One of the highlights of the forgettable stint of President Noynoy Aquino’s foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario was their confused response to the 2011 Japan earthquake that caused a tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown.
Del Rosario recently emerged as part of the troika, along with retired yellow sentinels Antonio Carpio and Conchita Carpio-Morales, who assembled 1Sambayan which seeks to repeat the Otso Diretso tragedy in 2019.
An earthquake with an unheard-of magnitude 9 struck the northeastern coast of Japan on 11 March 2011 which resulted in a tsunami that caused widespread destruction and damage to a nuclear power plant that sprang a leak.
The response of Del Rosario and ABS-CBN honcho Manolo Lopez, who was then Japanese Ambassador, was a panicked confusion that left 300,000 Filipinos working and living in Japan without guidance.
When the earthquake struck, it took sometime before Philippine embassy officials attended to their job of finding out the condition of some 4,500 Filipinos in the disaster zones particularly in the city of Sendai that used to be Japan’s greenest city but was stripped bare by the tsunami.
Lopez issued statements about Filipinos being safe from the twin disasters despite later admitting that communication lines were cut and that they relied on the Internet for contact and information, thus making his report unreliable.
On the second day, a Monday and after the earthquake and the tsunami struck, Lopez organized a team to get in touch with Filipinos by hitching on a bandwagon organized by the more efficient Asian neighbors like Malaysia and Thailand.
That was also the day when the Japanese government reported that the series of natural catastrophes also damaged at least two nuclear plants and that efforts were being made to contain the radiation leak.
The following Tuesday, words came out from the Philippine embassy that it was preparing the repatriation of non-essential staff likely as part of plans to evacuate the entire Philippine mission in the face of the disaster.
Lopez offered the embassy staff, that apparently included him, the chance to go home which, according to diplomatic officials, was against Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) procedures that stated embassy personnel should be the last to leave their stations after attending to the safety of Filipino citizens.
The order was issued right after Japan acknowledged a leak in its nuclear facility and it was issued likely without consulting Japanese authorities on the extent of the spreading danger.
The next day, on Wednesday, it was Noynoy’s turn to baffle and infuriate the nation by pledging a whopping $14 million (P700 million) donation to Japan with Aquino crowing about his administration being the first to come to the financial aid of the wealthy country.
On the same day, Del Rosario and Lopez were also turning away Filipinos who had approached the embassy for help to return to the country including those whose properties, including cash, were swept away by the tsunami.
Del Rosario’s excuse was that the government does not have the budget for repatriation and that they should pay for their own plane tickets despite the scandalous braggadocio by Noynoy.
Later on, as a face-saving measure, Aquino ordered the Philippine Airforce’s then only C-130 cargo plane to ferry Filipinos out of Japan.
It was a lousy effort since the mainly cargo aircraft can carry 150 Filipinos at a time, with many of them standing.
The disconnected moves of the government, from Lopez to Del Rosario to the Palace to Noynoy, spoke of the horrors that overseas Filipino workers (OFW) faced when seeking government assistance then.
With Lopez then about to abandon ship, and Del Rosario and Aquino not knowing what to do aside from their token solutions, many Filipinos instead sought the assistance of the Japanese government which offered more assistance despite facing multiple tragedies then.
Aquino ended up appealing to other countries for help as a result of the absence of any credible plan to move Filipino expatriates to safety.
That was among the times that the flowery rhetoric of Aquino and Del Rosario didn’t work and only caused fury and rage among OFW.
The OFW now have a vastly improved appreciation of the government which now understands their plight and hopes.