“Curse me, criticize me, but I believe I must do the right thing.”
Benigno Aquino 3rd, Guiuan, Eastern Samar November 7, 2014
As luck or fate would have it, when President Benigno Aquino 3rd uttered those challenging words in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, while avoiding the Yolanda/Haiyan first anniversary observance in Tacloban, I was deep in study of a new book I had recently acquired, entitled Justice, What’s the Right Thing to Do? (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009)
Its author is Michael J. Sandel, a professor of government and political philosophy at Harvard University. He is celebrated for teaching a course in Harvard that relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues in contemporary times. He helps students and readers, in the words of George Will, “to experience the pleasures of thinking clearly about large questions of social policy.”
After reading this book cover to cover, and with my experience and learning in leadership education and practice, I can confidently critique the soundness of Aquino’s policies and actions in the Yolanda/Haiyan disaster, particularly his more recent pronouncements.
The book is a fine complement to the other book that I’ve been studying in connection with the Haiyan anniversary, The Politics of Disaster, by Marvin Olasky, which I cited at length in my previous column.
Doing the right thing: 3 views
The issue that aquino has raised is important. To his credit, he seems mindful of the dictum in business management that says, “a manager does things right; a leader does the right thing.”
Doing the right thing calls for a careful study of hard choices and moral reflection. We need to strive for moral clarity on the choice or choices we opt for.
Neither Aquino nor East Visayans can decide on the right thing to do on just the basis of personal convenience or advantage. There is a responsibility to discharge.
In Sandel’s incisive study of justice or what’s the right thing to do, he discusses three major approaches to determining what is the right thing to do towards achieving a just society. He relates each approach to a major school of philosoiphy. 1.The first says “doing the right thing” means maximizing utility or welfare – or achieving the happiness for the greatest number. This is the approach espoused by the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.
2.The second approach says right action means respecting freedom of choice – either the actual choices people make in a free market (the libertarian view) or the hypothetical choices people would make in an original position of equality (the liberal egalitarian view). Egalitarians seek to redress inequality through right action.
3.The third approach says justice means cultivating civic virtue and promoting the common good. It exalts a strong sense of community as a key part of the good society. It also values patriotism and national pride. The principal philosopher cited is John Rawls, author of A Theory of Justice.
Advocates of the common good contend that the hollowing out of the public realm in modern life has made it difficult to cultivate the solidarity and sense of community on which democratic citizenship depends.
The Politics of the common good sets as one of its primary goals the reconstruction of the infrastructure of civic life.
Decisions on Haiyan Disaster
Given this overview of the three approaches to right action, we can now evaluate some of the decisions made by President Aquino with respect to the Yolanda/Haiyan diaster.
Decision 1: Rejecting the petition of Haiyan survivors for financial assistance of some P40,000 per family. –In issuing his challenge to critics, Aquino explicitly declared that he could not grant the request because he has to do the right thing. For him, it would be a mistake.
Professor Olasky in the politics of Disaster says that assisting disaster victims in their efforts at recovery is a critical need, because meetring material needs could be the difference between life and death.
In the light of the P160-billion appropriated for reconstruction and rehabilitation, providing financial assistance per family would be relatively small. It is reasonable and affordable.
In the case of the Katrina disaster in the US, the F ederal government throught the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided the sum of $2,358 per household as assistance. President George W. Bush actually wanted to give more.
In the Haiyan disaster, I can’t help thinking trhat the problem was really President Aquino’s total lack of empathy with all the stricken and distressed. His instinctive lack of caring closed his mind to anything more humane.
Decision2: Decision not to remove the marooned ships in Tacloban. As I reported in my previous column, no less than seven ships or boats are still to be found in downtown Tacloban, stuck like a fishbone in the city’s throat. After one year, not a single ship has been removed.
Underneath, according to Taclobasnons, there are many victims who were caught or trapped in their homes by the typhoon and storm surge.
The excuse for inaction is again money. It will cost several millions to remove the ships.
There’s been talk lately that the ships will be turned into museums that could possibly attract tourists in the future.
This is bizarre. And this srtrikes at the heart of the inequality post Haiyan and the misplaced priorities of the Aquino administration.
I pose to President Aquino this hypothetical question.
If the victims under the ships’s hulls were surnamed “Aquino”, would you hesitate to order the removal of the ships from Tacloban?
If it were a romualdez, he probably would drag his feet, following the logic of Mar Roxas.
But this is precisely my point. No action is being taken because the victims are poor and working class; they are ordinary people.
If the decision to turn the ships into museums pushes through, they will become monuments to Aquino’s ineptitude and cold, cold heart.
Transfer of Tacloban Airport
Decision 3: Decision to transfer the Tacloban Airport from Tacloban to Palo. Lying all the way, Aquino has claimed that the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has recommended the transfer and prepared a study for the new airport. A lie.
He did not mention the fact that the Tacloban Airport has long had a plan for its renovation and expansion.
He conveniently omits to mention that he as president impounded a P900-million budget for the airport’s modernization in 2011, in order to beef up the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). The fund was diverted elsewhere.
More important, the Tacloban Airport is the common airport of all the provinces and cities of East Visayas.
It is a very busy airport with as many as 18 flights daily during more normal times. Historically, it has a fine record of safe navigation. There is no accident on record that should lead one to question the suitability of its location.
There are existing roads to every province that connects them to the airport. The number of people who will be affected by this foolish project will easily run into five or six million.
The question troubling the people of East Visayas today is whether they will have an airport when Pope Francis visits Tacloban and the region in January 2014.
Will president change the plans by parachuting the pope to Tacloban?
Relevant to this issue also is the overweening influence of the Petilla dynasty in this case. The family seeks to transfer the airport to Palo, Leyte, where Mrs. Remedios Petilla is the mayor.
New cuss word in Waray
Decision 4: Decision to forego an official commemoration of the first anniversary of the Haiyan Disaster on November 8.
With foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario as herald, our government announced to the world that it would not officially commemorate the disaster on November 8. It would instead take the opportunity on that date to thank the United Nations and the world for their generous assistance in enabling our country and our people to recover and rebuild from the ruins.
This is beyond laziness and Noynoying; this is bullshit. Only a presidency that does not understand its responsibility as the representative of a proud people would dare attempt this.
In this final gesture of disrespect towards the people of East Visayas – both the dead and the living – Aquino has demonstrated that he is unworthy of being our leader.
“Curse me, criticize me” he says? I say to my kababayans in Leyte and East Visayas, let’s turn “Aquino” into a cuss word in our Waray language.