Let’s play make believe and imagine how things could have been if former President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III, Mar Roxas and the rest of the dilawans handled the Taal Volcano eruption.
Imagine if this unfortunate event took place during the Aquino administration an exact six years ago. How would they have reacted? Oh, this is going to be fun.
Taal erupted on a Sunday afternoon, the perfect time for our beloved President Aquino to play video games with his nephew of his same intellectual prowess. A call is made to the President and he will be informed of the terrible news about Taal suddenly spewing ash to the sky affecting thousands of residents in nearby towns, tourists in nearby Tagaytay, and millions in faraway cities, including Metro Manila. A catastrophic event of epic proportions that happens once in every century or so. What will President Aquino do? He would have lit a couple of cigarettes, called his buddy Mar, and gone back to playing video games.
Enter Mar Roxas — eagerly anticipating a phone call about some disaster or accident that he can use for politicking to achieve his dream of becoming president. After getting a call from Aquino, he gathers his public relations team, known to give him the worst advice, to tell him how to best handle this situation. Their strong recommendation is to have a cartoonist follow Mar around Taal to illustrate, exaggerate and falsify his actions so they can immediately publish a comic book in a week to be distributed at evacuation centers. Mar says, “That’s perfect!”
Mar then goes to ground zero using a helicopter owned by his friends from the mining business, together with his team of politicians and advisers who know nothing about disaster management and recovery. They land in Tagaytay to scout for the best hotel with a presidential suite for him. This shall be their headquarters where they will stay most of the time, complete with overflowing coffee, buffet breakfast and a huge function room for the press conference where he will present fellow government officials who he will blame everything on once the poop hits the fan later on (as it always does) and relieve himself from any liability.
After radio interviews, TV interviews and a couple of selfies with the distressed residents, Mar calls the press conference into order and stands up complete with a PowerPoint presentation, diagrams on illustration boards, and even a whiteboard complete with research his staff — fresh graduate sons and daughters of fellow politicians and big businessmen-contributors earning six-digit government salaries as consultants — worked really hard on. It was a report that Mar’s peers from Wharton Pennsylvania would have been proud of.
Right before the start of the conference, Mar receives advice from top level Liberal Party-mates that being the face of disaster relief would not be a wise move politically. In an instant, he ditches doing the report by himself, introduces the members of the newly-formed task force to handle this disaster and throws them under the bus, and excuses himself to do something else under the guise that he has something very urgent to do for the President.
The reality is Mar received word of the millions of dollars arriving in the form of international aid, which is precisely what he was waiting for. He immediately calls his lawyers to look for and set up foundations to receive the money, and his publicist to prepare the relief bags bearing his name and face. Once the money is received, Mar will call for a bigger press conference where he will distribute the goods himself.
His wife Korina then phones him about a request by an international news channel to do an interview right there in Talisay. Of course, Mar agrees and is questioned by the foreign reporter on live broadcast on the slow pace of the operations and why there are still body bags on the road after days. Without anything to say, Mar says that those are not the same bodies. The reporter replies that those are clearly the same bodies. Mar rebuts that body bags look the same — sounds familiar?
After the ashfall settles, the Philippines is left with thousands of evacuees without any evacuation centers to go to. Lack of food and water at the affected cities and municipalities. Finger-pointing due to an emphasis on politics and who is really accountable. And millions of dollars that are unaccounted for, leaving everyone asking where the money went. All this happens while Aquino was busy playing video games with his nephew. What a disappointing scenario, something we endured time after time for six years in the previous administration.
Under the present administration, we have accountability and efficiency in the handling of this disaster that has lasted for over a week by now. President Rodrigo Duterte may have arrived late to the site but that’s only because he hails from Mindanao and had to wait until clearance to fly. Authorities are transparent on the situation and concerned government agencies have clearly stepped up, given the limited capabilities that they have. We must be thankful for the government that we have right now. And rest assured, a comic book on this entire fiasco will not be published to tell lies about what truly happened.