Design by Renz Palalimpa

Text by Ingrid Delgado

The Philippine government has turned into a circus. 

Public service has become a show run by unfit clowns. Meanwhile, elephants in the room and closets full of skeletons abound as audiences mindlessly clap their way through an extravagant parade of incompetence by their own leaders. It’s a fascinating show devoid of any substance — standing above the graveyard of the nation it swore to protect. 

As the country faces a series of natural disasters, we watch one horrible act performed right after another.

On Oct. 31, Filipinos were warned that the world’s strongest typhoon of the year, known locally as super typhoon Rolly, would be entering Philippine shores the following day. As the typhoon devastated through Luzon, about two million people were left grappling between three consecutive storms and a public health emergency.

Just like with every problem that they didn’t devise themselves, the national government’s natural disaster response has been poor, slow and inefficient. 

#NasaanAngPangulo

Not a trace of President Rodrigo Duterte was seen in a media briefing held in the morning of Nov. 1, more than five hours after the typhoon had already made two landfalls in Catanduanes and Albay. 

Filipinos who monitored the typhoon’s movement and its destruction aired their frustrations all over social media about the sluggish action of national government agencies in their typhoon response. It didn’t take long for the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo to climb on top of the country’s trending list on Twitter.

As of Nov. 4, 17 people have been reported dead at the heels of Rolly’s havoc in Bicol while three others are still missing and 112,555 residents have been displaced. All this while the Philippines continues to record thousands of new COVID-19 cases every day.

These disheartening ramifications are the direct result of the government’s choices.

Their slow disaster response is clearly deliberate when we have already seen how fast they can get things done when circumstances threaten their own interests. The urgency with which the Anti-Terror Law was passed shows that biting away at our crippling democracy is higher on their list of priorities. For them, it is much easier to tame the people’s power than to respond to it.

Not literal

“What’s your problem?” was President Rodrigo Duterte’s response to the hashtag as it gained more traction over the weekend.

Straight from the dictator’s bag of tricks, the president once again pulls out an all-too-familiar tactic: to polarize and divide his constituents. 

In an ‘address to the nation’ aired on Thursday night, the president sarcastically asked if his critics would also want him to sacrifice himself and face the typhoon head-on. Unsurprisingly, many of the administration’s supporters followed suit in taking the hashtag literally.

This assumption couldn’t be further from the real purpose of the hashtag, which is to seek accountability and demand for a better disaster response from the government to save more lives. 

The president losing his head over a Twitter trend should come as no surprise, for this is the same man who held personal grudges against a TV network and held its franchise hostage. This is despite the broadcast station’s vital role in delivering crucial information to far-flung areas, especially in times of calamities. It has always been his ego before his people.

We don’t need to see the president (or any other politician, for that matter) handing out relief goods on live television, although I wouldn’t put it past them to do so because this is the easy way out of lazy governance.

Some have drawn comparisons to Aquino’s media briefing the night before Yolanda made landfall in Leyte in 2013. Although the physical presence of a leader offered some consolation, it does not guarantee success. With 6,000 Filipinos dead from Yolanda, it is still a tragedy rooted in poor government planning. This proves that seeking accountability runs deeper than mere publicity. 

No matter how many times the president plasters their faces on television, if they cannot lead in creating proactive plans on disaster management and response for the vulnerable, their efforts to be seen in public will remain futile and fruitless – meant only to serve themselves.

Until the state starts working toward the masses’ demands instead of appealing to them through a cheap publicity circus, progress will always be out of reach.

A movement

The rise of hashtags like #NasaanAngPangulo is just one way of affirming that more people are bearing the brunt of the government’s indifference.

Staunch supporters of the administration may think that critics are having a field day using these hashtags. In truth, no one likes using these hashtags. As a matter of fact, a hashtag like this shouldn’t even exist. 

One of this administration’s biggest crimes is corrupting our moral standards by justifying killings and preventable deaths. 

It makes one wonder: what horror would it take for fanatics and diehards to open their eyes? If it cannot be duct-taped bodies in dark alleys, an uncontrolled health emergency, corpses buried in mud or a dead three-month-old baby, what other horror is waiting to happen? How many more hashtags need to trend? How much blood is there still to be shed? 

Lest we forget, democracy does not begin and end with casting a ballot. Contrary to what the sitting president may believe, #NasaanAngPangulo is not a problem. An already-existing problem is exactly what gave birth to #NasaanAngPangulo. Had there been clearer protocols, earlier media briefings, more accessible information and effective natural disaster preparation, the typhoon’s impact could have been minimized. 

The problem with the national government is that there wasn’t even an attempt to minimize harm. Local governments in far flung areas were left to their own devices and had to seek aid from national government agencies even after the typhoon had already hit.

Democracy requires constant criticism, seeks accountability and demands for better public service that benefits and protects its people, especially as the country continues to grapple with an uncontained public health emergency. Furthermore, with the onslaught of natural disasters bound to come, the government must start reevaluating its priorities.

We have moved past the point of waiting for anyone to show up. We must put it upon ourselves to end the system of bizarre spectacle that our government has ingrained in us. This is a circus that cannot be closed down by jeers alone.

When a hashtag like this rises on the trend list, we must remember that there are real lives at stake. That this ‘trend’ could literally mean life and death for somebody, thus the need to take the fight beyond the echo chambers of social media and into the streets with marginalized sectors.

For as long as there is a single Filipino suffering under this – or any – administration, none of us can call ourselves free.

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