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Shut up, Noynoy

History’s greatest leaders have, in times of deep despair and grave national crisis, rallied their people with stirring messages of hope, unity and triumph over adversity. But there must be a special place in history’s dustbin for leaders who, in similar times, look for someone to take the blame and file charges against them.

By now, you’ve probably heard of that ill-disguised attempt to absolve President Noynoy Aquino and his government of any blame for the disaster in Tacloban City and other areas, which is couched in language that seeks to reproach you for not being civic-spirited enough to help the victims: Shut up and just pack relief goods.

This propaganda strategy, probably the offspring of the most powerful 24/7 machinery for official press agentry even seen in this country, has been mostly debunked. The outpouring of aid, including from people who have been criticizing government’s woefully inadequate response to the tragedy, has given the lie to the basic premise of the call – that people who don’t like how Aquino and his minions mishandled the crisis will not have the energy or even the attention span necessary to help their calamity-stricken fellow men while they are criticizing their government.

I am reminded of this none-too-subtle spin strategy when I read reports that Aquino, camped out somewhere in Tacloban, has ordered the investigation of local officials who may have failed in their job as first responders when Yolanda struck, with a view to filing the appropriate charges against them. To say that I am dumbfounded by this President’s sense of priorities is to call Yolanda a mere tropical depression.

Yes, this is exactly what we need right now in Tacloban – not drinking water and food, shelter and clothing, electricity or even the identification of the dead, but the investigation of and the filing of charges against local officials. Shut up and distribute your relief goods, Mr. President.

But I understand exactly why Aquino seems to feel the need to make the filing of charges a top priority. The unwavering position of the administration, after all, is that the national government didn’t fail – the local governments did.

“The system has to rely on the local government unit, which is already in place... so that the adequate responses can be generated by the national government,” Aquino explained his directive in Tacloban. “The national government had to fill in so many roles.”

The investigation of the local officials and the filing of charges against them, therefore, only make the cover-my-a*s position official, in Aquino’s mind. And to think that the dwindling number of Aquino loyalists claim that it is his critics who do nothing but indulge in politics and blame-tossing in the aftermath of the disaster.

To be sure, there will be a time for taking officials to court, especially if they happen to be members of the opposition whose localities just happen to have been devastated by Yolanda. But right now, Aquino should take a cue from his own propaganda machinery and just roll up his sleeves and stop yapping.

But Aquino will not be dissuaded: he just wants to pass on blame in a time of national emergency. What a lame-brained, sorry excuse for a President and a national leader.

•••

If Aquino really wanted to sue somebody, he’d go after those people reportedly engaged in the ghoulish task of suppressing the number of fatalities in Leyte and other areas destroyed by Yolanda. Oh, but I forget: Aquino himself has insisted that his government was prepared for Yolanda and that he expected a “zero casualty” rate in its aftermath because of the vast and comprehensive preparations made.

Yolanda, of course, had other plans – and even Aquino’s “expected” 2,500 death toll (which he boldly predicted on CNN right after the typhoon) has long been surpassed in the laggardly official tally. But how do we know that the figure of 4,000 or so reported dead officially is even accurate?

Reports from Tacloban last weekend said that workers of the government’s Office of Civil Defense were engaging in a morbid “point shaving” operation in order to reduce the number of fatalities from the typhoon. At one point, OCD officials even slashed the number of more than 5,000 dead to less than 3,500, the latter figure reported to authorities in Manila as the actual body count.

Will Aquino investigate these reports, which have already appeared in the newspapers in Manila? I doubt that very much.

The question that must be asked is, why should Aquino put a cap on the number of people who died in the typhoon at all? Is it more important to him that he appear as the hands-on, prescient leader who was able to correctly judge the impact of Yolanda and then make the necessary counter-measures to avert the disaster?

Of course, what actually happened made a mockery of Aquino’s fearless (and brainless, if I may add) forecasts. The typhoon was stronger than anyone expected and the minuscule preparations made by the government were laid bare by its rampaging fury.

But don’t tell that to Aquino, who needs to have a casualty count worthy of the Commission on Elections. Or, failing that, local officials whom he can blame for making him look like an incompetent fool and allowing so many people to die.

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