So it’s been 100 days since the disaster wrought by super-typhoon Haiyan (a.k.a. Yolanda). A one-hundred day anniversary is an arbitrary point following a seminal event where the average talking head observes the tradition of dipping into that fountain of useless wisdom called hindsight to tell a story. Here we go, then.
First, the facts. It is widely-acknowledged that Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III — fairly or unfairly — copped the better part of the blame for the astoundingly inutile way the Philippine government responded to the disaster. Inquirer.net columnist John Nery observes on the basis of the fallout following President BS Aquino’s cringeworthy interview with tele-journalist Christiane Amanpour…
Mr. Aquino did not do very well [during the interview with Amanpour]; he tried to describe a national government that was, to use the familiar phrase, on top of the situation, but five days after the supertyphoon devastated parts of Central Visayas, especially the unfortunate city of Tacloban, the government was in fact still looking for its bearings. Was he covering up for the chaotic reality on the ground, or was he determined to not play the helpless leader of a helpless country? Or was he just talking through his storm-soaked hat? The feedback on social media that I followed was overwhelmingly negative.
Indeed, President BS Aquino became the face of Philippine ineptitude, perhaps as a result of poor timing. That interview with Amanpour, where he made his now world-renowned gross underestimation of the death toll following the storm, happened just as the full extent of the devastation was being revealed to the world by CNN‘s Anderson Cooper in a brilliant on-the-ground report where he made his observation that he found “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” in Tacloban City.
As if that weren’t enough, Aquino set up his bumbling sidekick Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas to be the go-to person in Tacloban City. Roxas too, became the object of a media field day when he stammered through an interview with Andrew Stevens, another CNN correspondent. Suffice to say, Roxas emerged out of that gaffe an even bigger chump than his boss after engaging in an argument with the veteran journalist over the treatment of the corpses that littered the flattened city. Worse, Roxas dragged his boss and his entire party down with him when he told beleaguered Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, “bahala na kayo sa buhay niyo” (“You can all go to hell for all I care”) as the humanitarian crisis dragged on and the blame game went into full gear.
On to the point, then.
In hindsight, President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III could’ve spared himself and his party a whole lot of the blame for the Haiyan devastation if he had been a bit less focused on trying to look good and in charge of the Philippines (something he never really achieved over the last three and a half years since his ascent to power to begin with) and, instead, evaluated the situation under a more objective light. Firstly, information on Haiyan’s distinction as the planet’s most powerful storm in history at the time was already well-known days before it made landfall. Second, considering that the Philippines has copped more than its fair share of powerful storms (with the last two far less powerful ones killing Filipinos by the thousands), it wouldn’t have taken an ace meteorologist to imagine the damage that Haiyan will have done.
Regardless of who was in charge, the Philippines was essentially the proverbial clueless turkey on Thanksgiving Day as Haiyan approached.
If BS Aquino did a bit of thinking around those obvious facts, he could at the time have had the foresight to set someone else up to be the scapegoat for the inevitable tragedy ahead. All he needed to do was put a local in charge — say, either Romualdez or Leyte Governor Leopoldo Petilla — even if that meant risking foregoing a bountiful harvest of credit to himself in the unlikely event that all would go well. Then again, a happy ending following a visit from the planet’s mightiest storm in history was unlikely. So an investment in Romualdez or Petilla would have been a politically shrewd maneuver for the Second Aquino Administration.
Under such a scenario, Aquino and his “national government” could’ve deployed the full support of the Philippine military with these local officials as the primary civilian authority over those military commands in matters concerning the Haiyan disaster. Under that approach, the whole operation would have remained consistent to the involvement protocol in such disaster response scenarios between local and national government. That certainly would have yielded a far better outcome from a public relations perspective than the idiotic sight of Roxas directing traffic in Tacloban and debating with CNN reporters on whether bodies seen one day were the same ones seen on another.
[Photo courtesy Daily News America.]
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