MANILA, Philippines – Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson accused the Romualdezes of Leyte of helping mount an anti-government protest as "political color" smears rehabilitation efforts after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Speaking to Rappler on Tuesday, April 15, Lacson said he received a verified intelligence report that linked the Romualdezes to a rally in February, before President Benigno Aquino III visited Tacloban City.
Lacson said a truck bus, which was traced to the Romualdez family, unloaded at least 25 protesters in an anti-government rally that gathered around 700.
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He said the vehicle "was seen parking at the Romualdez compound" in Barangay 62A, Tacloban City. It "bore the sticker of Congressman Martin Romualdez." He said, "How could they deny that?"
In perhaps the first time that he, as rehabilitation czar, openly criticized a politician, Lacson said this intelligence report is "so frustrating."
"I'm so disappointed to find out that they're assisting rallyists who lambast us, including myself.... They are part of the government," he said.
A former senator and police chief, he sent a memo to Aquino regarding this incident. He also called the attention of Leyte Representative Romualdez and his cousin, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, through separate text messages on Monday, April 14.
The two belong to the clan of Imelda Romualdez Marcos, widow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who put Aquino's father in jail. Mayor Romualdez has criticized Aquino over the national government's slow and supposedly politically selective allocation of assistance in localities devastated by Yolanda.
'Not my style,' mayor says
The mayor, however, denied that he helped mount the anti-government rally in February. He said he doesn't "hide behind these rallyists."
"For one, I don't have a truck. In fact, number one, I didn't even know there was a rally that day. I found out only later on when I saw people in the street. I was really busy at that time," Romualdez told Rappler in a phone interview on Tuesday.
"But, altogether, that's not my style. If I have any grievances with the government, I direct it through channels or I direct my query or my question to either the secretary or whoever is involved or whoever is the concerned," he said.
In a separate text message, Romualdez said he has "no time to engage in rallies and other political activities," as he is "faced with the huge task of rebuilding our city."
Rappler is still trying to reach Representative Martin Romualdez as of posting time.
Lacson said the congressman sent him a text message on Tuesday. The lawmaker reportedly explained it is "customary" for him to lend vehicles to colleagues in Congress who conduct relief or medical missions.
The Romualdezes didn't deny the report he got, Lacson said. They reportedly told him, "We'll be more circumspect next time."
"Hindi ko na lang sinagot. Kasi hindi naman relief operation 'yon eh. Rally talaga 'yon eh," Lacson said. (I didn't reply. Because it's not a relief operation. It's really a rally.)
'A lot of political color'
Lacson cited more signs that the activity was political.
He said vehicles with red plates, which indicates they belonged to government, had been seen picking up protesters from activist groups like People Surge, Gabriela, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and Bayan Muna.
Suggesting that protesters included a "hakot" (paid) crowd, Lacson said the protesters even came from an area in Samar that wasn't badly hit by Yolanda.
"Kaya pala panay ang rally sa Tacloban, because they're being aided by local politicians there," Lacson pointed out. (So that's why there are a lot of rallies in Tacloban, because they're being aided by local politicians there.)
"There's a lot of political color involved in these rallies," he said.
Aquino, for his part, rejected one of the protester's major demands – for the government to give each Yolanda survivor P40,000 in financial assistance.
In February, he also criticized Yolanda survivors who traveled to Manila to complain about government aid.
"Baka dapat huwag na lang akong magkomentaryo dahil tila naasikaso nilang pumunta dito, puwede naman sigurong maasikaso 'yung pangkabuhayan nila doon," the President said. (Perhaps I shouldn't make any commentary because since they managed to go here, perhaps they can manage their livelihood back home.) – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.