EVERY life-changing event—big or small, good or bad—has a way of unwittingly producing a set of winners and losers. Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” which wreaked unparalleled death and destruction in the Visayas two weeks ago, is no exception.
CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was on target when she pointed out to President Aquino during an exclusive interview sometime last week that his government’s initial response to Supertyphoon “Haiyan” (a.k.a. “Yolanda”), not its efforts to curb corruption, could very well define his presidency.
Instead of answering the veteran war journalist squarely, PNoy chose to gloss over the question by focusing on the supposed disaster-preparedness of some state agencies and local government officials, who relied on some sort of geo-hazard map, and how such vigilance was instrumental in reducing casualties.
In fact, if there was anything strange about the initial government reaction in the wake of this cataclysm, it was its fixation and insistence that only 2,000 people had so far died, and not 10,000 as some local government official initially reported to media. It was as if the “success” of any disaster-preparedness program hinged solely on keeping the number of dead people down.
Indeed, one less dead person is a reason to celebrate. But disaster-preparedness goes beyond such absurd sound bites as “zero casualty.” Reducing the number of casualties is just half of the picture. What do you do after to alleviate the plight of dazed, homeless and wounded survivors, including quickly burying their dead?
Alas, events during the past two weeks revealed an ill-prepared national government whose knee-jerk reaction was to blame everyone, especially local government officials, for its own failings.
To be fair to PNoy, “Yolanda” was an unprecedented disaster that could scuttle even the best-laid plans and contingency measures drawn up by the most prepared government.
Tsunami-like storm surges submerged entire communities while knocking down power and communication lines vital in any relief operations. But try telling that to distraught and hungry survivors after they’ve gone through almost three days without food and water.
National government’s biggest failing, apart from its almost invisible presence days after the supertyphoon struck, was its penchant on blaming others, especially those identified with the opposition, for real and imagined faults that were clearly of its own making—no ifs, no buts, no excuses.
In hindsight, below is my list of winners and losers. You’re free to add yours to the list. Let’s hear them.
Winner: President Noynoy Aquino – Had he been a prime minister under a parliamentary form of government and not a president, PNoy would have been voted (and booted) out by the opposition and even some of his party mates by now for his seeming failure to address the situation in “Yolanda’s” immediate aftermath. To the president’s credit, his government seemed to have gotten its groove back after resorting to the initial blame game.
Loser: President Noynoy Aquino – It remains to be seen if the tremendous amount of goodwill he has amassed over the last three years would be dissipated faster than you could say “Yolanda” in the next round of surveys, but PNoy’s obvious attempt to evade Amanpour’s question was very telling. Long after he leaves office, his initial handling of this supertyphoon is sure to merit several chapters in his unauthorized biography.
Winner: Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez – I’m not privy to local politics in Eastern Visayas and how the Romualdezes are doing their jobs. To an outsider like me, the family name is synonymous with the Marcos dictatorship. But images of a beleaguered, sweaty and crying Mayor Romualdez trying his best to handle an impossible and near-hopeless situation deserve commendation. Given his decimated resources, the mayor never left his constituents—not even for one second—as he tried his best to remain on top of the situation. Man, these are stuff that could propel a local politico to national office.
Loser: Interior Secretary Mar Roxas – After all his years in the public eye, Roxas has yet to learn how to be an effective team player. Despite the need to set aside differences and work for a common cause, he reportedly didn’t see eye to eye with Mayor Romualdez. It took no less than the president to mediate between the two. Until now, Roxas has remained an obstinately divisive and polarizing figure in the government’s relief efforts. Based on Roxas’ poor showing, the president could do the country a big favor by consigning his friend to a desk job in Manila instead of assigning him out there in the field. Worse, the presidential wannabe seems politically tone deaf to the cries of the common tao he has sworn to serve. His “Yolanda” moment has come and gone without him seizing the opportunity of capturing the Filipino people’s gratitude and imagination. He should kiss his dream of becoming president in 2016 goodbye. Sorry, it’s not going to happen.
Winner: Anderson Cooper – America’s golden boy of broadcast journalism has proven anew that he’s not just a pretty face who’s totally at the mercy of producers, scriptwriters and even makeup artists. Working against the impression that he’s nothing but a parachute journalist with a fancy pedigree, Cooper dared to ask pointed questions that ultimately ruffled the government’s feathers. This he did without failing to show warmth and empathy for his subjects. His reportage, along those filed by countless local and foreign colleagues, brought attention to the real plight of Taclobanons nearly a week after the supertyphoon had come and gone.
Loser: Korina Sanchez – When Mar Roxas married the high profile and influential Sanchez a few years ago, I’m pretty sure not a few Filipinos thought that the politician, then a leading “presidentiable,” was marrying a secret weapon. It only dawned on them later on that the secret weapon wasn’t Mar’s to wield, but his enemies’. When an emotional Sanchez lambasted Cooper on her radio program for putting the government and, by extension, her husband, in an unflattering light, common sense, decency and propriety were obviously the last things on her mind. It was just her luck that Cooper internationalized the incident, which eventually went viral. He even invited her to take in the horrific Tacloban scene herself with a dig that was enough to tell Sanchez to shut up: “I don’t know if she has (gone to Tacloban), but her husband is the interior minister and I’m sure she can arrange a flight.” Ouch!
Winners: US, Japan and various countries, big and small – America’s influence all over the world, including Asia, may have waned considerably in recent years, but when it comes to deployment of soft power (a.k.a. winning the hearts and minds of other people without firing a single shot), the US is still the superpower to beat. Apart from being one of the first countries to respond with material aide and manpower (those men in uniform probably reminded old timers of the time when Gen. Douglas MacArthur made good on his promise), it sent no less than one of its aircraft carriers, the USS George Washington, to help in the relief and rehab operations in Eastern Visayas. Now, that’s an ultimate display of superpower might with class!
Loser: China – Apart from appearing cheapskate and childish by scrimping on aide (even Ikea and Samsung initially gave more) allegedly because of its unresolved territorial dispute with beleaguered Philippines in the West Philippine Sea, China blew its chance of showing the rest of the world how mature, benevolent and sophisticated it has become. Alas, the world’s second biggest economy may have the money and military might expected of an emerging superpower, but its mindset remains woefully shackled to Cold War ways of winning over allies: through checkbook and gunboat diplomacy.
Winners: Legitimate and mainstream media, both old and new, as well as responsible users of social media – You gathered and spread news that mattered with speed, earnestness and almost full accountability. It’s because of you that clueless and even smug people in Metro Manila and the rest of the world were galvanized into action in helping Filipinos living in the Visayas.
Losers: Blogs and YouTube postings whose righteous tone and smart-alecky authors hide behind pseudonyms – You can say anything you want about the supposed incompetence of this administration in the face of “Yolanda” (and God knows how huge it probably is), but if you can’t reveal your identity and choose to hide behind a generic pseudonym like “spinbusters,” why would I believe you? Whose agenda are you advancing? If you refuse to be identified, then who’s going to bust your spin? If you’re not man or woman enough to stand by your opinions and accusations, then all that talk is worthless. Your pieces aren’t worth anyone’s time!
Winner: Julia Morley – This part may appear totally off tangent and downright whimsical, but the owner of Miss World couldn’t have helped pick a better country than the Philippines, which is now at the crossroads economically, historically and even culturally, as winner of this year’s contest. If more violent storms have become the new normal, then the Philippines and its people’s valiant response to disasters would continue to hog the news for decades to come. Of course, Morley’s success has a lot to do with a deserving and articulate winner like Megan Young. In an interview with an American broadcaster, which I caught in bits and pieces, Young embodied the global and worldly Filipino, as she discussed and appealed to the world to help her fellow Filipinos affected by “Yolanda.”
Loser: Donald Trump – The sleazy-looking owner of Miss Universe totally blew his chance of choosing a relevant, fresh and deserving winner in Ariella Arida, the woman from one of the most talked-about countries in the world today, in favor of a 40-year-old-looking Venezuelan (again!), who could have easily passed off as a contravida in one of those afternoon soap operas churned out by Latin America. It’s your lost, Donald, not Arida’s.
Winners: The Filipino people for having each other – We may be poor and wanting in material things, but we certainly know how to respond, love and give until it hurts. By our actions, we have shown ourselves and the rest of the world how rich our spirits are. There’s nothing like a tragedy of “Yolanda” proportions to unite and bring out the best in us wherever we are in the world.
Losers: Again, the Filipino people, for losing in a real estate lottery of sorts by being consigned to a rugged and unpredictable land that’s now considered as one of the global hotspots in an era of rising temperatures and ocean levels. Unfortunately, “Yolanda” and her ilk have now become facts of life. We just have to live smarter, work harder and have fewer babies if we are to weather these weird weather disturbances. Al Gore, perhaps one of the best presidents the US never had, was laughed at when he raised an inconvenient truth that was all too real and coming soon. Well, the mother of all real-life disaster movies titled “Global Warming” is now showing.