TACLOBAN City Mayor Alfred Romualdez described as malicious and fictitious the account being circulated in a comic book used in the presidential campaign of administration candidate Manuel Roxas II that said the mayor as partying the night before the killer Typhoon “Yolanda” flattened his city in November 2013.
“I am upset. Taclobanons are so upset because they saw me doing the rounds, busy evacuating people the night I was portrayed as partying, and a barangay chairman, who I woke up after the command conference, thanked me after the storm because had I not forced him to evacuate and had he not heeded, he and his daughter would have perished because their house was washed away,” Romualdez said.
Reacting to the Roxas comic book, Romualdez offered to set the record straight with a detailed account of what happened the day Yolanda struck, and how these events showed that the national government went to Tacloban unprepared.
Romualdez said Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin knew he was at the command conference, which the two Cabinet members co-presided, at the Philippine National Police regional headquarters that started at 8 p.m. on the eve of Yolanda’s onslaught.
Romualdez said he even apologized to Roxas and Gazmin for arriving 20 minutes late because he had to attend to a fire that gutted a residence in downtown Tacloban City.
After the command conference, Romualdez said he did the rounds of the coastal barangays to evacuate people and stopped at midnight while Roxas and Gazmin proceeded to check in at the Leyte Park Hotel after the conference at 10 p.m.
“I don’t drink, neither do I party. The comic book was very malicious. My life is very transparent. Everybody saw me the night before the storm and days after the storm,” the mayor said.
Romualdez hit back at Roxas, who thanked his supporters for coming out with the 28-page comic book that portrayed him as a hero and savior during Yolanda.
“When I was a kid, I watched superheroes like Superman and Batman, among others, but I never heard them say, ‘Bahala kayo sa buhay niyo’,” Romualdez said, quoting Roxas who made that comment when the mayor refused to surrender his powers that Roxas demanded in exchange for the help that the national government would extend to the city.
Romualdez said he was upset that the people of Tacloban were still being blamed for the tragedy two and a half years after the typhoon claimed more than 6,000 lives.
“They say the comic book was meant to set the record straight. Let us set the record straight then. It was them, the national government that came to Tacloban unprepared. During the command conference, I asked why there was no representative from [the weather bureau] Pagasa because Mar Roxas announced and started barking orders that the storm would hit land at noontime the following day. Yolanda made landfall at 7 a.m. the next day,” Romualdez said.
“Roxas, being then the head of DILG should have brought with him a representative from Pagasa to tell us authoritatively and accurately when the storm will strike,” he said.
He said there might have been some factionalism involved because the Cabinet secretary who oversaw the weather bureau was associated with a faction that opposed Roxas.
When Roxas realized that there was no weather expert in the room, he did not ask for one but continued barking orders, and thus failed to get a crucial storm update that bumped up Yolanda’s expected landfall, Romualdez said.
At 6 a.m. the day the typhoon ravaged the city, Romualdez was already up presiding over a command conference and monitoring the situation, he said.
“While we were doing that, the winds were already so powerful and I was told that the tide receded by 200 to 300 meters away from the shore and that only meant one thing—it was not a storm surge but a tsunami coming. I made several calls and told my wife to stay put where they were. Had they left the house by the beach…. my entire family would have been swept away by the seawater,” Romualdez said.
“Where was Mar after the storm? The first thing they did was to go to my office begging that I produce for them a satellite phone, which they did not bring. I also had to let our chief of police ask a drugstore to open because Mar Roxas asked that I produce insulin because Gazmin [a diabetic] did not have his medication. So who came unprepared?” Romualdez said.
Romualdez questioned the national government officials’ inaction and slow response to the calamity such that a state of calamity was declared only four days after Yolanda.
“Yolanda hit us on a Friday and President Aquino was in Tacloban on a Sunday and that afternoon, some 150 inmates bolted jail because the few policemen left, some of whom were also casualties, had to secure the President. So I asked the President if he could augment our police force and security. The President told me, ‘I will think about it.’,” Romualdez said.
He said there was no debate that Roxas was in Tacloban “before, during and after” the storm.
“The question is, what did he do while he was there?” the mayor said.
The mayor said the President, who boasted that the national government was prepared and expected a “zero casualty,” was fast and immediately wanted to blame him.
“The President boasted the national government was prepared and expected a zero casualty. When the opposite happened, they immediately wanted to blame me with Roxas demanding that I surrender my powers that deemed as resignation and so by the time I came back, my term would be over. The President went on to address the nation blaming us for the thousands of casualties.”
“The President said we were stupid, and that we were not prepared. I’d say he was more stupid. And it seems like things get much worse when the national government officials are around,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said the President should have known that while Tacloban has a population on record of 240,000, the real number of people during day time swells to one million since the city is a financial and business hub.
“People come to Tacloban because it is a financial center, the major hospitals are here, the major universities are here but they are not from here and are not registered here. And so the DSWD was ill-prepared to see the deluge of people needing relief goods because they got the wrong figure. They prepared for only 240,000 and even with that small number, the relief goods came very late prompting some of the people who were starved to go looting and rioting,” Romualdez said.
He also said he was blamed for evacuating Taclobanons to the Astrodome by the beach that could house 3,400 people but some 8,000 sought refuge.
“Those 8,000 people in the Astrodome survived and were saved. There was only one casualty there not because of Yolanda but because he was sick,” Romualdez said. “So who’s stupid now?”
“They were here, no debate about it. But where were they? What were they doing? They came unprepared. It was their job to immediately respond to a crisis. They’re the national government and they have the resources,” Romualdez said.
To Roxas’ supporters, Romualdez had this to say: “When Manila-based reporters asked me my reaction to Mar Roxas being depicted as a hero and savior of Taclobanons, I said, ‘If Mar Roxas likened himself to a superhero say like Jose Rizal, put him in Luneta blindfolded, [and] no one would ever want to shoot him.’”
Distributed by unnamed supporters of Roxas on Sunday, the 28-page comic book “Sa Gitna ng Unos” (In the Midst of Disaster) features the life and times of the administration bet, and highlights his actions in Tacloban City when the killer typhoon struck.
In the comic book, Romualdez was hit for allegedly partying the night before Yolanda struck, and said a video that showed Roxas reminding him “You are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino” had been spliced to make Roxas look bad.
Former poll commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, meanwhile, pointed out that the comic book featuring Roxas lacks the required “paid for and paid by” line required by law.
“The comics being discussed now should have a ‘paid for and paid by.’ Otherwise it violates the law and is an election offense,” Larrazabal said over social networking site Twitter on Thursday.
Roxas’ spokesman, Rep. Barry Gutierrez said the comic book was “made by his supporters” to belie the mounting criticism against the ruling party’s bet, adding that “Roxas never claimed to be a hero.”
“The comic book was made by supporters who wished to inform our countrymen of what Mar did during Yolanda,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
“His statements on Yolanda have always been straightforward, factual narratives of what he directly experienced in the two weeks he worked at ground zero. If this is in reference to the comics, we have repeatedly clarified that those were not produced, distributed, or approved by the campaign, but by supporters,” he said.
In an interview at Quezon province, Roxas praised and thanked the unnamed supporters who were responsible for producing and distributing the comic book telling his narrative about Yolanda.
In posts over the photo sharing site Instagram, Roxas’ wife, former broadcaster Korina Sanchez said people were “happy” after being given copies of the comic book on the campaign trail.
“To end the day, bilang pangwakas... so happy everyone is happy about Mar’s Komiks! Pinagkakaguluhan sa Palengke ng Tarlac! Thanks to all the supporters who had this made for us — to show TRUTH about Mar’s life and achievements! We love you,” she wrote, adding that “the Nueva Vizcayanons LOOOOVE Mar’s Komiks!”
In 2013, Sanchez, then a news reader at ABS-CBN, had a public exchange of words with CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper and tried to discredit his reporting from Tacloban City when he documented the government’s slow response to the disaster.
In response to her criticism, Cooper urged Sanchez to go to Tacloban City to see the situation on the ground, and insisted that his reports about the typhoon-stricken city were accurate.
“Ms Sanchez is welcome to go there and I would urge her to go there. I don’t know if she has but her husband’s the Interior minister. I’m sure he can arrange a flight,” Cooper said, referring to Roxas, who was then Interior and Local Governments secretary.
President Aquino on Thursday went on the attack again against Roxas’ opponents without mentioning them by name.
Referring to Poe, he said statements about the country’s options in the South China Sea and its territorial dispute with China must be “studied first.”
He said the surface-to-air missiles that Poe wanted to install would be considered a threat by other countries and would be costly, taking funds from other programs.
Aquino also attacked Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who has promised to wipe out criminality in three to six months after becoming president.
“There was one candidate who said that he would solve the problem of criminality within three up to six months. And if this is not resolved, I read about this (in the news), that he would resign,” Aquino said.
“A candidate who made promises, and the people would rely on these promises, should fulfill the promises. Once you accept the work of a President… you must not quit just because you are having difficulty. Isn’t this correct?,” Aquino said.
“Once you enter the job, you must stand by it,” he said.
He also attacked Vice President Jejomar Binay without mentioning his name.
“There was one who boasted that he would do the same [for the country] what he did in his city,” said Aquino.
“Does this mean that the help he would give us all is that we would have free birthday cakes?” Aquino said, referring to the practice in Makati to give birthday cakes to the elderly.
But Aquino said a birthday comes only once a year.
“After the birthday, how about the other 364 days left?” he said.
He also questioned how Binay could promise to expand the government’s dole program while cutting taxes.
“To all those running for President, we are not harboring a grudge,” said Aquino.
“But there are times (when this ends). However, I have been friends with them all,” he said after attacking all of them.
Aquino urged the people to vote for Roxas and his running mate Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, who have been part of the government’s programs in Daang Matuwid.
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