It’s been 8 hours or so since an earthquake struck Bohol, Cebu, and some other parts of the Visayas region in the Philippines. Netizens were quick to post pictures of the aftermath in social media, and news reports keep coming in regarding the extent of the damage wrought, and the number of lives lost in what could only be described as a tragedy.
And yet, it’s time to ask the question once again: Where is President Benigno Simeon Aquino (BS Aquino) when the nation, or any part of it, needs him?
I once made an off-the-cuff remark that it is easier to find Wally in a “Where’s Wally?” book, or that it is easier to find Carmen San Diego in the old “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” series of computer games than it is to find BS Aquino in times of calamity or crisis. People who grew up in the 80’s-90’s would be familiar with these.
Let’s get back to the main topic, though.
BS Aquino has had a reputation for staying out of the public eye immediately and for several days following a natural calamity. When a habagat struck Metro Manila in both 2012 and 2013, there was no official message from the office of the President days after the height of the storms. When the waters did subside several days after the rains stopped, that was when BS Aquino came out to visit the affected areas.
I doubt anyone could forget that in 2012, when he visited a certain flooded area in Metro Manila, he brought out all his then senatorial candidates with him, and they were all atop a military truck. Back then, critics of the Aquino administration described the manner in which they decided to “grace the area with their presence” as reeking of epal. and of premature campaigning for the 2013 mid-term elections.
In August 2013, during the heavy rains brought about by Maring, people started wondering where BS Aquino was again. He justified his delayed appearance at sites by saying that he was coordinating with his cabinet secretaries. The report also stated that he followed up with Department of Justice chief Leila de Lima regarding the status of cases filed versus establishments blocking waterways.
Now in October 2013, what can the people expect to hear from him this time? Maybe that he is preparing for his trip to the Republic of Korea, scheduled on October 17-18. Who knows?
A friend of mine made the point below during the August 2013 habagat:
Look, we’re not saying that you should have visited each and everyone of the cities and regions ravaged by the storm. All we’re saying is that it would have been nice to hear from you, a few official statements on TV and radio here and there, just to let your countrymen know that you’re on top of the situation.
It would have been comforting for those ravaged by the storm to know that their President cares for them, most especially during these trying times.
Instead, you did the most predictable and made your presence felt during your father’s death anniversary.
That’s exactly it: timing is everything. In the hours immediately following a crisis or calamity, the people are crying for assurance that their government officials are on top of the situation, and that they are going to respond accordingly. I don’t think it is an unreasonable expectation that we hear a few calming words or words of assurance such as “we are prepared to assist you”, “help will come immediately”, or “your government will not abandon you or leave you to die”. You know, things that will help put confidence, and most importantly, trust, in the eyes of the people. Is it?
I don’t understand how the Aquino administration, that is so obsessed with its image and perception, can repeatedly miss out on opportunities like this to improve it. Unless, of course, it turns out that the government is not really prepared to respond to natural calamities. Year after year, the verdict is the same: they aren’t.
Then again, official statements on TV or radio were things the Arroyo administration did. Since BS Aquino is also obsessed with being totally unlike his predecessor, I guess it is only natural to expect that he won’t do it.
When calamities or crises strike, BS Aquino’s bosses need him. They need him to perform, and they need him to come up with a plan to help them recover. That’s what they paid him for. However, his reputation of “disappearing” during the heights of calamities or crises has only served to further his reputation as an incompetent president.
Defenders of the Aquino administration would say that when he does nothing, his critics complain, and yet when he finally does something they still complain. They (the critics) have every reason to do so. Nobody’s expecting the president to be perfect, but it is reasonable to expect more than a half-assed reaction from him when the time calls for it. You can’t please everybody? The post of president, the highest government post in the land, is one where intense public scrutiny is not only experienced, it is expected. It has aged and sucked the life out of those who have held its position. If BS Aquino and his supporters do nothing but complain about critics complaining about BS Aquino’s less-than-stellar performance, then perhaps he shouldn’t have been put there in the first place.
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