FROM Saturday morning till Monday evening, typhoon Ruby whipped various parts of the country before exiting to the South China/West Philippine Sea en route to Vietnam. Despite the big media hype that preceded its arrival, it proved to be less lethal and devastating than last year’s super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, which flattened Tacloban and disabled Guiuan, Samar, and other parts of Eastern Visayas.
To their credit, the weather bureau proved more alert and precise, and the local government units tried to be a few steps ahead of the storm. They moved people out of their homes to evacuation centers before the typhoon struck. The province of Albay, for one, declared a state of calamity long before the storm landed; which somehow reminded me of my early youth in Catanduanes, the original typhoon belt, where the first thing the provincial government usually did was to send a typhoon damage report to Malacañang as soon as the first typhoon signal went up.
All this helped to minimize death and injury to the populace. But the typhoon, aside from being moderate, did not hit every city or municipality that braced for its coming. For instance, on the evening of Dec. 4, an Internet post said Davao would be the first one hit the next morning. This coincided with the holding of the fifth assembly of the National Transformation Council in that city, where I had agreed to speak. Unable to back out, I took an early morning flight to beat Ruby’s projected arrival.
A big portion of my plane stood empty after some of the members of my party decided not to risk it. Yet, there was not a drop of rain, nor strong winds in Davao the whole day, prompting some of my friends to extend their stay and visit some scenic spots nearby. They were stranded when the flights were finally cancelled later.
Spared of the death and destruction that marked Yolanda/Haiyan, the nation was spared the spectacle of President B. S. Aquino 3rd paralyzed and confounded by a new disaster beyond his depth, and his “action” man, Secretary of Local Government and the Interior Mar Roxas, debating acerbically with local officials whether or not to provide immediate national government assistance. Foreign governments, international organizations and institutions and even private donors were also spared the need to decide whether or not to send assistance to the Philippines all over again, after their unusual Yolanda /Haiyan experience.
Everyone remembers this well. As soon as the super typhoon struck on Nov. 8, 2013, the US sent ships, planes, trucks and rescue and relief equipment and supplies to the disaster area even before the Aquino government could transport a single heavy equipment to help dig up the dead in Tacloban. So did the British, the Japanese, the Indian, the Australian and other governments. From everywhere else, money, relief goods and relief workers simply poured in.
But after a year, there has been no decent public accounting of the funds received, and no concrete rehabilitation and recovery plan in place for the typhoon victims. Until now the public does not know how much was donated by whom, and where the money has gone. What the public has seen are running exchanges between Malacañang and the typhoon victims, who have not hesitated to confront Aquino personally on his shabby treatment of their condition.
None of the donors have made an issue out of Aquino’s total lack of transparency, but it stands to reason that they would have to think a thousand times before sending any aid again, in case another serious calamity hits the Philippines. No one is betting they would be rushing to our aid and comfort with the same zeal with which they came last year.
Aside from falling off a motorbike, without a helmet, in eastern Samar, and drawing jeers from some people on the roadside and online, Mar Roxas has had no fresh opportunity to put his foot inside his mouth during this disaster. But his dear TV news anchor-wife Korina Sanchez Roxas has managed to upstage him with her offensive and idiotic statements against Japan on her program. It’s all on You Tube.
While discussing the typhoon’s projected path with her co-anchors former Vice President Noli de Castro and Ted Failon, Mrs. Roxas vocalized her wish that Ruby skip the Philippines and instead hit Japan. With equal inanity, De Castro wished that the typhoon’s fury be evenly shared between the two countries. But Sanchez said Japan had the greater capacity to withstand it, and should therefore get it alone.
This was on national television. And it was supposed to pass for “Filipino humor” or “tvspeak.” Reacting to this incident, one Internet post announced that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has banned Korina Sanchez Roxas from ever visiting Japan. This, of course, is pure fiction. I don’t believe Abe has heard of the offensive remark, or that the new Japanese ambassador, Kazuhide Ishikawa, who just hosted a huge reception on the Emperor’s birthday at his Forbes Park official residence on Dec. 4, would care to dignify the same.
This is not to say that anyone would be saddened if something like it really happened to Korina. Many, especially the young people who still watch television or use the social media, beginning with those at ABS-CBN, would be feverishly overjoyed. But so many more would be ecstatic if the top management of ABS-CBN recognized its duty to the public and promptly took Mrs. Roxas off the air.
On a more substantive issue, Church and State authorities should perhaps now get together to see if any other places are to be added to Tacloban and the other places hit by Yolanda/Haiyan as the disaster areas to be visited by Pope Francis next month. Right now, there seems to be an unusual effort on the part of Malacañang to divert the Pope’s itinerary away from the Yolanda typhoon victims. The itinerary could have been changed to favor the areas hit by Ruby, if only the typhoon had been as destructive as Yolanda/Haiyan. Unfortunately for the Palace, the typhoon did not perform according to plan. So Malacañang is stuck with Tacloban, with all its bitter memory of what happened to Aquino and Mar Roxas there. Still, Malacañang could insist on fiddling with the Pope’s itinerary for “security reasons.”
The Church cannot afford to give in to this pressure. The papal visit is primarily an apostolic visit, intended to bring the love of Christ to those who have borne the suffering and pain from the great calamity and to allow the Pope, the Vicar of Christ, to physically touch and be touched by them. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, and Archbishop Soc Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, should not allow Aquino to forget that the Pope is coming here as the Good Shepherd of his flock, and not as a first-world tourist out to validate the government’s hedonistic claim that “it is more fun in the Philippines.”