When a foreign journalist does more to help typhoon victims than their own president, you know something is wrong.
In a third world country, a calamity the scale of Typhoon Haiyan would have devastating results – and it did. The scenes in the cities hardest hit by the typhoon were so moving that in less than a week already twenty different countries pledged to help. International humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and Caritas moved quickly to bring aid and foreign journalists also flew in to show the world the full extent of the damage.
One of the most prominent of those reporters was CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who having covered Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Haitian Earthquake, is no stranger to disaster himself. Yet during an on-air broadcast on his program AC360, Mr. Cooper could not contain himself and broke down after describing the situation in Tacloban.
Meanwhile, on that same day the President of the nation – Benigno Simeon Aquino III, BS Aquino for short – was also on CNN on Christian Amanpour’s program. The only difference is that while Anderson Cooper presented a more dejected expression, our dearest head-of-state flashed a boyish grin, even smiling at times. We can dismiss that as trivial; maybe BS Aquino is not as emotional as Anderson Cooper.
However, one fault the President made on that interview that he would struggle to defend is the matter he chose to address. It could have been a prime opportunity for him to address the global community as to what form of relief was needed the most: power, food, temporary shelter? It would have also been his chance to explain what efforts his government is making for the victims.
Those were the concerns people wanted to know about. Yet instead, the President spent his time on Amanpour emphasizing that the death toll projected by news agencies, which was pegged at 10,000, is absolutely wrong and that the real estimate is only 2,500. How embarrassing it must have been for him to learn that as of the time this article is being written the official count is already at 3,633 and counting.
The absurdity does not end there. While outrage was already plenty due to the lack of government intervention in the immediate aftermath of the storm, those frustrations only heightened when photos of the President distributing water bottles to the victims spread on the internet. It is a nice gesture, but the thousands of security personnel and aid workers being deployed had that covered.
Wouldn’t it be better if the president maintained his administrative role and supervised the functions of his different agencies instead to ensure that the right measures are being made? Also, commanding the military to restore peace and order in cities ravaged by looting would have also been more appropriate from the commander-in-chief.
You do not need to be on the ground to digest the severity of the matter at hand. Experts have already pointed out that the typhoon was among the strongest ever observed, so strong that the scales may need to be rewritten. Sadly, the president is showing very little signs that he grasps the urgency of this situation.
On the other hand, Anderson Cooper showed the hero of Katrina and Haiti that was inside him by reaching out to the typhoon victims and providing them with satellite phones to communicate with their family abroad or in other provinces. He also spearheaded the relief efforts, directing the rescuers to where the most pressing needs were.
But the single most important thing Mr. Cooper did was that he told the truth, he reported to CNN that the situation at hand was out of control and told the world that help needs to come fast and plenty. He also admitted a fact people already knew – that there was very minimal evidence of government presence on the ground.
Of course that did not go well with the bureaucrats in Manila. Instead of extending their gratitude to Mr. Cooper, the latter found himself being demonized by the people who have their focus on Malacanang in 2016 than Leyte in 2013.
On her radio broadcast on DZMM, Korina Sanchez – who happens to be the wife of Interior secretary Mar Roxas – accused Cooper of ‘not knowing what he is saying’. The irony here is that Sanchez is reporting from a station in the capital while Anderson Cooper was touching elbows with the victims themselves. Yet for some reason, Ms. Sanchez knows more than Cooper about what’s happening in Leyte.
Could the reason be that her husband is in-charge of the government’s relief efforts, which Mr. Cooper was very critical of? It might be scandalous to say that for certain, but it’s more logical than believing she can teleport.
The Interior minister is a rumored candidate for the 2016 polls. As expected, he too was defensive and got into a spar with another CNN reporter, Andrew Stevens over the lack of government action in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
Stevens pointed out that he travels from town to town each day and sees the same cadavers on the streets, he also lambasted the government for their absence during the first 48 hours after the storm – the most crucial period in a calamity. Roxas on the other hand, could only say that he was wrong in saying that and went as far as boasting that the government had everything under control.
When the President and his interior minister claim that everything is manageable, obviously they do not mean it literally. The situation is clearly out of hand, they just don’t want their political ambitions to be dragged with it as well. The whole world is aware of the gravity of Typhoon Haiyan’s devastation – sans two of our most senior officials.
This might have been an opportune moment for the opposition to scrutinize, especially with the President losing popularity points. Except that the man who is widely tipped to lead the opposition slate in 2016 is making political blunders himself.
The Vice-President Jejomar Binay also received his share of criticisms after relief goods from his office were tainted with official seal. The goods were wrapped in white plastic, bearing the name of the VP on it. One of the grievances the typhoon victims had was that the essential supplies they needed came too late. That mystery was solved when video footage showed staff from the Office of the Vice President repacking relief goods into the bags with the VP seal on them.
Give or take, the entire process of printing those bags, unpacking the goods and packing them again which numbered to almost 5,000 pieces would have taken 2-3 days. Just imagine if the goods reached the vulnerable 3 days earlier, it would have done them a lot of good. But for the Vice President, looking good in time for 2016 is more essential than the needs of the people he wants to serve.
His shenanigans do not end there. There are viral photos of him online posing in front of the relief goods clearly bearing his name, it’s highly doubted if it was even his personal fund that was used to pay for those goods. There are also trucks with banners showing his picture on them. VP Binay clearly wants people to be aware of his presence and for him to be remembered.
Yes, Mr. Binay you’re right, that will help us remember you in 2016. But there are different ways of remembering people, you can remember them like how you remember your first kiss, or you can remember them like you remember your bout with chickenpox.
In other words VP Binay, we have good and bad memories of people. And in 2016 when we vote, we will look back at your conduct in the relief effort and remember the banners, the delayed relief goods and your narcissism and we will not think about ticking your name in the voting roll. Instead, we will remember that you are an example of a TRAditional politician (or a TRApo) and tell ourselves that we do not want your kind in office anymore.
So yes, your egotism will bear results – just not in your favor.
When President Obama hugged a sobbing woman in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and wept himself, I can’t help but be envious that a president could connect to his people as deeply as him. I look at my own leaders and ask, why can’t my country have that? How come a man as powerful as the president of the world’s greatest nation be so down to earth while our own elected officials seem so distant? Especially today with the catastrophic damage dealt by Typhoon Haiyan and the chaos happening in the hardest hit areas, the need for a competent and compassionate leader cannot be more urgent.
That starts with setting priorities however. Will our president man up and admit that his administration made some mistakes and own up to their faults? Will our Vice-President set his political ambitions aside and genuinely resolve to help his people? Can we just put politics and partisanship aside and understand that there are more pressing concerns that need to be addressed first?
What our country needs right now simply is for our leaders to be just that – leaders – and not politicians. Even if that is the position they campaigned to work as, our elected officials are struggling to do so.
If there was any personality in this saga who won supporters, it would have to be Anderson Cooper – except Mr. Cooper is not a politician, but then again maybe that’s the reason why he was so heroic. Yes, it’s very ironic that a news channel like CNN which is supposed to be ratings-centric became more concerned with humanitarian work and the government which was elected to do humanitarian work became more concerned with ratings instead. Only in the Philippines, as they would say.
When Alfredo Lim ran for president in 1998, there was controversy surrounding his citizenship. People were fearing the possibility that a foreigner may be elected as President. Ironically however, a foreigner may be just who we need to lead us out of the abyss set by typhoon Haiyan. Anderson Cooper did more than the government to help the Filipino. He was the one who wept with Filipinos, who comforted Filipinos, who asked Filipinos what they needed and begged the world to give them that.
Perhaps we should scrap the citizenship clause in our Constitution and elect Anderson Cooper as our president, because let’s face it – we’ve had so many Filipino politicians and none of them has shown any love for the Philippines. It was Mr. Cooper who showed how loving the Philippines is done and even went on air to declare his admiration for the Filipino spirit.
In all seriousness though, may this essay demonstrate how grateful I am to Mr. Cooper for loving my country. Thank you Mr. Cooper, for as you wept with my countrymen in your reporting I also break down in writing this piece. For it’s already heart-warming how pious you serve my people, but you get vilified by our partisan media and still go on air to say how much you admire us and then serve us even more.
You present an award show every year for CNN called the ‘Hero of the Year’, I think it goes without saying that this year that show needs to find a new host and let you be the awardee for I cannot think of a better candidate to give that title to.
Once again, salamat.