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Please somebody gag his mouth

It would be in President Aquino’s best interests and definitely that of the nation, if his advisers could just gag his mouth during this most horrifying episode of our people. They should realize that in the wake of such human suffering as that wrought by super-typhoon Yolanda, communications, and I don’t mean its technological aspect, break down and a distressed people magnify the flubs of those in power.

For instance, I was surprised that a TV report the other night showed an obviously educated, comely woman in devastated Tacloban suppressing her tears to say: “What does the President want to see for him to help us? More dead bodies?”

However, and I have been closely monitoring Aquino’s statements since the super-typhoon approached, he had not said anything that should elicit that kind of angry excoriation from that lady.

However, what made that lady make that complaint against Aquino could be traced to his antagonistic remarks against Tacloban officials, that they didn’t prepare enough for the super-typhoon. Aquino even sounded like a brat in a tantrum, that Tacloban officials simply ruined all his plans for a “zero-casualty” by either being incompetent or lazy.

Death in Tacloban: “Low casualty count,” Aquino referred to it in his Nov. 11 TV address

Death in Tacloban: “Low casualty count,” Aquino referred to it in his Nov. 11 TV address

Blaming Tacloban officials
Aquino indeed said the day after Yolanda hit: “Yung Tacloban, hesitant lang ako. Para bang hindi ganun ka prepared…compared to other areas . . .” Aquino said that officials in most hard-hit areas did prepare for the coming of Yolanda, as seen from their “low casualty count”. But those who seemed unprepared will “have to explain” their casualty count. “Any casualty is an issue with me,” the President said.

Everyone knew though that he wasn’t referring to the council members but to the mayor, Alfred Romualdez whom he probably saw in his mind as the cousin of Leyte representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, an opposition leader whose newspaper Manila Standard Today has been writing scathing exposés and opinion columns detailing his boo-boos.

But why would Aquino jump to such hasty conclusions?

Either he was stressed by the immensity of the devastation by super-typhoon Yolanda. Or, in his pettiness, he saw a chance of putting down the Romualdezes who control the island and who are with the opposition: Rumors had probably reached him that the mayor wasn’t even in his home or office when the typhoon hit that his wife and children had to fend for themselves in closely beating death because of the floodwaters. (The mayor was reportedly checking up on preparations in his city, and stranded by the typhoon in a resort, where he also narrowly escaped the deadly storm surge.)

Aquino should really shut up. Even as the smell of decomposing bodies became worse in Tacloban and other Leyte towns, Aquino did not let up in blaming the local government there.

Aquino: Low casualty counts
In his latest televised address, just the other night, he said “The low casualty counts from the other provinces that were also in the typhoon’s path, such as Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Negros Occidental, Palawan, Aklan, and Romblon (was because) their local governments were able to prepare in advance.”

Wasn’t he briefed that most of those killed in Leyte were those who drowned, many carried to the sea, because of the storm surge created by Yolanda that reached several kilometers inland, that there were no or only minor storm surges in the islands he mentioned as having low casualty counts?

Wasn’t Aquino informed that the waters reached more than two-storeys in height because Tacloban’s cove-like bay acted as a funnel that magnified the storm surge?

Wasn’t he briefed that even his Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas—just two top officials he dispatched to prepare Tacloban for the storm, but who didn’t coordinate with local officials—narrowly escaped a rather embarrassing death by drowning, when wherever they bunkered in was also inundated by the storm waters’ surge, and were incommunicado for two whole days? “Wherever they bunkered in” since intriguingly, Gazmin and Roxas haven’t reported exactly where they were during the storm, and how they survived it.

Aquino’s media operators may think that they’re so clever as to have the President use prime TV time for his addresses regarding the typhoon.

His address the other night however was a display of an unfeeling leader, which psychiatrists would interpret as a deficiency of mirror-neurons. Nowhere in the address is an expression of grief or commiseration for the suffering of Filipinos, only a list of things he claims his government has done or will do. He refers to the horrible drowning of Filipinos as merely “casualty counts”, which he is so defensive to claim as “low”.
(US President Bush’ speech in the wake of the disastrous hurricane Katrina in 2005 was criticized as his worst. But compared to Aquino’s address though, it was a masterpiece in reaching out to a people in misery, and inspiring them to be bold in the face of adversity, for instance:

“We have seen fellow citizens left stunned and uprooted, searching for loved ones, and grieving for the dead, and looking for meaning in a tragedy that seems so blind and random. We have also witnessed the kind of desperation no citizen of this great and generous Nation should ever have to know – fellow Americans calling out for food and water, vulnerable people left at the mercy of criminals who had no mercy and the bodies of the dead lying uncovered and untended in the street. (But) these days of sorrow and outrage have also been marked by acts of courage and kindness that make all Americans proud.”)

After address, horrific videos
His spin doctors should have watched his latest address at their homes, and not in the Palace watching his delivery, as there, they could not have seen that it was an interruption of TV news that were broadcasting the first horrific videos of the tragedy.

For instance, in his address, Aquino says: “The delivery of food, water, and medicines to the most heavily affected areas is at the head of our priorities. We have tasked barangays to deliver and distribute these vital needs; 24,000 family food packs were already distributed in Tacloban yesterday; and these efforts are centralized in the eight largest barangays there.”

Right after those statements, TV news comes in again, showing footage of stunned victims in Leyte towns on the roadsides begging for food and being interviewed complaining through their tears that they’re starting to die of thirst and hunger. Wouldn’t most people instinctively exclaim, after hearing the president and then seeing the video clips: What a liar? A more analytic audience would immediately wonder: He’s boasting of 24,000 food packs when TV says at least 500,000 are now scrounging for food and water?

And then you have the President looking so irritated when Tacloban businessmen and even his own officials told him how bad the situation is right after the typhoon struck. A Tacloban businessman in that meeting related his harrowing experience that he was shot at by a looter. Instead of being disturbed by such breakdown of law and order, the President of the Republic retorted:

“Buhay ka pa naman, di ba? (You’re still alive, aren’t you?) “

Really, just gag him. Better for him and this nation’s morale during this crisis that try everyone’s souls.

(On Friday, I’ll continue the second part of my column “Ten Questions, they didn’t, couldn’t ask at the Napoles hearing.)