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President parties while the Philippines mourns


The death toll continues to climb. As I write this, there are now 957 dead from killer tropical storm Sendong, which battered parts of Northern Mindanao, an island in the southern Philippines last week.

The rains – equivalent to one month’s worth of rainfall – came in the dead of night and washed away hundreds of men, women and children, their houses, cars, their clothes, money, food – everything.

The two areas badly hit – Cagayan de Oro and Iligan – are running out of coffins, according to various news reports. Funeral parlours are clueless on how to deal with the shortage. There is also a shortage of water, food and clothing.

Cagayan de Oro by George Parrilla

Before the floods... Cagayan de Oro is one of the worst hit areas. Photo by George Parrilla under a CC Licence.

But the worst shortage is the shortage of empathy – from no less than the highest official of the land.

President Benigno Aquino III, our president, the man who raised the hopes of Filipinos as he promised his government would be different, was found guilty of partying in Malacanang as the hapless victims in the southern Philippines struggled to survive the wrath of the storm.

Aquino attended a party for employees in the presidential palace and he didn’t stay long, his spokesperson said.

Veteran journalist and fellow blogger Inday Varona-Espina said in her blog that by the time the party was underway, the death toll was at 600.

But Aquino chose to party instead of travelling to the devastated areas. His spokesperson said there was no need for a ‘photo-op’, as the designated Cabinet officials and other government executives were already in the affected areas.

In a news article, the presidential spokesperson defended Aquino.

‘Yes, it’s true the President was there [at the party], but let us place it in the proper context. It was a celebration by the Presidential Security Group, by soldiers whose role it is to protect the life of the president 365 days a year… It was to give them a bit of morale and welfare,’ said Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr in the article.

He also said that the party was scheduled long before Sendong happened and that ‘it was a simple Christmas celebration of soldiers. It was not the President who was celebrating, it was just his expression of solidarity and thanks.’

As I write this, Aquino has yet to travel to the areas of calamity. He is scheduled for a visit very soon.

The photo-op, which he said was not necessary, would not have been just a photo-op if there were real empathy for the victims.

In the meantime, the death toll continues to climb. Local government units are scrambling to find ways to bury the dead. Some bodies have been thrown at a landfill, along with the trash and dirt.

According to accounts from people on the ground, people are on the streets begging for food and water.

And our president was busy partying.

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