Continued from Typhoon Ruby: The kind of disaster politicians like Part 1
Opportunities to put on a show
Because Ruby didn’t become as devastating as feared, politicians had the opportunity to try out stunts to gain sympathy. Of course, they couldn’t possibly compete for attention with gloomy reports if Ruby turned for the worse, if it had taken hundreds or thousands of lives. A weaker Ruby provides a good enough platform to seek attention.
In what appears to be a sequel to his padyak stunt some years ago, DILG Secretary Mar Roxas went around Samar on a motorcycle. Unfortunately, he figured in a very minor accident. He had quite a fall that led to a meme that quickly spread on social media. Netizens couldn’t help being unforgiving after perceiving Roxas’ motorcycle ride as an early campaigning stunt, or at least an effort to bring himself closer to the masses. It certainly didn’t help that he wore a raincoat with the Aquino color and that he failed to wear a helmet while driving around.
Politicians who claim to be advocates for addressing the climate change problem, on the other hand, are enjoying the opportunity to be once again seen on TV or to at least have articles written about them.
For his part, President Aquino tried to make himself appear slightly more empathetic by announcing that he was no longer heading to South Korea for an ASEAN summit to prepare for the typhoon. His spokesperson, however, revealed that he actually had no plans of visiting the areas ravaged by Ruby. Also, he skipped a scheduled event on Tuesday because he was accordingly not feeling well. Eventually, he changed his mind on not attending the ASEAN summit in Busan. He decided to push through with the trip to South Korea, perhaps after getting convinced by the lower death count of the NDRRMC compared to the number recorded and verified by the Philippine Red Cross, 11 vs. 27. Well, at least he exerted some effort to show that he could be somewhat compassionate. We just don’t understand what made him think canceling the ASEAN summit trip when he actually had no plans of visiting the affected areas in the first place.
Vice President Binay, surprisingly, didn’t do anything notable this time. There’s no news about him distributing relief goods considered by many as epal. Maybe Korina’s gaffe was all he needed. He can be thankful to Ruby for making it possible for the wife of his political rival to commit another blunder. This blunder is certainly attracting a good deal of attention so it can likely reduce the amount of undesirable attention the veep has been getting over his alleged corruption.
Were the preparations enough?
It’s unfortunately fortunate that we will no longer find out whether or not the government’s preparations were enough. Only a real devastation could prove or disprove the government’s claims that the preparations made were sufficient. Still, there’s no stopping politicians from claiming that they succeeded or at least played a significant role.
Senator Koko Pimentel is claiming that local officials played a very important role for the lower casualty count, and should be duly credited. Again, it’s difficult to conclude if the preparations were really enough considering how Ruby significantly weakened after its landfall. It did not even reach the level of Ondoy, Frank, or Pepeng in terms of recorded strength when it hit land. It was slow moving but it quickly weakened that it was no longer a typhoon by the time it crossed the country’s land masses.
It has to be noted that the effectiveness of government preparations, for the most part, will be determined by the number of lives lost. In the Philippines, no amount of government preparation can fend off agricultural, infrastructural, commercial, and residential property damages caused by a super typhoon. The government can’t do anything if extremely strong winds flatten homes and public infrastructure. It is next to impossible stopping floods in many cities in the Philippines. The construction of tall seawalls to prevent or control storm surges is hardly a part of any government preparation for a typhoon. The best that can be done is to prevent the loss of human lives.
These are some of the reasons why Ruby can be considered as a typhoon politicians like or even love. Because Ruby dramatically and quickly weakened after initially appearing as a dreadful threat, it makes politicians appear like their plans and preparations worked. It saves them from embarrassment and disappointment. It also makes people feel initially worried but triumphant later on, making them temporarily forget many important issues like the fact that President Aquino still seems to be behind his PNP Chief despite the Ombudsman’s directive for suspension and the latest bus bombing in Mindanao.
Summing it up…
Unscrupulous politicians are bound to like Ruby for a number of reasons. For one, it made government preparation efforts seem successful. This is not to discount the genuine attempts of many LGUs to really help their constituents. It’s just difficult to ignore the blabbering and bragging many politicians have been doing after Ruby failed to become the fearsome calamity compared to how it was initially projected. In a number of barangays, local officials took the initiative of installing ropes meant to help people in flooded areas in finding their way to a safer location. Unfortunately, many of these ropes were not strategically positioned. Some were even weakly installed that it won’t be surprising if they get detached after kids from the neighborhoods play with them. Well, you can’t really expect something solidly and thoughtfully built by non-engineer barangay councilors, can you?
On the other hand, Ruby diverted public attention away from several major national issues. The alleged continued existence of DAP or PDAF in the national budget, PNP Chief Purisima’s shameless refusal to obey the Ombudsman’s suspension order, the new cases of violence in Mindanao (despite the government’s efforts in pushing for a supposedly peace-inducing Bangsamoro Law), and various allegations of corruption against high ranking public officials have all been conveniently concealed by the roaring clouds of Ruby. Of course, politicians like this. How they love it!
Ruby showed how a dud disaster is advantageous to politicians. Because the actual damages aren’t that bad, congressmen, governors, mayors, and other local and national government officials don’t have to go out of their way to distribute assistance but they can still claim some credit for the preparations they have supposedly undertaken. Moreover, Ruby made many politicians and government employees happy with the unplanned vacation after several working days were suspended not necessarily because the weather was that bad to make it difficult to do any work. The typhoon also created opportunities for many politicians to release self-promoting “infomercials,” do stunts that could possibly get them covered on national TV, and act like they really care for their constituents.