Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21 December 2013

 

Actions speak louder than words, the saying goes. Let us apply that in the Roxas-Romualdez brouhaha, where words have been the weapon of choice, aided by tears (one side), which helped to obfuscate the issues. The questions: Did the Aquino administration play favorites during “Yolanda”? Did the residents of Tacloban and Leyte suffer because the President is surnamed Aquino, and the political leaders of Leyte are Romualdezes?  Was Mar Roxas used by President Aquino to do the dirty work?

How do we answer these questions? Simple. Find out how much aid went to Tacloban, and track the work schedule of Roxas.

But first, a backgrounder. The Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Law (Republic Act No. 10121) has implementing rules and regulations (IRR) accompanying it. To make doubly sure everyone knows what to do, it also has an operations manual. The basic principle is that in a disaster, the first responder is the local government unit, and if it cannot respond there are procedures to follow.

Yolanda struck on Nov. 8, but before then, official warnings were issued, all according to the IRR and the operations manual.  It was on the basis of the warnings, for example, that the mayor of a town in Samar evacuated his people to the hills (suffering very little casualties). In addition, as part of their SOP under Roxas’ watch, the Department of Interior and Local Government called up each and every chief executive of the 171 cities and municipalities as an extra reminder.

And where was Roxas on Nov. 8?  In Tacloban City, facing the storm. Voltz Gazmin and Roxas went there on Nov. 7, even if they knew the LGUs were the first responders.  Manila would be too far, Tacloban was in the center of Yolanda’s path, and they could coordinate the activities much better from there. In fact they met with provincial officials on Nov. 7.

With Gazmin and Roxas in Tacloban, they experienced first hand the strength of the storm.  As an interesting sidelight, Roxas called for a meeting at 6 a.m. on the day of the storm to make sure everyone knew their duties.  I am told that had he called for the meeting at a more normal 8 a.m., they would have been caught in their cabanas when the storm hit (the cabanas were given short shrift by Yolanda).

Another sidelight: When the wind subsided (from Typhoon Signal No. 4 to No. 2) at around 11 a.m., they made for City Hall which was close by. But with the roads rendered impassable in some places, it took them an hour to get there, only to find that City Hall was pretty much uninhabited. Their next stop was the police station where they set up a command post. But with communications extremely difficult, there was nothing to command or control, and they decided that it would be best to see to it that the airport was ready to accept the airlifts that they had arranged for.

But that was another problem.  They had achieved eight kilometers in four hours and had reached the Rotonda (another four km to go), and it was getting late. Their security told them they must turn back. It was then that they chanced on Mayor Alfred Romualdez and his family, who were also going back to the city center. It was the first time they saw

Romualdez that day.

The military personnel in the area cleaned up the airport, and the first of nine C-130 flights came the next morning (Saturday), with Dinky Soliman, bringing food, oil, body bags, generator sets, even a communications van, and taking out people who wanted to leave Tacloban.

Roxas was in Tacloban from Nov. 7 to Nov. 22, except for a flight to Cebu on Saturday night (Nov. 9); he was back in Tacloban on Sunday to meet President Aquino. He and Gazmin accompanied the President to Panay on Sunday night, but he was back in Tacloban on Monday morning. Thus, from Nov. 7 to Nov. 22, he was in Tacloban except for two nights.

The President wanted to personally assess the situation. He was met at the airport by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and Mayor Romualdez, but the Romualdezes did not go to the President’s meeting with the local

NDRRMC. Only the city administrator and the vice mayor were in attendance. Go figure. Mr. Aquino is going again this weekend.

The famous meeting between Roxas and Romualdez took place on Nov. 14. Roxas reportedly said: “You have to understand, we are talking very straight here…. You have to understand you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino.”  Period. Actually, the next sentence, conveniently left out, provided the context: “So, he is being very careful in just taking over because he does not want to be misconstrued.” That makes a difference, doesn’t it?

Now, about the aid to Tacloban: The Armed Forces reports, on a day-to-day basis, from Nov. 9 to the present. It talks of military personnel and assets (trucks, etc.), food, medical supplies—name it. The food distribution list of the Department of Social Welfare and Development shows 531,624 food and rice packs going to Tacloban City (as of Dec. 9), with 1,016,343 packs going to the Leyte-Tacloban hub, and 442,677 going to the Eastern Samar hub.

It doesn’t look like Tacloban and the Romualdezes were left out in the cold. Politics does not appear to have been a factor here. Where did it come in? Not in the walk, only in the talk. Roxas wanted to protect his principal, and Romualdez wanted to protect himself (he was afraid that if he signed anything, it could be misinterpreted as a resignation). But certainly, Tacloban did not suffer from an Aquino-inspired vendetta; the Aquino administration (Roxas at the DILG, Soliman at the DSWD) cannot be accused of falling down on its job. And the military worked to protect the people and the state.