Analysis by Raïssa Robles
The presidential race – a mere 30 months away – has begun in earnest among three contenders: Vice President Jejomar Binay, Department of Interior and Local Governments Mar Roxas and Senator Bongbong Marcos.
All three were on the storm-devastated island of Leyte just this Sunday November 17, separately giving aid and consolation to victims of Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan.
All three are keenly aware that a crisis can make or break a politician (think of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whose handling of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 fired up people’s imagination and made them consider him for the US presidency.)
All three gave different reasons for being on this Eastern Visayas island of Leyte, which is home to nearly a million voters. Roxas was there to check up on the relief efforts of local government units (LGUs)since he’s the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG). Binay wanted to survey the housing needs of the homeless residents since he heads the state housing agencies. And Marcos was there as a relative of a prominent clan in Leyte – the Romualdez political dynasty now headed by his own mother, the “Rose of Tacloban”, Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.
By this point some readers will probably be shaking their heads, saying I shouldn’t be writing this piece so soon after the tragedy. That this is politicizing a disaster.
The fact is, almost every move of these officials has political calculation behind it This is true not just of this country but of every nation. To deny it is to bury our heads in the sand and to fail to understand how things work.
For these three politicians, the stakes are high – no less than the presidency, which controls much of the government bureaucracy and money. As we have learned over the last half century, a bad choice for that post can give the country much grief.
So even if you absolutely HATE politics, you might as well understand what is happening. You might as well start weighing the candidates on hand – Binay, Roxas and Marcos. And if all of them are found wanting, you can start looking around and say – anybody else?
All three men intend to convince you by showing you what they can do to rebuild Leyte.
While Roxas and Binay will be using official donor and tax money for reconstruction, Marcos recently announced he will be using family money for the long-term rehabilitation of Leyte. The Romualdez-Marcos family have also been soliciting cash donations to be coursed through the Romualdez family-owned hospital, the Dona Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Medical Foundation.
Yesterday, President Benigno Aquino III announced the formation of a 14-member Task Force to rebuild Tacloban. Roxas is part of that Task Force but is not the head – a strategy that could shield him from accusations that he is using a tragedy to boost his election chances.
Interestingly, Binay is not part of the Task Force even though he is the housing czar. It is Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson who was handed the task of “shelter and reconstruction.”
The players are now taking potshots at each other. This has prompted Tacloban City Administrator Tecson Lim to implore: “Let us focus on why we are here. Let us focus on what we have to do, and not allow those who would wish to take opportunity of this situation to further whatever political goals or whatever interest they may have, and divert us from that which we have to do.”
That plea will fall on deaf ears because the campaign season has truly begun. This could even energize the reconstruction of Leyte. That is, if the camps of the three contenders do not sabotage each others’ efforts along the way.
The Battle for Leyte
When Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla promised to light up Leyte’s main streets by Christmas and swore he would resign if he didn’t, he was also making a political promise to the people of Leyte.
Jericho Petilla is Leyte province’ previous governor. His younger brother Leopoldo Dominico is the incumbent. Another Petilla relative is vice-governor. The Petilla clan managed to wrest control of Leyte province from the Marcos-Romualdez clan that lorded over the entire province and Tacloban until 1986. The Petillas are allied with the ruling Liberal Party. (Jericho has been put in charge of the Task Force to rebuild Tacloban and other typhoon-hit areas.)
Today, only Tacloban City is left to the Romualdez family. And even that is now in danger of slipping away. Bongbong Marcos cannot afford to lose Tacloban City. Which is why he came bearing gifts.
The danger his clan faces is that it could lose its foothold in the region if it is proven that first cousin, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, failed to do his job as mayor before and after Haiyan / Yolanda struck.
Republic Act No. 760, creating the City of Tacloban in 1952, clearly puts the mayor as the man in charge before disasters strike and the first responder after such calamities. RA 760 states that among the powers and duties of the mayor are:
(m) To take such emergency measures as may be necessary to avoid fires and floods and to mitigate the effects of storms and public calamities.
Romualdez also happens to be mayor of a highly urbanized city or HUC. The mayor of an HUC has a great leeway because he acts independently of the governor of the province where the city is located. And any complaints against an HUC mayor have to be filed directly with the Office of the President, according to the Local Government Code.
If people perceive that the national government ignored Tacloban in its hour of great need because it is a Marcos-Romualdez stronghold, then PNoy and Secretary Mar will both lose a lot of credibility. It could turn PNoy into a lame duck president, something he has managed to avoid so far because of his moderately-high, record-setting credibility rating mid-way through his six-year term.
The Marcos-Romualdez camp has lost no time blaming the national government and President Aquino (PNoy) for the death rate by claiming there was a lack of clear warnings about a deadly typhoon and storm surge. It also scores the PNoy presidency for the widespread hunger and thirst immediately after due to the slow arrival of relief goods.
PNoy’s critics have seized on this to drum up once more that he was never fit to be president and should be unseated.
They have also targeted his currently perceived heir apparent – Secretary Mar Roxas – and painted him as power-hungry amid so much suffering. They said Roxas tried to unseat Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez and take over the city. They said Roxas tried to make Mayor Alfred write a letter saying he could no longer function as a mayor.
Before I share with you what I found out about this, let’s put a political context to all these.
In the May 2013 elections, PNoy and the Liberal Party (LP) tried to replace Mayor Alfred with their own candidate. Despite Kris Aquino’s endorsement – and promise that their mayor would be ‘one call away’ from PNoy, the candidate lost to Alfred, who was personally endorsed by aunt Imelda Marcos.
Mayor Alfred also capitalized on his mestizo looks and the sultry beauty of his wife, former bold actress Cristina “Kring Kring” Gonzalez, who was running for re-election in the city council. On top of that, he bragged about infrastructure projects under his term.
When the typhoon struck Tacloban on November 8, relations between the Romualdezes and the LP government officials were frosty.
Let me explain how bad things were between them. Ordinarily, when the DILG secretary flies into a city or town or province, the highest political official – the mayor or governor – greets him. No such courtesy was extended to Sec. Mar the day before the storm and none was expected.
Mayor Alfred did meet and greet Secretaries Mar Roxas and Volatire Gazmin at the airport the day before the typhoon.
And they did hold a meeting together.
I’d like to thank @Jay and @Baycas for correcting me.
I’d like to point out though, a curious thing. If you look at the photographs of the meeting, Mayor Alfred and Sec. Mar aren’t sitting side by side. There is someone in the middle beside them.
Now I’m very curious to know what was said in that meeting and whether someone said the word “storm surge”.
A link was also pointed out to me showing Mayor Alfred being quoted as supporting the LP senatorial candidates.
For the senatorial race, the LP was in coalition then with the Nacionalista Party to which Mayor Alfred and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano belong. At the local level, however, the LP supported someone else against Mayor Alfred.
Sources, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, told me that Sec. Mar’s party stayed at a hotel in Tacloban during storm Haiyan/Yolanda. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin allowed himself to be persuaded by Roxas to stay on at the same hotel instead of the beach-side military camp. The camp was engulfed by the storm surge and the next day, its commander was found floating off San Juanico Bridge. Two other military officers drowned.
Even as news came thick and fast that typhoon victims were ravenous and thirsty but not getting food and drink, reports of dissension between Mayor Alfred and the national government also started leaking out.
A Facebook post by Mayor Alfred’s lawyer, Alex Avisado Jr., was the first to claim what the wrangling was all about.
Avisado said that the day after the storm, Mayor Alfred had asked the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) for a “response overkill” on rescue and relief operations. (NDRRMC is chaired by Gazmin and Roxas is vice-chair.)
What does “response overkill” mean? According to Avisado, the mayor asked PNoy to send two Marine battalions (a Marine battalion consists of up to 800 men), over 200 policemen, trucks and personnel to maintain peace and order, conduct rescue and relief operations and to remove the cadavers.
These requests were not heeded, Avisado said. Instead of soldiers and policemen, the PNoy government sent firemen and MMDA personnel. And they sent only 12 trucks, of which eight were for aid delivery, Avisado added.
Then Avisado dropped his bombshell:
“All relief goods arriving at the airport and seaport are now being controlled by the National Govt. To add insult to injury, the DILG Sec wants the Mayor of Tacloban to write a formal letter to the PNOY supposedly to inform him that he could no longer function as Mayor thereby surrendering authority to the DILG Sec. He wants the letter soon so PNOY can make the announcement and perhaps justify the government’s slow and stupid response to this disaster and lay the blame on the Mayor. The International Community is fully aware of the deplorable conditions in Tacloban but the National Govt is still in denial.”
I asked Avisado for an interview to clarify what he wrote. He declined saying,
Hi Raissa! Sorry for the delayed response…anyway, just today PNoy talked to Mayor Romualdez and they shook hands….both agreed to stop commenting on this issue and just work on the relief and rebuilding of Tacloban…So I think this will be the end of this issue for now….thank you
Notice he said “for now.”
Here is Avisado’s original Facebook post dated November 15 which has been shared over 3,000 times:
In the absence of an interview with Avisado or the mayor, I decided to counter-check what Avisado and the mayor said, using other sources.
On Mayor Alfred’s claim that he had asked for two Marine battalions but instead received only firemen and Metro Manila Development Authority personnel-
This is what I found out on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) website. The AFP listed what they did for Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan struck Tacloban on November 8 (Day 1).
The AFP said:
On Day 2, November 9, AFP sent two C-130 aircraft loaded with:
12,000 pounds of assorted relief goods
a medical team
a crisis action team
Clearly, no troops. Another aircraft did an “aerial recon and damage assessment over Cebu, Panay Island (where Aklan is) and Tacloban.” You can read about it here.
One commenter on Avisado’s Facebook page angrily denounced the military and government for using “only” two C-130 planes. No one told the commenter that the Philippines only has three C-130s, and not all were on call.
On Day 3, November 10, AFP flew in to Tacloban:
a communication systems
and the following people – technicians from Smart Communications, three United Nations personnel, 22 foreign medical volunteers of the Mammoth Medical Mission, and one air traffic controller from the Air Traffic Organization
You can read about it here.
On Day 4, November 11, the AFP flew to Tacloban:
More engineers from the 525th Engineering Combat Battalion and
The 1st Special Forces Battalion from the AFP Special Operations Command
The AFP also gave this situationer:
“As of yesterday there are 300 combined military engineers and Special Forces troops conducting road clearing in Tacloban. The AFP is also allocating another 700 to augment said troops.”
You can read about it here.
Since the AFP was able to open the land route from Bicol to Tacloban via Samar and the San Juanico Bridge, it was also able to send 11 M35 trucks. You can read about it here.
Mayor Alfred Romualdez had also requested for more policemen but this request was “again unheeded”, his lawyer said
Mayor Alfred himself told GMA News that he needed the police force augmented since the 300-strong local force had been decimated. In the video below, he told Jessica Soho (at 11 minutes 56 seconds):
“Ang hinihingi ko lang sa national government, katulad niyan yung mga kapulisan namin dito out of 300, marami rin ang nadisgrasya, marami rin ang (garbled) and hinihingi na lang sana kung puwede i-augment na lang ang forces namin dito.
He aired this plea on nationwide TV on the night of November 14.
But three days before the mayor aired this plea, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima had announced in a (November 11) press conference that he had already sent 639 policemen to Tacloban alone.
I wanted to clarify this marked discrepancy between Purisima and Mayor Alfred’s statements, but was unable to since his lawyer Avisado declined to be interviewed.
Mayor Alfred gave two reasons why relief goods were not reaching the survivors
He said the goods prepared before the storm had been destroyed by the floods. And he lacked transport to deliver them across the city’s 138 barangays.
Curiously, however, his statements regarding the lack of vehicles for relief kept changing.
On November 11, he underscored to CNN News the gravity of the situation. He said: “Everything is damaged, even the vehicles.”
You can view the video here.
Three days later, on the night of November 14, he slightly modified his statement and told GMA News anchor Jessica Soho:
“Lahat halos ng sasakyan ay nadale ng bagyo.”
But earlier that same day of November 14, while being interviewed by GMA news reporter Raffy Tima, he gave an order to someone who was off-camera (see one minute, 12 seconds):
“I suggest you pull out all our vehicles. We cannot service anymore the relief goods because we don’t have vehicles.”
This implies that the city government had transport but it had lent these out.
And then there’s this video of Mayor Alfred personally chauffeuring CNN reporter Andrew Stevens around in a silver-colored vehicle that doesn’t look like a storm surge had damaged it. You can watch the video here.
To this day, Mayor Alfred has not given a detailed accounting of how many government buildings have been destroyed and what assets of the city remain usable by city hall. He refuses to be responsible for the high death toll in his city – unofficially estimated at over 2,000.
Mayor Alfred has openly blamed the national government for not calling the storm surge a “tsunami” and thereby underscoring its ferocity. He was not adequately warned, he said.
But the official website of the City of Tacloban does not bear him out. The website, which has not been updated since the storm, had announced that the city government would conduct a “preemptive evacuation” of 1,000 residents and called Typhoon Yolanda a “super typhoon”:
PNoy addressed the nation on the eve of the storm to warn against “storm surges”. He specified the places where storm surge could reach up to six meters but Tacloban City was not among them. He said:
“Storm surges are expected in Ormoc, Ginayangan Ragay Gulf in Albay, and Lamon Bay in Atimonan. Waves in these areas may reach five to six meters.”
Does this mean the warnings were inadequate as what Mayor Alfred claims?
GMA and ABS-CBN TV networks had given plenty of warnings about a super typhoon signal no. 4.
On the evening telecast of November 6 – two days before Yolanda – GMA warned of a “super typhoon.” Its resident weather forecaster Nathaniel Cruz clearly spelled out the dangers in Filipino:
“Lubhang mapaminsala ang dala nitong hangin at ulan na maaaring magpabuwal sa maraming puno at sumira sa maraming bahay at gusali. Malaking pinsala rin ang pwedeng idulot nito sa supply ng kuryente at komunikasyon”
And yet Mayor Alfred was found hanging on for dear life in the ceiling of his ballroom by the beach. You can view him here talking about his near-death experience.
“The weather was beautiful before that (Yolanda) came in. So you ask yourself what causes some typhoons to form because out of nowhere this came in.”
One of the sources I talked to noted that residents often take their cue from their mayor. If the mayor does not seem to be that worried about a storm, then they should not worry that much as well.
The most contentious issue in the Roxas-Romualdez tiff is the letter that Roxas asked Mayor Alfred to write
Both camps confirm there was a letter that Roxas had asked the mayor to write. However, they differed on what they said the letter was to say and why a letter had to be written.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report sheds some light on the issue. I found out some more from the sources I interviewed.
The situation in Tacloban was this. The mayor and city officials wanted a “response overkill” in Tacloban that would call in the army and impose a curfew. Even in such an extraordinary time, the presidential palace felt it needed legal cover to do these, especially given the tension between the two camps. In addition, the Philippines is a very legalistic country and critics of the President would be quick to pounce on any perceived abuse of authority.
The procedure for imposing a curfew in a highly urbanized city is, first, the city council has to approve such a resolution. No such resolution was ever reported in the media.
After Sec. Mar – acting on behalf of the NDRRMC – failed to get the city council resolution, the national government under PNoy went ahead, sent soldiers and policemen and directed them to implement a curfew. Mayor Alfred was bypassed.
Mayor Alfred also wanted the national government to declare a state of calamity in Tacloban. This would free up funds for relief and rehabilitation. Again, the procedure is that the city council first has to declare a state of calamity before the national government can affirm it with its own declaration. To this day, the city council has not passed any resolution to this effect.
I am wondering how many members of the city council had died. There is no report. I also wondered why Mayor Alfred’s wife, Cristina, went to Manila without first making sure the city council had passed the resolutions declaring a state of calamity and imposing a curfew. Ordinarily, I would applaud her bringing her children to safety. But in her case, she happens to be the councilor not only with the most votes but who has the ear of the mayor.
Despite the absence of a city resolution, the national government went ahead and declared a “state of national calamity” three days after the typhoon. Again, Mayor Alfred and the city government were bypassed.
The Tacloban devastation unmasked gaps in the NDRRMC Law. Nowhere is there an assumption of worst case scenarios such as Typhoon Haiyan, which immobilized the entire city government of Tacloban.
How much blame should fall on Mayor Alfred for the death toll and the lack of relief?
As of today, the NDRRMC official death toll for Tacloban is 1,725.
As I said on the social networking site Twitter, the post of mayor is not imposed on a person. Mayor Alfred went out of his way to become mayor with all its responsibilities and hardships and of course perks.
When disaster struck, he was expected to lead. He didn’t.
The critical role mayors and barangay leaders play in disaster mitigation was brought home by Typhoon Haiyan. In the tiny island of Manicani in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, only one person out of over a thousand residents died because local government executives and barangay leaders took time to warn and explain to them the need to evacuate.
During Tropical Storm Juaning in July 2011, the 89-year-old mother of Albay Governor Joey Salceda died. She slipped inside her flooded home.
Salceda who is single was very close to his mom. But he was also the governor. Though grief-stricken, he continued fulfilling his executive function.
In the aftermath of a disaster, a mayor or governor is expected to lead. In the case of Mayor Alfred, will he and can he, even when the future of his city is being charted outside his control?
PNoy has been widely criticized even by his own supporters for being slow.
Wilson Lee Flores, a political columnist and businessman, scored him for taking three days to declare a state of calamity when the whole world knew almost immediately there was a calamity.
Flores told me:
“Ang feeling ko hindi siya masamang tao, pero hindi siya sanay sa crisis.”
“Fifty percent I want to blame the government but we should also be careful because this is unprecedented. Fifty percent I’m exasperated, but 50% I can’t blame the government because of the magnitude and scale.”
I agree with Flores. PNoy could have been faster in declaring a state of national calamity.
But as for giving enough food and drink to all the victims, even in Tacloban City alone, it was impossible given the scant assets of our police and military, the extent of the destruction and the fact that displaced families were scattered on different islands.
Even PNoy’s followers grew more exasperated when he quibbled over the death toll
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, he called the 10,000 fatality figure quoted by a police official “too much”. It was closer to 2,009 to 2,500, he said.
PNoy has this obsession with figures, sources told me. He always tells officials to counter-check their figures and questions the premises behind their figures. Today the death toll stands at 5,235 and is bound to keep rising.
Does he have egg on his face?
Yes he does, in this case.
However, if he did not question the death toll and it failed to reach close to 10,000, PNoy could also be open to accusations of inflating casualty figures in order to gain world-wide sympathy so as to obtain more donations.
Republic Act 10121 punishes with jail term the:
“(l) Deliberate use of false and inflated data in support of the request for funding, relief goods, equipment or other aid commodities for emergency assistance or livelihood projects”
I believe using false casualty figures after you know they are false is an impeachable offense since the penalty is “perpetual disqualification from public office.”
PNoy is quite familiar with this law since it was deliberated on and passed in Congress during his final term at the Senate.
Reuters News agency put the matter bluntly: “Aquino’s fate lies with success or failure of Philippine reconstruction”.
And so does the fate of his anointed successor.