Tacloban: Spare aid from politics

Paterno Esmaquel II
'Let us focus on what we have to do,' Tacloban administrator Tecson Lim says

HUNGRY, THIRSTY. In Tacloban City, a resident uses a busted pipe for water. Photo by Vincent Go

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Keep politics out of aid, this typhoon-hit city appealed Tuesday evening, November 19, after President Benigno Aquino III and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez traded barbs over Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

“Let us focus on why we are here. Let us focus on what we have to do, and not allow those who would wish to take opportunity of this situation to further whatever political goals or whatever interest they may have, and divert us from that which we have to do,” Tacloban City administrator Tecson Lim said in a press briefing Tuesday.

Lim said this after Aquino and Romualdez met at around 2 pm on Tuesday. He wanted to clarify the “talk all day about something about the national government and the mayor.”

“They sat down and clarified that whatever has been flung at each other these past few days was actually maybe a result of frustration, and actually some people trying to get them to fight, taking things out of context,” Lim said.

He added: “There was clarification that such was not what the President meant, and that the mayor was reacting, given that the circumstances surrounding him right now. And you know that he almost died, and now his eating has not really been stabilized, that there might have been tempers flaring around.”

Aquino and Romualdez have exchanged criticism for the past few days.

On Sunday, November 17, Aquino made a veiled reference to Tacloban City, Leyte, when he criticized unnamed local governments that failed to prepare for Yolanda.

The next day, Monday, November 18, Romualdez shot back. He hinted the President’s comments insult the dead.

(Watch Rappler’s video report below.)

‘Time to concentrate’

On Tuesday, Lim said: “I hope, and we all hope… that all of these matters would be set to rest, and that we can now concentrate on the more important matter before us all, which is to help the people of Tacloban, to help all the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, get back up on their feet.” 

Politics has colored the relief efforts because Aquino and Romualdez come from rival families.

Romualdez belongs to the clan of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whose husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, put the President’s father in jail. The President’s father, Benigno Aquino Jr, was assassinated under the Marcos regime.

Romualdez said he refuses “to speculate” if the Aquino-Marcos feud is currently at play.

“I’m a simple soldier. What’s given to me, what I have is what I do. I just make do with what I have. I’ve already relayed…. They’ve seen for themselves,” he said.

Friction has also ensued between Romualdez and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is seen as a presidential contender in 2016.

Reports said Roxas requested Romualdez to give up the mayor’s office. To these reports, Roxas replied in a statement, “They better be careful in spreading lies.” (READ: City admin denies Roxas wants Tacloban mayor out.)

While bickering ensues in the province of Leyte, Yolanda has affected at least 1.84 million residents. Over a week after the typhoon, these people call for urgent aid. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.