MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III defended himself against criticism that his administration lacked empathy toward the ordinary Filipinos, especially during crisis situations that rocked his 6-year term.
In a media interview in Tarlac on Thursday, May 26, Aquino was asked to respond to criticism that he was unable to share the feelings of Filipinos – one of the common attacks hurled against the President by his detractors, who dubbed his government as insensitive and a failure.
He was also asked whether this perception would have changed if Aquino, a bachelor, had a First Lady.
Aquino responded by citing his reaction during two crisis situations in 2013: the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the Zamboanga siege.
The President said that throwing a fit of anger or crying in public would not have helped ease the suffering of the many victims of the two incidents.
“Paano ba dapat ang reaksyon ko doon? Pinagsasabunot ko ‘yung natitira kong buhok at sasabihin ko, ‘Ano ba ang gagawin natin dito?’ Nakatulong ba ako doon? Dapat ba na noong hinarap nila sa akin ‘yung problemang iyan nag-iiyak na lang ako? Dapat ba nagdadabog ako doon?” he said.
(How should I have reacted? Tear my remaing hair out and say, “What should we do?” Would that have helped? When they presented the problem, should I have just cried over it? Should I have thrown a fit?)
Aquino added that being a president means taking on the responsibility of looking after the interests of the public.
“May krisis, asikasuhin ko ‘yung krisis, bawasan ko ‘yung dinadaanan nung aking mga kababayan sa lalong madaling panahon, sa lahat ng pagkakataon, at kung ano lang ang meron ako,” he said.
(There’s a crisis, so I should address that crisis, lessen the suffering of my fellowmen as soon as possible, in all circumstances and with what I can give.)
Calm people down
To emphasize his point, the President recounted how he responded to the double tragedies that hit the country 3 years ago.
In the days after Yolanda ravaged Tacloban in November 2013, the President recalled seeing dozens of people wandering aimlessly on the road, waiting for aid supplies to be delivered. But after seeing that no one was trying to calm the people down, Aquino said he decided to take charge.
“Ang sabi ko sa kanila: ‘Ano ho ba ang ginagawa natin dito sa labas? Baka dapat ho magsiuwian tayo, balik tayo sa mga barangay natin dahil ‘yung tulong na dadalin po ng gobyernong nasyunal kailangan nating idaan doon sa mga barangay, sila ang kasama sa first responder.’ Nagkulang ba ako sa pag-unawa kung ano ang kondisyon nila, kung ano ang agam-agam nila?” he said.
(I told them: “What are we doing here outside? Perhaps we should go home, go back to our barangays, because help from the national government will be coursed through the barangays, the first responder.” Did I fall short on understanding their condition, their worries?)
During the Zamboanga siege in September 2013, Aquino said emotions were running high after the Nur Misuari-led faction of the Moro National Liberation Front attempted to seize control of the city, leading to a month-long standoff that left more than 200 dead.
In talks with representatives of the Zamboanga City community, Aquino recalled how they told him that the interests of the more than 200,000 city residents should be prioritized over that of the 200 hostages. The President recalled being told that the siege should end immediately.
Aquino said he took this to mean an all-out attack against the rebels, which would also affect the safety of the hostages.
To try to calm them down, Aquino ran through scenarios: order the Air Force to drop bombs, or use cannons to kill all the rebels. But, he said, those who asked for such an attack should accompany the President when it the time came to visit the relatives of those killed.
He also asked them to consider the consequences, such as the possibility an ongoing clan feud, known as rido.
“‘Ngayon, binomba natin, siyempre gutay-gutay na ‘yang mga iyan. Hindi natin mailalagay man lang sa kabaong na maayos iyan. Pirapirasong ihaharap sa mga kamag-anak nila. Samahan naman ‘nyo ako pagdalaw ko sa lahat ng burol.’ At pagkatapos no’n tinanong ko rin sa kanila: ‘Siyempre alam naman ‘nyo ang sitwasyon dito kapag ang paniwala nung isang pamilya na namatay eh aping-api siya, rido. So pagkatapos nito may rido naman tayo. Iyon ba ang gusto niyo?’ Tumigil ngayon,” Aquino said.
(“Now, we’ve bombed them, so the bodies would be torn to pieces. We can’t place the remains properly in the caskets. We would have to present these dismembered remains to the relatives. Join me in visiting the wake.” And after that I told them: “You know the situation here, when the family of the dead feel they were done injustice, there’d be rido. So after this, we’ll have ongoing clan war. Is that what you want?” They stopped.)
The President said that instead of demonstrating how angry he was – an act, he said, which would not be in the interest of the public – he decided to take active charge to calm the people down and look for rational solutions.
If he had a wife, he added, he said his role would still be the problem-solver.
“Kung meron akong asawa, ako ang gagawa ng solusyon, pormal, para bang in control; ang asawa ko, sabihin ko: ‘Darling, p’wede bang ikaw ang umiyak?’ Hindi showbiz siguro,” he said.
(If I had a wife, I would come up with the solution, be formal, in control; to my wife, I’d say, “Darling, can you be the one to cry?” It’s perhaps not showbiz.)
He added, “Ang palagay ko, ang punto ko, hindi ako tumayo dito para mag-showbiz, tumayo ako dito para gampanan ‘yung papel ng isang pinuno.” (My point is, I am not here for showbiz. I am standing here to fulfill the role of a leader.) – Katerina Francisco/Rappler.com