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Bane for all of us, boon for Roxas

IF there’s one person in the country possibly looking forward to disastrous typhoons, even visibly enjoying them if you had watched him at his televised “command” conference yesterday barking orders at officials in Borongan, Samar, it could be Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.

Leading the government’s preparations and response to typhoons has been Roxas’ biggest, and even only, opportunity to improve his popularity ratings and project himself as a capable leader for the country come 2016.

It is not President Benigno S. Aquino’s nor is it National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) chairman, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s that is this government’s face in responding to the recent typhoon Ruby. It has been Roxas’.

It is, of course, laudable for Roxas to be so compassionate that he’s in the frontlines traversing muddy roads and sleeping in dingy hotels so he could help our countrymen suffering the disaster. Why am I, and many netizens writing nasty posts on reports of his typhoon activities, so cynical?

Well, because it’s so obvious that, for Roxas, typhoons have become a big opportunity, to use a recently invented and popularized slang term, for epal, derived from the term pumapel, which roughly means to appear as having a big role (papel) in some laudable activity.

Same for-typhoons shirt? Roxas dropping his bike in Leyte the other day, with nasty comments from netizens. Top inset: Roxas in Borongan, Samar yesterday. Lower inset, in Tacloban, Leyte right after super typhoon Yolanda November last year, arguing with a CNN reporter.


Roxas, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and their staff even seemed dressed for an election campaign. They were all wearing the same especially-designed-for-typhoon-rescue yellow T-shirts with black bands, emblazoned with the Yellow Cult’s yellow-ribbon logo and the outline of the Philippine archipelago.

Roxas’ credit-grabbing yesterday morning was irritating, if not sickening, as the live televised briefing on the typhoon’s aftermath by NDRRMC Executive Director Alexander Pama (where was the chairman Gazmin, anyway? Sick again?) was interrupted, and replaced, by what was billed by the TV station as “DILG chief’s press conference” in Borongan.

It wasn’t a press conference, but a meeting, chaired by Roxas, of local officials up to municipal officers of national agencies in Eastern Samar purportedly to assess the impact of Typhoon Ruby and the government’s response to it.

It was nothing, though, but a lengthy photo-op for Roxas to show he was busy in the frontline responding to the typhoon. A brilliant move, I would say, as most Filipinos were hungry for news — which surprisingly was sparse —on Typhoon Ruby’s morning-after. Early morning, there was nothing on the typhoon but Roxas’ performance at Borongan.

What was the DILG head doing there, taking over the role of the provincial governor who by law heads the provincial disaster risk reduction and management council? The governor sat idly by Roxas’ side, doing absolutely nothing and just smiling occasionally, with Roxas not once consulting him. Roxas had a notebook and a pile of papers, and was writing notes furiously.

What was Roxas actually doing? Probably to pretend he was in control, he was counting casualties, even interrogating a poor municipal health officer how she got the reported information on deaths and injuries for each barangay. Roxas was irritated when a health officer reported a death during the typhoon that turned out to be due to a heart attack. Roxas barked at the official: “But that’s a “pre-existing” condition, a myocardial infarction.”

With the 2015 budget deliberated on by Congress to give funds to the DILG for activities that in the first place are not even under its responsibility, such as housing, social work, and livelihood projects, a joke started going around that Roxas is the “new Imelda.” That is in reference to his high-profile involvement in so many events and projects as Marcos’ wife did during the last years of martial law, in order to portray himself as Aquino’s successor.

Roxas, though, seems to keep stumbling and bumbling his way through these events in a struggle to make typhoons a boon for his popularity rating.

The script was intended to portray him as a macho man riding a motorcycle so he could navigate dirt roads to inspect typhoon preparations even in Samar’s remote towns. He, instead, took a fall with his bike. (Did his driver’s license allow him to drive a motorcycle?)

A disloyal aide, or a Samar official who probably disliked him, unfortunately managed to snap a photo at the precise moment he fell with his bike, and promptly posted it in cyberspace. It got viral with so many nasty comments, such as a hilarious one that he should be fined for not wearing a helmet.

Roxas should watch it, though. From Mr. Palengke, he might be known as Mr. Typhoon. But in that murky world of people’s consciousness, it might not be his help during typhoons that would be remembered. Instead, he could be associated with typhoons, and the suffering it brings.

PAGASA updates 4-hours late
Our weather forecaster, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomic Services Administration (PAGASA), has boasted that the path it predicted for Typhoon Ruby was the most accurate, beating those made by its counterparts in Hong Kong, Japan, and even the US military. They may be right, but for me as a consumer of their information, their forecast was useless.

I had been closely monitoring the typhoon, as its path in the past two days indicated that it could pass directly where we lived, and I was bit anxious that a tree near our house would be uprooted. I also wanted to experience passing through a typhoon’s eye. I’ve read some claims that it is strangely exhilarating when for a few minutes you suddenly see a blue sky (or a starry one) above you in the middle of a blinding fury as the typhoon’s eye passes over you.

I wasn’t able to do so. PAGASA’s purported “hourly” updates posted on its website were all four to five hours late, and I have screenshots of these as proof. Even as I write these words at 4:17 pm Tuesday, PAGASA’s latest hourly update is only for 10:00 am, more than six hours ago at the time of this writing. This has been the case throughout the other night. I even thought that the sudden strength of the wind meant the typhoon was getting close to where I lived. It was five hours later when PAGASA in its hourly update reported that Ruby had veered off to the west and had not passed over us.

Five-, even a four-hour period is a long time in a typhoon’s path. Given its vaunted new equipment, why should PAGASA’s update take that long to issue?

(My three-part series on foreign investments continues on Friday.)