Aquino on Romualdez: Too many interviews, no real action

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – "He has spent time on a lot of interviews from Day One as opposed to doing what he is supposed to do."

This was President Benigno Aquino III's latest assessment of Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez shared with reporters during a December 13 press briefing before the ASEAN-Japan Summit in Tokyo.

The comment is the latest in the verbal tussle between Aquino's camp and Romualdez. The President previously criticized the Tacloban local government for failing to adequately prepare for Yolanda.

And now that rehabilitation operations are in full swing, Aquino said Romualdez' camp has been less than cooperative.

The two camps have not been able to agree on a delineation of tasks between the national government and the local government. (READ: Tacloban mayor takes swipe at Aquino)

According to Aquino, he asked Romualdez to list down what aspects of the rehabilitation the city government could take care of and what they still needed from the national government.

"We put it all down in writing so both of us know what is expected of the other... So they drafted the document and sent it over to us, I looked at it, sabi ko ‘okay na rin ito.’" (I said, 'this is okay').

"Sabi ko, magkapirmahan na kayo. Iniwanan ko sila na iyon ang understanding (I said, you can sign this already. I left them with that understanding). So when I asked for a copy of the signed agreement, kinalabasan, hindi din pala pinirmahan iyon (it turns out, it wasn't signed)."

In the division of tasks, it was decided that Romualdez would lead in the distribution of relief goods and the normalization of the city. National government would provide the relief, spearhead cadaver recovery, establish and maintain peace and order, and clear all the streets.

But nothing came of the agreement, said Aquino.

"Lahat ng napag-usapan natin parang naging…wala, walang nangyari. Pag walang nangyari, pupurihin ba kami? Naniwala kami sa kanya. Sasabihin sa amin 'di ba dapat ginawa ninyo ito?’ at sinasabi na nga nila ngayon."

(Everything we talked about...nothing happened. When nothing happens, will we be praised? We believed in him. We will be asked, 'weren't you supposed to do this?' That's what they're saying right now.)

Promised land

Earlier too, the President recalled, the mayor and his cousin, Congressman Martin Romualdez, had agreed to attend a meeting with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council after they welcomed him at the Tacloban airport two days after Super Typhoon Yolanda struck. But they did not come.

"Pagdating ko doon, ang kaharap ko city administrator at saka si Vice Mayor. Wala si Mayor, wala si Martin. Hindi ko sila binabanatan, I’m just stating a fact, okay. So pagdating doon para bang one of the things [mentioned], and I think it’s on the video of RTVM...DPWH said, ‘We have to build the bunkhouses. We need land,’" Aquino said.

(When I arrived, I was face to face with the city administrator and the vice mayor. The mayor wasn't there and neither was Martin. I'm not hitting them, I'm just stating a fact...)

City administrator Tecson Lim said they had 30 hectares of land for site development. Aquino later said he expected that upon his return, construction would have started or residents would have moved into the property. "Aba, pagbalik ko iyong land na inangkin or iyong sinabing dito ang pagtatayuan ay may plano raw na iba. So hindi daw pwede iyong land na iyon. So parang...identification of the site na pinangako, wala na."

(When I returned, I was told there were already other plans for the land that was identified for construction. The land was no longer available. So  the site that was promised was gone.)

Colored by politics

Aside from tearful statements to the media lamenting the lack of support from the national government, Romualdez also accused Aquino and Roxas of tainting rehabilitation efforts with politics.

He told the media that in the midst of recovery operations, Roxas told him, "You have to remember, we have to be careful. You are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino."

Romualdez comes from the clan of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whose husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, put Aquino's father in jail. Aquino's father, Benigno Jr, was assassinated under the Marcos regime.

But Aquino backed Roxas, saying the Interior Secretary was misunderstood. Roxas only wanted to clear up the division of tasks to avoid a blame game that would inevitably be colored by politics, given the family names involved.

"Magkakaroon ng dagdag na kulay dahil na nga nagkataon na miyembro kami ng mga pamilyang ito. So ang ipinapakiusap lang ni Secretary Roxas at that time, ‘pwede ba nating iliwanag lang ito?’"

(There will be added color because it just so happens that we are members of these families. So Secretary Roxas was only requesting at that time, 'can we make things clear?')

The national government had to be cautious in handling the situation because the local government is the primary responder, added Aquino. 

Though the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council law allowed him to remove the mayor if he is "no longer able to function," Aquino said he did not do so because it might have been construed as persecution of someone identified with the Marcos family.

"So let’s bend over backwards. Nakiusap lang tayo na ‘pwede ba natin ilagay ito, na ito specific na request mo para hindi naman dumating ang panahon na sabihing hindi namin ginawa," he said.

(So let's bend over backwards. We asked the local government to make specific requests so we would not be accused of not doing our jobs.)

The bottom line

A day after the meeting when Roxas made the controversial Aquino-Romualdez statement, a video of the meeting was released on social media.

Roxas accused the Romualdez camp of releasing the "edited" and "malicious" video which, he says, was intended to cover up the mayor's blunders in handling the Yolanda crisis.

A video showing the "unedited" version of the meeting has now been circulating in social media. (READ: Transcript: Romualdez, Roxas meet post-Yolanda)

The Aquino administration has been criticized for the "slow" relief operations after the storm. It took more than 3 days before relief goods reached certain villages. In some areas, the dead were collected more than a week after.

But despite previous criticism, Aquino said the national government did its best given the circumstances.

"The bottom line is they are in charge, they are the primary responders and if they are no longer able to discharge their functions then it is national government’s responsibility to fill the void." – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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