WHICH one will the power of memory bless and preserve for posterity and history?
The words: “Buhay ka pa naman, di ba?” (You are still alive, aren’t you?).
Or the man to whom the words were addressed – Kenneth Yu Uy, a Chinese-Filipino businessman in the city of Tacloban at the time of its greatest ordeal in November 2013 because of supertyphoon Yolanda/Haiyan?
The words were spoken by President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Sunday, November 11, during his first visit to Tacloban city after the typhoon struck on Friday, November 8, and nearly destroyed everything along its path.
The curious quote and the man compel some attention and discussion at this time, because Mr Kenneth Uy succumbed to a heart attack last July 16, at the rather young age of 41, and because the second anniversary of Yolanda is fast approaching and the government is still playing catch-up with the disaster.
The man who did not abandon Tacloban
Kenneth is being mourned and remembered with much affection by friends, family and the people of Tacloban.
Media may not forget his moment with Aquino, but Taclobanons, especially his friends, best remember Uy as “the man who did not abandon Tacloban.”
While other Yolanda victims with the means took the first flight out of Tacloban, Uy opted to stick it out, telling friends it was a time when they were needed most by their city.
Uy was among the few businessmen who reopened their businesses as soon as possible to bring back normalcy and hope to the battered city.
He opened the doors of Asia Stars Hotel to relief workers and his bakery to sell “yolandisal,” the dough which had to be manually rolled and pressed, to hungry Taclobanons.
Because of Kenneth’s death, and the approaching 2nd anniversary of Yolanda, there has been an intensive effort to reconstruct with accuracy and detail what exactly happened during President BS Aquino’s encounter with him.
According to one account, the President attended a meeting that Sunday with local disaster officials in Tacloban, which was also attended by some businessmen and city residents, who were anxious and alarmed about the situation in their city.
At the meeting, the President expressed displeasure over what he called “inconsistent reports on the extent of devastation and the breakdown of law and order, after officials told him of looting and ransacking in the city.”
The President questioned the basis of the disaster team’s assessment that the city was 95 percent devastated. “I’m running out of patience,” the dismayed President declared.
According to one report, what seemed to irk the President most was a businessman, who asked him to put the city under martial law after his store was ransacked by looters. The businessman said he got shot at by an armed looter but he was able to take cover.
The President retorted: “Buhay ka pa naman di ba? (You’re still alive, aren’t you?)”
But that’s apparently not the full story.
Another citizen of Tacloban, Mr. Jeff Manibay, a convenor of One Tacloban, has told a national daily that he was the reason why Uy got the sharp end of Aquino’s tongue.
Another victim who refused to leave Tacloban, Manibay actively helped in the relief efforts. That Sunday, on the third day after Yolanda, he went to the command center at the Tacloban City police station because he wanted to talk to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
It was at the command center that he met Kenneth Uy. They both learned that President Aquino was flying in so they waited for him.
“Man who unmasked the Hacienderong PNoy”
Manibay recalled his impatience when Aquino arrived and they all had to go through a program first. He was aghast when the report read to the President was “unbelievable,” claiming that there were only 72 people dead, that clean water was available and that there was no peace and order problem.
Manibay raised his hand and told Aquino that he could go to nearby Magallanes Street and see no less than 700 dead bodies piled up there.
To underscore the deteriorating peace and order situation, he (Manibay) pointed to Uy, saying, “That man nearly got shot this morning, buti na lang hindi tinamaan.” That was when Aquino told Uy, “Eh buhay ka pa naman, di ba?”
Manibay said that he might have irritated the President because he was practically shouting already, and he was taken aback by Aquino’s response.
As for Uy, the businessman was said to have been shocked by the President’s reaction. He only managed to say later, “Anong klase siyang presidente (What kind of president is he)?”
But soon after, Uy just forgot about the incident and concentrated his efforts on helping to bring Tacloban back on its feet.
Because Kenneth has passed away, and because of the peculiar predilections of the media and popular memory, it appears more likely that President Aquino’s words to him would be long and better remembered than the man.
Senate President Jose Avelino was falsely reported to have spoken the words “What are we in power for?” (in Spanish) back in 1950, but notoriety continues to hound his name more than 60 years later.
But there is also a definite sentiment in favor of Kenneth. On social media, bloggers are calling Kenneth as “the man who unmasked the Hacienderong Pnoy!” Without him, Aquino’s lack of empathy for Yolanda’s victims may never have been known.
There can be no question that president Aquino must regret the words he spoke to Uy back in November 11, 2013.
He would take them back, if he could. If the president ever tried to apologize to the man, there is no record of it anywhere.
It is certain that the Yolanda disaster and the ordeal of Tacloban will be recorded in national history as an epic event in national history.
When anniversaries arrive and the commemorations are mounted, there will be a few words said in the media about President Aquino’s quote. And then maybe, just maybe, there will be a moment of recollection of the man named Kenneth Yu Uy, who was a good man by many accounts, and should be fittingly remembered.