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The absent President

LIKE an errant schoolboy, President Aquino tried to explain why he remained silent for an entire week after police shot and killed two farmers who were protesting the lack of government aid in the face of a five-month drought in Kidapawan City on April 1.

Even by schoolboy standards, the excuses were rather lame.

Speaking at a Liberal Party campaign rally at the Makati Coliseum Friday night, Aquino said he learned of the farmers’ protest in Kidapawan City only on April 1, after the bloody dispersal had already taken place. This was two days after The Standard and several online news sites first reported the protest, and four days after some 6,000 farmers began milling around the National Food Authority warehouse, blocking the major highway connecting Davao and Cotabato.

While the farmers were being beaten and shot at, the President said he was in Cavite for a Liberal Party campaign rally for administration standard bearer Manuel Roxas II.

“The truth is, that was the first time I’ve heard there was a barricade that blocked the highway in Kidapawan and a violent dispersal took place,” Aquino said, betraying what, on the surface, was an incredible failure of intelligence and a disturbing disconnect from reality.

“On our way home to Manila, [Interior and Local Government] Secretary Mel [Senen] Sarmiento mentioned he was to fly to Kidapawan the next day so I asked, ‘What are you going to do in Kidapawan?’” Aquino said in his speech at the Makati Coliseum.

That same evening, Aquino said, he came down with the flu, which was aggravated by a bum stomach the following day (April 2), so his doctor ordered him to bed.

Still, he wanted to resolve the Kidapawan situation and immediately sought a meeting with the concerned officials that weekend, the President said.

He said he sought a separate meeting with government officials about the April 2 power outage at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 on April 3.

The two meetings, however, were pushed back to Monday, April 4, since the unnamed officials were not yet ready to give their briefings, Aquino said.

“Our people only have Sunday to rest but I was really eager to start resolving all these incidents,” Aquino said.

The President did not say what happened at the April 4 meeting, if it were indeed held, or what actions his government took after that.

What is clear, however, is that since April 4, the Aquino administration has not released a single sack of rice to the hungry farmers and their families.

What is also clear is that local officials led by the governor of North Cotabato—a member of the President’s political party—have launched a campaign to blame, arrest and prosecute the farmers, whose only “crime” was to exercise their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

Finally, it is clear that Mr. Aquino’s own Interior secretary moved swiftly, not to bring aid to the farmers, but to pass out medals to the policemen who beat and shot at them.

But none of this was clear to the President, even a week after the two farmers were shot dead.

Was the President truly so uninformed, or was he lying like a truant schoolboy?

In his own defense, all the President could muster was to say he was not feeling well.

“You know, my work is really 24/7, 365 days so sometimes even my body already complains,” he said.

This whining is par for the course for this President, but we suggest he walk a day in the farmers’ sandals, so that his complaining body can be racked by pangs of hunger in the face of government neglect.

Topics: Editorial , The absent President , Benigno Aquino II
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