‘You are a Romualdez, and the President is an Aquino’

That, according to Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, was what Interior and Local Government secretary Mar Roxas told him two days after super typhoon devastated his city and he was asking the national government for troops to keep order and undertake rescue and relief operations.

Those were chilling words made in the midst of a crisis when thousands of bodies were all over the city and thousands of the living were needing rescue, food and water.

Romualdez the other day at the joint congressional meeting of the Oversight Committee on the 2010 National Disaster and Risk Reduction law said Roxas made that statement after he asked why the official was asking from him a formal, documented turnover of the city government’s authority right after Yolanda struck.

Roxas’s first response was that Romualdez’ narrative was “preposterous and full of lies.” But he also told media that his statement “was taken out of context”. “What I told him was that we have to go by the book,” Roxas claimed.

Yesterday though, Roxas back-pedaled. When asked by broadcaster Arnold Clavio if he did make that statement, he replied: “Is it not true he is a Romualdez? Is it not true the president is an Aquino? Secondly is it not true he said the local government cannot handle it on their own so he sought for our help?”

Malacañang photo of a meeting among Romualdez, Aquino and Roxas in Tacloban, three days after Yolanda. Is Roxas scowling?

Malacañang photo of a meeting among Romualdez, Aquino and Roxas in Tacloban, three days after Yolanda. Is Roxas scowling?

Roxas replies does make it certain that he really told Romualdez: “You have to be careful because you are a Romualdez, and the President is an Aquino.”

But what exactly could Roxas have meant by that? I can think of only two explanations.

One would be that Roxas was asking Romualdez to turn over complete control of the city, even to formally resign his post, since the national government agencies would be undertaking all the relief and rehabilitation efforts and there might be legal complications involving the authorities of local and national governments.

Roxas was merely saying that the turnover should be formalized and documented, as President Aquino could be charged of going over the head of or even removing a mayor just because his family had been an archenemy of Romualdez clan since it was a pillar of the Marcos dictatorship.

But Romualdez had debunked Roxas argument by pointing out that the President is anyway of the whole country, which includes Tacloban.

Kinder interpretation
A second interpretation would be kinder to Roxas.

With his knowledge of Aquino’s character and mentality, Roxas was actually telling Romualdez: “Be careful, since the the President is an Aquino, and all of them hate your Romualdez clan. He’d hesitate helping you and your city, unless you formally turn over all authority to him.”

But if Roxas were just being helpful to Romualdez, giving him a tip on how to get Aquino’s help, why would the mayor later on criticize the secretary over that statement, to be even so emotional that he shed tears in public about it, and in effect denounced Roxas for his politicking in the midst of the most horrific tragedy in our generation?

Choose either explanation though, revealed is a high government official in a crucial post whose mindset is filled with politics and politicking. And Roxas does have an image of somebody who’s mind is so dead-set in becoming president in 2016, a desire that has so much consumed him.

Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, chair of the oversight committee couldn’t be more right when he remarked: “Recalling what Mayor Romualdez mentioned, if politics got in the way of disaster response, this is the worst thing we could ever do.”

I had thought this administration’s bungling in handling the Yolanda crisis is due to incompetence: What would you expect of an amateurish, “student-council” government? It turns out that it is not only because of ineptitude but stupid partisanship.

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And while all this politicking going on, international and local media continue to report on the hellish life of Warays in the wake of Yolanda’s devastation, a month after the typhoon hit.

International television news Al Jazeera’s Jamela Alindogan reported from Tacloban just the other day: “If you look around there’s been some cosmetic development,” she said. “But if you start talking to survivors, and you get into their homes and their tents, you get the sense that recovery for them is far from over.”

“And as emergency help starts to dwindle, people have become even more desperate—facing uncertainty and even exploitation.”

Alindogan featured an interview with one “Mylene”, a 16-year old girl whose parents were killed in the typhoon and the eldest of a family of 11. She has turned to prostitution, paid $6 for her services, amidst the ruins of Tacloban. “I don’t have any other way to feed my small siblings,” she says in the interview.

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What was deeply troubling for me was the reportage of a local TV network just the other night. The report started by panning a crude sign on a card board on a Tacloban street: “Please pick up. Dead body of a boy.” The sign had a red arrow pointing downwards to a body bag. “

The report interviewed a distressed woman who lived in a tent located near the boy’s corpse. “I hope somebody picks the body up. It’s been stinking for days, and flies are swarming over it, and flying by us.”

Somehow, the image of a small boy—his name unknown and who knows if his parents also drowned in the flood or if they were looking for him—whose rotting corpse people around were complaining about was a testament to the horrific tragedy caused by typhoon Yolanda, and the depravation resulting from an incompetent government.

How can Aquino and Roxas claim that it deployed enough policemen and soldiers in Tacloban when rotting corpses are still by the city’s streets and under its debris to this day?