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Aquino snub of Yolanda rites reflects his ‘buhay-pa-naman-kayo’ haciendero attitude

I couldn’t believe that President Benigno Aquino 3rd snubbed Tacloban City’s invitation for him to attend this year’s rites for Super Typhoon Yolanda’s second anniversary.

It was the worst disaster in the country’s post-war history, and the President ignores its commemoration?

It even seems that he had ordered his entire Administration to snub it, with only the secretary of the interior and local government attending it—something such official would do for even the most unimportant anniversary in some town.

What is it with this President?

He also skipped the first anniversary rites last year in Tacloban City, and instead, visited only Guiuan town in Eastern Samar. His clown of a spokesman, Sonny Coloma, said that it was, after all, the first town hit by the supertyphoon at landfall, and that the President had limited time. No one among the scandalously timid Malacanang press corps had the courage or intelligence to take Coloma to task and point out to him that it was Tacloban that was hit the worst, with over 5,000 of the 8,000 killed in that area.

The anniversary yesterday would have been his last chance as head of the country to commiserate with the millions of Filipinos in Leyte and Samar who had relatives who died in the disaster, or whose homes and farmlands were devastated. I don’t think this gutless president would even dare show his face in Tacloban City when he steps down next year. I was told that Aquino didn’t even have any other official activity scheduled for yesterday.

What was he doing? Competing with his nephew, Josh, in some X-box game, so he could forget how he utterly failed as President in responding to the calamity that had taken thousands of lives and cut a wide swath of destruction through the mid-eastern coast of his country? Even internationally renowned journalists Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour shamed him and his sidekick Manuel Roxas for their incompetence.

Identifying the dead in Tacloban two years ago: Actually, they’re dead, Mr. President.
Identifying the dead in Tacloban two years ago: Actually, they’re dead, Mr. President.

Is something really wrong with this person’s psyche that he cannot face up to his mistakes, and that he does not even have a bit of sympathy, let alone presidential grace, to meet face-to-face with a Marcos or a Romualdez?

Contrast Aquino’s rebuff of the Yolanda commemoration to the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina in August in New Orleans. Three presidents – the Republican George Bush, and Democrats Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama – were in communion not just with New Orleans but the entire America in expressing sadness over the tragedy that occurred 10 years ago and in resolving to correct the weaknesses that had delayed the government’s response. Even George W. Bush, who had been blamed for his weak, late rescue and rehabilitation response, had the balls to attend the rites.

Natural disasters
Other than wars or a common enemy, it is natural disasters that provide a community of people the opportunity to strengthen their sense of a common fate, sharing the same geographical curse, the same yearnings for a government with the resources and commitment to protect each one of them. In a word, Yolanda’s devastation could have helped strengthen our sense that we belong to one nation, that we have to strengthen that nation or perish.

The Katrina disaster initially sharpened the racial divide that had been a problem for the US as a nation. Subsequent efforts, though, by the US government, to rehabilitate New Orleans and build the dikes to prevent flooding, had served to strengthen the sense of nationhood of everyone in Louisiana, as the 10th anniversary rites had shown.

In our case, the Aquino Administration even divided the nation over Yolanda. After two years, it is unimaginable for Aquino’s sidekick, Roxas, to even tell the mayor in a meeting, but he did, as Tacloban’s streets were filled with thousands of unburied corpses: “You have to understand, you are a Romualdez, and the President is an Aquino.”

It is unimaginable that in a meeting in Tacloban, he snapped at a businessman who was distressed over indications of looting in the city: “Buhay pa naman kayo ah.” (“But you’re still alive, aren’t you?) That sounds like the typical haciendero attitude toward his tenants or servants who happen to have expressed some grievance.

With that statement, and his utter failure to prepare the government for Yolanda, I am astonished at how Roxas can even think himself a possible president of a country. Roxas and his staff had no clue how devastating a storm surge could be that when it slammed the eastern side of the country he and defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin were, literally I was told, caught with their pants down at dawn, and nearly drowned.

Bush in New Orleans
US President Bush joined the events in the first-year commemoration of hurricane Katrina’s devastation in New Orleans, and admitted:

“To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” he said. “I want to know what went wrong or what went right … It’s in our national interest that we find out exactly what went on so we can better respond.“

Why can’t our President even say half of that, when his rehabilitation efforts and funds for Yolanda were probably a tenth of that of the US federal government in New Orleans?

It’s also shameful that Aquino’s favorite newspaper comes to his rescue and uses a lie as headline on its issue coinciding with the anniversary of the deaths of thousands of Filipinos: “Malacanang: We did better than US post-Katrina.” Is that paper covering up for the incompetence of his spokespersons?

Can’t Aquino and that paper focus on really finding out, in Bush’s words, “exactly what went on so we can better respond” (next time in case of any future disaster).

We should, perhaps, believe former Senator Panfilo Lacson’s account of what exactly went on in terms of this government’s response to the disaster. Aquino appointed him as the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, a position which turned out, as most people had expected really, to merely involve research work on what was needed to be done, rather than the authority to get things done.

Lacson also was apparently expecting Aquino that for his work, he would be rewarded an endorsement for the presidency, or just the vice presidency. Lacson squarely put the blame on budget secretary Florencio Abad, who he claimed, released only P84 billion or 52 percent of the P168 billion budget for the Yolanda rehabilitation program.

Lacson’s allegations and his numbers were confirmed by the World Bank in its October 2015 economic update, when it noted: “From the first half of 2014 to the first half of 2015, while government budget increased by 18.5 percent, government expenditures only increased by 8.5 percent. This slow pace is most evident in Typhoon Yolanda reconstruction spending.”

Forget the other failures of this President in the past five years. His Yolanda failure and his effrontery to snub its commemoration make his administration the worst in this nation’s history, his “daang-matuwid” this nation’s road to ruination.