The Philppines has been buzzing all day in reaction to testimony given Monday in the Philippine Senate by Tacloban City Mayer Alfredo Romualdez that included tearful accusations that DILG Minister Mars Roxas and President Benigno Aquino had withheld vital support for Tacloban during the worst of the disaster on political grounds — “You’re a Romualdez, and Aquino is President” Roxas allegedly said, according to Romualdez

How juicy is that?  And how sad?

What is one to make of this?

First, a tiny bit of history for non-Filipinos who may not know the background.

  • Tacloban City Mayor Alfredo Romualdez is a nephew former First Lady Imelda (nee Romualdez) Marcos, whose husband Ferdinand placed the country under Martial Law in 1972 and went on to rule as a dictator for 14 years.
  • President Aquino is the son of  Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., who had been imprisoned in the early years of the dictatorship, returned to the country from exile but was assassinated immediately after his plane touched down at the then Manila International Airport, since named after him.  The elder Aquino’s death helped spark the popular movement that would eventually oust Marcos in 1986 and replaced him with Ninoy’s widow, Corazon, mother of the incumbent president.
  • Mar Roxas, the DILG Minister (Department of Interior and Local Governments) is the grandson of  former Philippine President Manuel Roxas.  (And just for fun — let’s not forget that Roxas is the husband of Philippine news anchor Korina Sanchez who famously attacked Anderson Cooper for negative reporting on the typhoon.)

In  the interest of letting people make up their own minds, here is the full-length video of Romualdez’s testimony.

And assuming you don’t have 40 minutes — here is the 3 minute version:

So what we have, basically, is the following:

  • Tacloban City is hit with a once-in-history storm surge that destroys the city, takes thousands of lives, and almost took the life of Romualdez and his wife who, oddly, choose to ride out the storm at their beach house.
  • President Aquino wastes no time criticizing Romualdez for not being more forceful in evacuating residents — he cites the performance of Guiuan Mayor Christopher Gonzales as an example of what Romualdez — his clan rival — should have done.
  • In the aftermath of the storm, Tacloban is racked by looting; bodies remain undiscovered for weeks; post-apocalyptic chaos descends on the city.

Fast forward one month to the hearing at the Philippine Senate.

Romualdez shows up, Roxas does not.

Romualdez, speaking in a manner that certainly appears heartfelt and unscripted, claims: “We kept begging for more help, in fact I asked the President directly the second time we met . . everybody there was frustrated …. they saw if you can muster up on Sunday . . . thousands of military personnel, including PNP for the security of the President, why can’t you provide troops to help us secure the city?”

Elsewhere in the testimony, Romualdez talks of  Roxas saying that the national government was hesitant to come in without a letter inviting them in from Romualdez, who testified: “As far as I know, the President is the President of the Philippines and he’s also President of Tacloban city. I don’t see anywhere in the law that you need a letter, an ordinance from me, for you to come in, and do what you’re doing. And he answered me and told me, you have to remember, you have to be very careful, you’re a Romualdez, and the President is an Aquino.”

“Not surprisingly, Mar Roxas doesn’t see it that way.  But Roxas avoided testifying — although he was pursued by the Senate, he — according to the Senators — refused to attend the hearing, and at the last minute failed to send a representative.  Instead, Roxas did a television interview which you can view here  in which he claimed that Romualdez is “lying”, and it is Romualdez who is injecting politics into the relief effort.

What Does It All Mean?

So the question is — do you believe Romualdez?  Or Roxas/Aquino?  Is this a situation where you just say shame on all of your, people are dying?  Or do you take sides?

I’m not really sure where I come down but I have some impressions.

First, I’ll concede that Romualdez did not seem to have his act all the way together when the storm hit.  I’m not completely sure what options he had as far as moving people to safety — but could he have performed better? Yes, I think so.  But . . .

Aquino’s sniping at Romualdez in the days after the storm hit was unseemly and inappropriate.  It was not what you could by any stretch call “inspirational leadership” at a time when inspirational leadership was called for.  Moreover, Aquino’s ill-considered snipes at Romualdez seemed to betray a political orientation to the situation that permeated many of his statements and actions.  I hasten to say — I had not paid much attention to him before the storm, and was not caught up in the Philippine political scene.  I hardly knew who Janet Napoles was.  So my reaction to Aquino is not a matter of projecting my pre-conconceived notions onto him.  I am only reacting to what I saw.  He clearly seemed to be very anxious to score political points and had trouble rising above the politics.

Roxas comes across to me as extremely smart and savvy.  He is articularte and could argue almost anyone into oblivion.   I can definitely hear him saying:  “”You’re a Romualdez, and Aquino is President” and saying it sincerely, as a way of justifying Aquino’s hesitation to move in without the kind of invitation that would protect him from recriminations later.  But were those concerns real?  Was it a play, as Romualdez suggests, to in essence entrap him into an admmission that would be construed as a resignation?  I think that’s plausible too.

But why did Roxas dodge testifying at the Senate today?

As they say on SNL, “whassup with that?”

I don’t like it.

The Way Forward — Is There One?

Sadly, I can’t see it. Roxas, by flat-out calling Romualdez a liar, has drawn the battle lines  Aquino isn’t saying anything, but it’s clear where he will come down.

Meanwhile, who are the losers in all this?

Oh yeah, the Filipino people.




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