The Philippines’ feudal politics: How ‘different political backgrounds’ proved fatal to Typhoon Haiyan’s victims

Accounts of how the Philippines’ renowned brand of feudal politics came into play in the virtual paralysis of relief efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda) are emerging. Tacloban City mayor Alfred Romualdez testifying before Congress reported how red tape and stonewalling from Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas may have contributed to the fatal outcome of the snail-paced relief effort…

Romualdez said Roxas asked him to “legalize everything” so the national government could come to their rescue.

“I told him: why is it illegal?” Romualdez said. “As far as I know, the President is the president of the Philippines and he is also president of Tacloban City.”

He said he did not see any reason why Aquino or Roxas needed a document that would enable the national government to come in and help Tacloban City.

Dumb and dumber: President BS Aquino and DILG Sec. Mar Roxas

Dumb and dumber: President BS Aquino and DILG Sec. Mar Roxas

Romualdez also reported to the Congressional committee that “Roxas reminded him that he and Aquino come from different political backgrounds,” warning also that they have to be “very careful,” presumably in the manner with which they worked together to weather the crisis.

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To be fair, local governments in the Philippines have long been known to be fiercely protective of their autonomy. A Sydney Morning Herald report published shortly after Yolanda struck cited how “a weak central government and provincial governors who wield virtual autonomy over their fiefdoms, keeping millions of Filipinos below the poverty line” are likely to have been major factor in what many regard as Manila’s almost intentional foot dragging and “muted response” in the early days following the devastation.

The City of Davao exemplifies this attitude amongst government officials specially in the Philippines’ southern and Visayas regions. Back in 2011, a jurisdiction row between the national government and the city government of Davao over the eviction of a squatter colony highlighted not only local executives’ but even ordinary people’s regard in these areas for what is perceived to be the meddlesome national executives governing from “Imperial Manila”. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is famous for his tough approach to governance and maintaining law and order in his realm — an approach that his constituents, by all accounts, have themselves cozied up to. Duterte has been named “The Punisher” in a TIME Asia article owing to his renowned West-of-the-Pecos brand of enforcing law in Davao City.

More recently, a crisis that erupted after the forces of Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram III entered the Malaysian state of Sabah to uphold Kiram’s long-standing sovereign claim over that territory also highlighted the ineptitude of the Philippine national government’s management of affairs involving its southern provinces. This incursion was over a deal between the government of President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III and the terrorist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) brokered by the Malaysian government that had apparently purposely left Kiram (and, it turns out, Nur Misuari, head of that other Islamic rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front) out of the loop in those negotiations. At one point during that crisis which found Islamic insurgents allegedly under both Kiram and Misuari waging armed attacks within Sabah, the Philippine government had sent naval vessels to join forces with Malaysia to protect Sabah’s coastline against Filipino citizens.

In both of these cases, we could see precedents that lend a bit of context to the dynamic in the relationship observed today between the Tacloban city government of Romualdez and President BS Aquino’s administration in the handling of the post-Haiyan relief efforts. From the perspective of the national government, local governments are feisty temperamental beasts with fragile adolescent egos that are to be managed much the same way a parent manages a morose teenaged kid. And from the perspective of these provincial barons, the national government is a modern-day imperialist state to be regarded at an arm’s length.

Thus whilst there is no excusing the glacial manner with which the government of President BS Aquino responded (and continues to respond) to the devastation left by Haiyan, how the groundwork upon which the paralysing red tape and perverse bureaucratic attitude that all but prevents harmonious cooperation between local and national government to happen when it counts was built came about becomes quite evident. Perhaps before we become too quick to lap up what may be Romualdez’s skillful playing of the victim card today, it might be prudent to first examine the manner with which he and his clan governed Leyte province in the years — and decades — leading up to this crisis.

Indeed, the issue of whether the Philippines remains a viable state is, yet again, made relevant today by this brouhaha…

Poverty, inequality, and corruption plague the Philippines six decades after independence. Of the past five presidents, only one took office and left it without military intervention, and he was a general. In his controversial book, A Country of Our Own (2004), David Martinez describes the Philippines as a failed state. The country in his eyes comprises five regions (“nations”): Cordillera, Luzon, The Visayas, Mindanao, and Bangsamoro. He proposes holding legally binding referenda in each of these places to determine whether those who live there wish to remain inside the Philippines or form their own independent country. In a conversation moderated by Stanford’s Don Emmerson, Martinez and the Filipinist scholar Lela Noble will examine arguments and evidence relevant to a crucial question: Is the nation-state project still valid for the Philippines?

It really isn’t a question of whose side we take on this matter, but rather a question of a more intelligent regard for the systemic issues underlying the consistent failure of the Philippines to progress and take its place in the global community as a modern society.

20 Replies to “The Philippines’ feudal politics: How ‘different political backgrounds’ proved fatal to Typhoon Haiyan’s victims”

  1. Just goes to show that even in times of crisis, politicians won’t cooperate with one another despite their different political upbringings.

    So a fractured country is further weakened by these same politicians who won’t compromise with one another because it would hurt their egos.

  2. Mayor Romualdez said that pnoy aquino has never once spoken to him or even phoned him regarding/since yolanda, for any updates/briefings or to offer support/condolences etc.
    That underlines the point in the article. Pnoy is not president of the philippines. Only president of his kkk and allies. The rest can fend for themselves.
    Aquino’s procrastination, partisanship, and usual incompetence means he now has even more blood on his hands.
    From the hacienda luisita massacre through to the luneta hostage crisis, media killings etc, pnoy aquino is a killer, and his condemnation by United Nations regarding no progress by pnoy aquino on human rights only underlines the contempt he deserves and the lack of respect he merits.

    1. Aquino basically abandoned tacloban because it’s not yellow territory.
      The noytards are in denial of the truth.
      I wonder if they will still keep supporting Mr. Aquino after he is kicked out of malacanang since there are very strong cases to be filed against Mr. Aquino once he is out of powrer.

        1. The main difference is that the cases that will be filed against Mr. Aquino have evidence, very strong evidence not like what they filed against GMA.

      1. Right, sure they are! and GMA faced the same ‘Charges’, and where is she? Laughing her ass off coz she already knows she will never go to jail and never have to return anything she stole. HA HA HA HA HA, they are laughing at the rest of the people of the country who think a change is coming.
        BTW, what happened to the guys that perpetrated the Maguindanao Massacre? Nothing? Still waiting for justice, HUH?

        1. There is no justice in this country: Only those who have the money are the ones who are always right.

          The mere fact that the ones responsible for the Maguindanao Massacre are not even in jail deeply saddens me and further adds to my conclusion that justice here is dead.

        2. @domo: Let me add to the fact that since our justice system REALLY SUCKS, vigilantism might be the only way possible for some people.

          I mean if you can’t trust the government and even the police, who’s going to protect the people then?

  3. Noytards will keep shifting the blame on the LGU of tacloban but they are forgetting they’re also victims of the super typhoon.
    Really no point in blaming the mayor too since he is also a victim.

  4. The dictator BS Aquino was never a unifying leadership factor before, during and after typhoon Yolanda. His divisive style of politics, his delays, his blame games, scapegoating and even his orders to reduce the number of dead bodies shows his flawed mind, character and incompetence. BS Aquino and his following of KKK is the problem as they offer no solutions till the present time. What happened to the rehabilitation plan? Why is this taking so long? Why did Ping Lacson disappear?

  5. It is OBVIOUS that the Republic of the Philippines today, as it stands right now TODAY, is a completely FAILED STATE.
    1)Millions impoverished.
    2)Sky-high unemployment/low-wages.
    3)Tax revenue mismanagement.
    4)Highest Electricity rates in the world.
    5)Rampant corruption at all levels of governance.
    6)Gasoline prices too high due to over taxation.
    7)Incompetence due to nepotism is flagrant.
    8)No Military to speak of.
    9)Misappropriation of all funds due to red-tape designed to pay-off politicians, leading to paralyzation of government services. Those rendered are paltry, at best, to start.
    9)A crumbling infra-structure.
    10) Rule of law non-existant where money is concerned.
    11) A failing education system
    12) Zero health-care system despite a nation-wide policy/plan, Philhealth is a laughable affront to its customers.
    13)Inadequate housing, with no national policy towards low-income housing.

    I could go on but everyone gets the picture, A FAILED STATE IS WHERE THE COUNTRY STANDS NOW! To continue with the status quo is to doom future generations to more of the same. Poverty, sickness, lack of education and zero opportunities to improve. So again, it must be asked: WTF are you all waiting for?

    1. I’m waiting for someone to give me a million dollars so that my family can get the hell out of here could be an option.

      Anything else, the least I can do is to give employment to the less-fortunate people so that they can stand on their own feet instead of wasting their lives playing “tong-its” everyday without thinking of their future and their children.

  6. In a situation as enormous as the one that happened in Leyte, a good leader would instinctively know that the resources of the local government would never be enough and therefore national government has to step in. Whether Aquino or Roxas played politics or not, the glaring fact is that the national government’s response was very slow and uncoordinated. It has all the resources it needed to at least immediately restore order in these areas: military, police and coast guard. But it did not use these. It is a total failure. We as Filipinos deserve a better government.

  7. BS Aquino acts like he is president of NCR and neighboring areas only. Just goes to reinforce the fact that he is not the right person for the job.

    It is only because of his thick skin that he is hanging on to his presidency, others have resigned for much less or for the japanese, might have committed harakiri.

    This humiliation of the Philippines and filipinos by this dumb president should be stopped now. BS Aquino and all other incompetent government officials should just step down and/or commit harakiri.

  8. Mr. Roxas and Mr. Aquino; tried to politicalize the calamity of Typhoon Yolanda, to further their political agendas. This is why you saw, Mr. Mar Roxas, with a bag of onions on his shoulder. He was photograped, smiling with that bag of onions. I bet those onions would had kicked Mr. Roxas in the ass; if they were able to kick. Mr. Aquino and Mr. Roxas, were seen on photo; smiling, and flashing the “L” sign.
    This is amidst the tragedy. While outside, there were dead rotting bodies,that needed to be picked up, and needed proper burial.
    Both of these people are VERY INSENSITIVE, to the sufferings of their fellowmen. All they want is POWER. In time of great tragedy of our nation; they find opportunities for political campaigning. Do not VOTE for any of them, or any of their candidates in the next election. Campaign against them. Their wickedness is too much!!!


    The video above is kind of what the politics here is all about. More talk, less action. They have no idea who is in charge, nobody wants to take charge but everybody wants to take the credit. Whoever fails gets the blame, whoever succeeds gets his/her credit taken away. Ironic, isn’t it?

    Filipinos lack foresight for things like this especially with disasters. I remember some mystic claiming that his ‘predictions’ were always right and that there’s going to be a great flood in Manila by next year. Funny thing is even IF there is no ‘prediction’ about it, it is bound to happen anyway because the drainage isn’t taken care of nor upgraded and maintained properly. They will prefer to spend the money for rubber boats and relief goods that will not last for a few days. I remember one Thai king that said, Don’t sit and wait for tomorrow let’s do what we can now. Dito, let’s sit, wait for the flood tomorrow and then we launch the rubber boat, evacuation center and relief goods. Some people have become desensitized and has become “already used” to the calamities, that is not the right response to a calamity.

    Anything that can be prevented by a good solution must be put into action, sad thing is, the people up there do not give a damn. And we, the people down here care too much but we never get requited for things like this.


    and yet they are trying so hard to do it…, apparently the Cory magic has wore off already the mind-control devices set by the administration is starting to backfire and people are seeing more and more of the true color of this yellow leader.

    Whoever wrote the book is right I guess..this country was NEVER united in the first place. Example would be how people from provinces have a certain prejudice to other people from other provinces…like comparing a Bicolano to an Ilocano, they will have a prejudice towards each other and will judge them accordingly. They are provincial at best, before they claim anything that makes them Filipino…Filipino lang sila pag may ipagyayabang sa buong mundo, I’ve always thought we are barangay-level at best and hanggang dun lang talaga tayo.

    We think we are “united” but it’s just because the previous foreign powers said so. An island or archipelago nation is never going to be a truly united country and if there is actually one, well it seems the Philippines is not taking notes but would like the money instead. This is a bad joke set to us by people in our history, that is why I’ve said before that maybe it is time for the Philippines to resign..and let new countries be born from this, hanggang micromanagement lang ang kayang gawin ng mga pulitiko dito.

    Which brings me to next year of the possible great flood that Habagat will bring, I remember the flood story in the bible that it was used to purge the wickedness of humanity..well I guess you may call this the purge of Imperial Manila, where thousands are going to die..whether wicked or innocent because there’s just too much wickedness in the all echelons of the government and even most of the people out here..There is no “Noah’s Ark” that will save our asses this time, not even faith will save us because there is no God or divine hand that will reach out to yeah..enjoy the splash!

    1. Filipinos were never united in the first place. If you remember your history lesson, we were easily conquered by the Spaniards because only the Datus/monarchs cared for their own lands and never gave a damn about their other neighboring “kingdoms.”

      It’s funny how 1898 was the year of our “independence” when we were colonized afterwards. And fast forward to today: We are still struggling.

      We were so desensitized throughout our years of conquest that it has become a part of our culture. Corrupt government…OK lang iyan, Magbigay ng lagay…OK lang iyan. Most of us think everything is OK right now but it’s not.

  10. Carry on guys 😀 Expose the stench of this SOB imbecile president of the Republic of the Philippines (Bull Shit) BS Aquino. Unfortunately there are more retarded voters that keep electing these type of candidates during election time 🙁 Sadly but truly history keep repeating itself ! Hopefully Ferdinand Jr. will run for president this coming 2016 and maybe BS Abnoy will have a taste of his own medicine, that will be poetic justice 😀 😀 😀 😀

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