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'ROMUALDEZ KA, AQUINO ANG PRESIDENTE'| Tacloban mayor cries, says Mar was 'politicking' over Yolanda

Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez wipes his eyes as he breaks down in tears telling the congressional oversight committee on the Philippine Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 of President Benigno Aquino III and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II's alleged 'politicking' in the aftermath of super typhoon 'Yolanda.' (photo by Alfie Padilla,
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines - Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez broke down in tears Monday as he accused President Benigno Aquino III and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II of "politicking" instead of heeding his requests for help after super typhoon Yolanda laid his city to waste.

"I could not understand why I could not get help from the national government, tinanggal pa ang (they even relieved the) chief of police," Romualdez told the congressional oversight committee on the Philippine Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

"I was begging for help, I was willing to give in to anything. We were recovering 60 to 80 bodies a day - even until today - and I wanted additional help for that from the very beginning and we kept begging for more help. In fact, I even asked the President the second time we met," Romualdez said.

As it became evident the death toll in Tacloban would be massive soon after Yolanda struck on November 8, Aquino commented that the local government had apparently not prepared for what has since been described as the strongest storm in the world this year, which was widely seen as a criticism of Romualdez.

The national government also came under heavy criticism for its perceived slowness in responding to the disaster.

Romualdez said as the death toll reached the 2,500 mark and continued to rise a week after Yolanda, Roxas asked him for an ordinance allowing the national government to undertake relief and rescue operations in Tacloban to "legalize everything."

When he asked why, Roxas supposedly replied: "Well, this is the gray area, that the national government is coming here and doing all these."

To which Romualdez said he replied: "Why is it illegal? As far as I know, the President is the President of the Philippines and he’s also the President of Tacloban City. I don't see anywhere in the law that says you need an ordinance from me for you to come in and do what you're doing."

Roxas allegedly answered: "You have to remember, we have to be very careful because you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino."

Roxas had been invited to the hearing but did not show up, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, co-chairman of the committee, said.

Romualez is a nephew of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, whose husband Ferdinand placed the country under Martial Law in 1972 and went on to rule as a dictator for 14 years.

In 1983, Aquino’s father, Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr., who had been imprisoned in the early years of the dictatorship, returned to the country from exile but was assassinated immediately after his plane touched down at the then Manila International Airport, since named after him.

The elder Aquino's death helped spark the popular movement that would eventually oust Marcos in 1986 and replaced him with Ninoy’s widow, Corazon, mother of the incumbent president.

At the hearing at the Senate, Romualdez once again corrected earlier reports that Roxas had demanded his resignation.

When the Interior secretary had asked, he said, was a letter stating that he could no longer function as mayor.

He said he consulted his lawyer and was told: "Do not write that letter as it may be deemed, you may be deemed as resigning." Thus, he said, he did not give in to Roxas' request.

Roxas has denied asking Romualdez to write such a letter.

At the same time, Romualdez admitted he was tempted to write the letter anyway.

"I was willing to give in to anything as long as I get the help for my people because we were practically begging already," he said.

Romualdez also disputed national government's claims that it was in control of the situation in Tacloban.

He said Aquino's first visit to the storm-ravaged city, for which hundreds of security personnel were deployed, was the time when a mass jailbreak happened and desperate storm survivors took to scavenging from stores.

By the time the police Special Action Force was deployed, it was too late.

"Businessmen and residents were frustrated. If you can muster enough security for President Aquino, why didn't the national government spare some men to secure Tacloban?" he said. "There were soldiers on the ground but they can’t move without (the) PNP. The DILG secretary (Roxas) has police control. That was the frustration. All I needed was a master sergeant, I was always repeating that it was temporary and that we did not want to burden the national government." 

"People were already frustrated seeing all these military planes and trucks and yet ‘yung mga patay nila na katabi nila, yung mga naririnig nila na boses na puede pa ma-rescue (the dead that remained beside them, the voices they heard of people that may still have been rescued) … there was never ever any rescue, up to today," he said.  

Both Roxas and Gazmin were sent to Leyte ahead of Yolanda's landfall.

Trillanes said he was withholding judgment on Romualdez's claim.

"Napakinggan niyo naman, medyo masalimuot ang problema. Kailangan nating himayin talaga ‘yung mga naging problema nila para talagang next time, mas makaka-responde tayo ng maayos sa mga ganitong bagyo (You heard how the problem is really complex. We have to carefully examine the problem so that next time, we can respond better to these kinds of storms)," Trillanes told reporters after the hearing.

He and his co-chairman, Muntinlupa Representative Rodolfo Biazon, a former senator and a member of the Liberal Party that Roxas heads, stressed that the hearing was not a “fault-finding session” but was meant to examine what happened in the wake of Yolanda in the hope of improving existing laws.

Asked about Roxas' absence, Trillanes said they had reminded the DILG chief's office a couple of times but were referred to an undersecretary who, in turn, gave a last-minute notice that he would not be attending.

"We sent out the invitations. Paulit-ulit. Hindi siya (Roxas) sumasagot (Again and again. He did not answer)," Trillanes said.

Nevertheless, he added, "Let's wait for the explanation of Roxas, he might have (a) justification for what he did."

Trillanes said among the problems he noticed was that, under the law, Gazmin, as Defense secretary and chairman of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, was supposed to be in charge of the response to Yolanda.

Roxas, as Interior secretary, is in charge of preparedness.

"So, kung susundin 'yon, baka walang ganitong gusot (if the law had been followed, we might not be having this problem). That's why we need to hear his (Roxas) side," he said.

Trillanes also said the perception that politicking had hampered relief and rescue efforts in Tacloban reflected poorly on the government.

"I believe ang mananagot dito ay pulitika rin. 'Yung mga taga-Tacloban, ano ngayon ang magiging pananaw nila kay Secretary Roxas? Na ipinagkait sa kanila and suporta dahil sa pulitika na 'yun? (accountability will be through politics too. The people of Tacloban, how do they now see Secretary Roxas? That support was withheld from them because of politics)?"

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