-witness report of the situation in Tacoban. In his live report, Cooper said: “There’s no real evidence of organized relief operation around Tacloban. I haven’t seen much of a relief effort. I haven’t seen a military presence…”
The ABS-CBN talent fired back at the CNN anchor in her radio program: “Itong si Anderson Coooper sabi daw walang government presence sa Tacloban. Mukhang hindi niya alam ang sinasabi niya (This Anderson Cooper reportedly said there’s no government presence in Tacloban. It looks like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
In fairness to Cooper, he was asked what he actually saw.
Cooper said: “The question of where is the bigger relief effort, I’m not exactly clear. It could be happening in some other place…”
He also compared Philippine government’s “disorganized” response to Haiyan to that of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
“When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation.”
To date the Philippine government received nearly two billion pesos in foreign aid from industrialized countries, which include United Kingdom (P710 million), United Arab Emirates (P424), Norway (P141 million), Canada (P206 million), and the European Union (P173). The United States government also pledged $20 million in aid (P860 million), apart from deploying U.S. troops to help in the release of relief goods and relocation of typhoon victims.
The CNN anchor definitely has the right to know “where is the bigger relief effort” when the U.S. government promised to give $20 million of its taxpayers’ money to the Philippine government.