As a member of a mixed American-Filipino family with family members in the typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) disaster zone, I was thrilled and relieved to learn on Tuesday that Andersoon Cooper had gone to the Philippines. His excellent record as a disaster reporter after Katrina, Haiti, and the Japanese Tsunami gave me hope that his presence would make a positive difference by first of all providing two hours a day of coverage that would keep a focus on the Philippines even after the majority of journaists left, and which would also look beyond Tacloban. Our family members are in Samar and the degree to which all of the media attention and relief effort was being focused on Tacloban was alarming.
Then came the attack on Cooper by celebrity Filipino reporter Korina Sanchez. Sanchez (who also happens to be the wife of the interior minister Marx Roxas) claimed Cooper “doesn’t know what he’s talking about” when he questioned the government’s response, or lack of it. Then President Aquino joined the fray, indirectly at least, putting out a pointed statement that journalists should file uplifting stories showing the resiliency of the Filipino — presumably as opposed to stories showing the dysfunction of the government response. Cooper was wounded and yesterday did his broadcast from Manila, not Tacloban, citing “logistical reasons” — an alarmin sign, perhaps, that he is about to leave he country. In that broadcast an emotional Cooper had this to say about the strength and resiliency of the Filipino people.
(A version with better sound can be seen here).
“All week long, in every report we have done, we have shown how strong the Filipinos are. The Filipino people, the people of Tacloban and Samar and Cebu, and all these places where so many have died, they are strong—not just to have survived this storm, but they are strong to have survived the aftermath of this storm,” he said.
“They have survived for a week now, often with very little food, with very little water, with very little medical attention. Can you imagine the strength it takes to be living in a shack, to be living, sleeping on the streets next to the body of your dead children? Can you imagine that strength? I can’t and I have seen that strength day in and day out in the Philippines and we honor them day in day out here in the Philippines, and we honor them with every broadcast that we make.”
From the perspective of someone who has family members in harms way, the prospect of Cooper leaving the Philippines is distressing.
Anderson, don’t go!
I can’t say it more plainly.
Meanwhile, how are Filipinos reacting to the dustup?
The flap over Cooper’s reporting has elicited a major response from Filipinos in social media, and interestingly it is Sanchez — a celebrity commentator who is also the wife of Interior Secretary Mars Roxas — who would appear to be coming up short int he grassroots support among net-savvy Filipinos. Comments, tweets, and blog posts are running approximately 80-20 in support of the American anchor — and in fact, fifteen minutes of thumbing through tweets on the subject only produced one tweet that could remotely be seen as supporting Sanchez:
— blue_26_rose (@blue_26_rose) November 14, 2013
With very rare exception the other tweets on the subject took Sanchez, Roxas, and/or President Noynoy Aquino to task and questioned their motives, while attributing to Cooper honest intentions and truthful reporting of what he saw. Here is a good sampling:
But the flap between Sanchez and Cooper seems to go deeper than a pop culture buzz moment.
Listen to this passionate rant by iconic 70 year old Filipino film director Pecque Gallaga:
Not since Marcos have we as a people been so polarized. As far as our hearts and minds are concerned, it’s like we’re in the edge of a civil war. We are forced to take a hard look at ourselves and what we value. Because of this, we are fighting friends in coffee houses, on the telephone, and on Facebook.
We are a people whose lives have been upended. We don’t know what to do to get things done right and right away. We lash out. We insult our leaders trying to get them to do a lot more than to pose for photo ops—of giving out relief goods on a one-by-one basis. We cry desperately for demonstrable government response—we get almost next to nothing.
It is increasingly apparent that local media goes hand in hand with self-servicing Malacañang press releases, which are more concerned with their showbiz image than confronting, accepting, and dealing with the problem.
What our leaders tell us is contradicted by the reports from international commentators, who are understandably more objective and growing less dispassionate as they witness the horrors around them. What our leaders tell us is also contradicted by the victims in these areas who are slowly able to give us the true picture of the realities of the situation.
And the reality is that people are starving.
The dead still lie on the streets even five days after the event. There are anguished souls scavenging for whatever they can to survive, as well as professional looters ambushing the helpless and relief caravans. It’s a war zone out there.
This disaster has affected, not only the islands in the path of Yolanda, but all of us as a nation. We have all been judged and found wanting. But more worrisome, is that we take a long hard look at our leaders and we judge and we find them wanting. It is worrisome because we have chosen them and are paying them to serve the needs of our nation and it seems that they can’t deliver.
I don’t think that anybody, even the most criminal politician, can be that hard-hearted and close his eyes to this calamity, so I can only surmise that they don’t know what to do. That they are impotent and incompetent. . .
I am sick and tired of throwing away my money; of making our politicians wealthy because of my unconcern and my inattention. I am sick and tired of my stupidity. So I very much care now where all this help is going.
On Mar Roxas and Korina Sanchez
I read Marvin Xanth Geronimo who was there when Yolanda struck: that TV personalities and politicians like Mar Roxas and Ted Failon going to Tacloban for the photo op. They never helped; endless tracking video shots of flattened towns with people walking clutching a plastic bottle of water with no government presence whatsoever; Korina Sanchez calling Anderson Cooper “misinformed.”
Cooper was in Tacloban. Korina was not; the US landing 5 planes full of goods and not allowing any politicians to touch any of it. How much more do we need for us to realize that the enemy was not Yolanda? Yolanda was just a force of nature.
The enemy is our leaders. And the leader of our leaders is the President.
So what now? There’s nothing I can actually do. I can only rage, rage against the dying of common decency. I can only rage against this man who claimed in a Christiane Amanpour interview that he couldn’t get to the disaster areas because the weather after the storm left didn’t permit him to fly. This is 24 hours after the sun was shining all over the Philippines by then.
I can only rage against a man who made light of the tragedy, refusing to identify it as a major disaster; who made light of a victim of looting who was shot at by telling him, ‘But you did not die, right?’
I rage against a man who continually blames the LGU’s [Local Government Units] on the ground for their incompetence and their inefficiency, because it is beginning to dawn on me that these Visayan LGUs happen to be Romualdez people [i.e. relatives of Imelda Romualdez Marcos] , and this man is playing politics with people’s lives.
This is a crime. What this man does is unconscionable. I can only state it here. I can do nothing about it for now. I will wait for whatever movement develops after this fiasco and I will join it. But for now, what I can do is to declare that I am deeply offended by the people who try to stop me and others from stating the obvious. All those people who charge us for criticizing, for being negative, for Aquino bashing—I am done with these people.
In a very Yellow Army way, they try to hide behind an illogical argument that we cannot help if we criticize. I don’t know how good these friends are at multi-tasking, but one does not cancel out the other. We can help and we can criticize. And at this point, I am convinced that we do help when we criticize; if at one point we can, as Hamlet says, ‘catch the conscience of the king.’
But I know that this is futile. This man is no king. He is not even a real representative. What can you expect from someone who never worked an honest day in his life? What could he possibly relate to?
So my friends who accuse me of Aquino bashing: I want you to know that I’m done with your line of thinking. Either you defend this man or you defend the people that this man is ignoring. Don’t believe that the people are his ‘boss.’
This was a piece of advertising sound byte created by showbiz experts to get the unthinking masses out there to swallow this uniquely unqualified man.
This man who is totally unprepared for the most difficult job in the country. So my friends, as far as I’m concerned, you choose him or you choose the people. But if you instruct me again to stop bashing this man, I am unfriending you. I will unfriend you in Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, and out in our leaderless streets.
Does Gallaga overstate the case? Or is he just the first to “get it” and say it?
It’s very difficult to know from the distant US. The internet and social media give us the opportunity not only to read the news — they also give us a chance to listen in on the chatter, the equivalent of coffee house, word of mouth
Whenever I do that — when I hear the voices of Filipinos on Facebook, and Twitter, and in comments posted on articles — I am struck by just how much they “get it”, and my heart breaks at how poorly they are served by the leaders. (Don’t worry, my heart breaks for Americans too, and how we are not served by dysfunctional Washington, so I don’t think I”m piling on to the government of the Philippines out of bias, promise.) — but that’s another topic.)
Teddy Boy Locsin, the brilliant, bad-boy former speechwriter for President Corazon Aquino (and newspaper publisher, Congressman,and sharp-tongued observer of all things Filipino and otherwise) tweeted:
“Thank you Anderson Cooper for existing. Without you we would be in dreamland.” And in another tweet: “Good news. Korina said Anderson Cooper does not know what he is talking about. She just guaranteed he will stay for one month.”
And: “Please don’t leave us. We will be left with liars, and never now our fellow countrymen are dying.”
And then, a twitter user with handle “Mr: Locsin, u r a fucking opposition to the president. Wht have u done to help?”
To which Locsin, the former congressmen and Presidential speechwriter eloquently replied: “If I ever catch you I will beat you to death in front of the Palace you piece of shit.”
The exchange went viral — and in one setting, on Facebook where some posted a screenshot of the whole exchange that elicited 450 shares, an equal number of likes, and a general concensus that Locsin’s crazy over-the-top response was, well, just about what was called for, based on the comments.
And Americans wonder why I love the Philippines.
My bottom line is this:
Anderson Cooper — please do NOT leave the Philippines. Everyone who loves the Philippines, everyone who loves justice, and everyone who wants to make sure the light keeps shining on what’s happening there wants you to stay.
I will be broadcasting from the Philippines again tonight. The spirit of people here in the face of adversity is awe-inspiring
— Anderson Cooper (@andersoncooper) November 15, 2013