LENI Robredo thinks that commiserating from New York would be enough.
On December 22, weather forecasters already said that Tropical Storm Nock Ten brewing in the Pacific was going to become a full-blown typhoon with near-Category 4 winds and was tracked to enter the Philippine area of responsibility.
Leni Robredo is from Camarines Sur. But she had other plans for the holidays. She and her three daughters were scheduled to fly to New York on December 23, the day when storm trackers released the forecast that the storm, later named as Typhoon Nina, would make landfall in the Bicol Region, particularly in the vicinity of the provinces of Catanduanes and Camarines Sur on Christmas Day.
Despite this, Leni Robredo, a woman who not too long ago said that disaster risk management is beyond giving relief goods, and who was quoted as saying that “it is really important for the local folks to see their government officials during and right after any disaster,” left for New York with her brood. The call of the Big Apple was more compelling and Typhoon Nina could not make her abort it.
It is in this context that I truly admire the tenacity of my fellow Bicolanos who still went home to be with their loved ones for Christmas despite knowing about the coming storm. I also admire those who continue to go home to be with them in its aftermath despite knowing about the inconveniences of lack of electricity, phone signals and even water.
And they had to brave the atrocious traffic going into several Quezon towns like Gumaca and Lopez, whose urban designs seem to have been left behind by the demands of a commuting public. And they have to suffer the five to six hours of inhuman gridlock in the Quirino Highway, an otherwise rural countryside but through which a supposed-to-be idyllic ride has been betrayed by delayed and/or ill-timed public works.
They endured all this just to be home no matter how hard the way, to be with family in times of disaster and recovery.
This is something that Leni Robredo appears not to have understood, and continue not to understand.
And her defenders are even making it worse.
Her followers point out that she has a right to go on vacation after all the hard work she has done. And this triggered a visceral reaction enough for people to ask: what hard work has she actually done?
Other apologists point out that there are agencies that are left behind to handle disaster relief efforts. They also argue that she is only the Vice President, and that she is no longer technically part of government after she was constructively dismissed as housing czar. But through her minions, she quickly took credit—a habit which she has been used to doing lately—for post-Typhoon Nina relief work when her social media operatives released a false spin that relief goods that were distributed by the DSWD in Naga City were coursed through the office of the Vice President.
Other defenders say that typhoon relief is not her job. One friend even chastised me when I cited the poor roads going into Bicol and the horrendous traffic jam on the Quirino Highway, and the post-typhoon infrastructural damage, and argued that these are not Robredo’s responsibility and that I should address my rant elsewhere.
This line of defense, which is a dominant theme adopted by her apologists, reduces the Bicolano to simply a people whose pain and inconvenience are because we suffer poor roads and typhoons.
I am from Bicol. And I was in Bicol when Nina struck.
I grew up with these roads, and I have been through typhoons as severe as this. On our own we can survive the ferocity of the winds, as my family did, collectively relying on our faith in God as we prayed for safety, and on ourselves to prevent doors from being blown away, as Typhoon Nina pounded our town, Buhi, which found itself directly in the path of destruction of the strongest winds I have ever encountered in my entire life.
We also rise up on our own, which I saw the day after as families and neighborhoods autonomously and literally picked up the pieces, cleaned up the mess, and stood up to recover, like we always do.
Bicolanos are one resilient people, and we are used to bad roads and strong typhoons.
This is not about the inconvenience of damaged infrastructure. This is not even about relief goods.
This is about “damay” and “kapwa.” This is about being there, to be with us as we have to endure and recover from the darkness, the inconvenience, the winds and the terror.
Leni Robredo herself said that it goes beyond relief goods and that it requires physical presence.
Except that she was not there. She was in New York, shopping. And all she could give now are relief goods.
Bicolanos get it. Leni Robredo doesn’t. To think that she is one of us.