Politicizing a Calamity

A calamity is the worst time for people to engage in partisan activity. Politicking should be done only during the elections campaign, not during a time when there is a typhoon, earthquake or volcanic eruption.

It is said that the favorite pastime of Filipinos is PBA. No, I am not referring the Philippine Basketball Association, although it is actually part of it. That PBA refers to Pulitika, Basketball, Artista.

The Filipinos' interest in personality-based politics is mainly local that is very evident during the elections campaign period and the Christmas holidays. Local residents line up in front of the politician’s home or office to receive gifts in kind or in cash as the politico play the role of community Santa Claus. The politician also tries to be present in every possible baptism, wedding and funeral in the community that he can attend. Of course, things are much grander during the campaign season, as local residents are anticipating what the local politician and his opponents "can offer" to them during the period.

From a high society gathering at a home in Forbes Park to the ates and kuyas sitting together at a local tambayan or playing at a bilyaran in Tondo, politics is also the subject of some of the juiciest conversations. Topics range from current events, pressing issues, and who is the new boyfriend or girlfriend of the national or local politician. Early talk about upcoming elections is also prominent, with people talking about those who would seek national or local posts and their chances of winning.

However, there are times when Filipinos' obsession with politics is uncalled for. One of those instances is during natural or man-made calamities striking a community.

The Philippines was recently struck by three consecutive tropical cyclones, the most recent of which is Super Typhoon Rolly (International Name: Goni), which was, so far, the strongest in the world this year and caused severe damage to agriculture and infrastructure in Bicol, CALABARZON and MIMAROPA regions, although it is fortunate that the number of casualties, currently at 21, is lower than most have feared. After Super Typhoon Rolly, another tropical cyclone, Tropical Storm Siony (International Name: Atsani), is posing a threat to the country, more specifically Northern Luzon. With the onset of La Nina, meteorologists and government officials expect that the Philippines may see more tropical cyclones and rains before the end of the year.

The Duterte administration, already busy dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to restart the economy after months of limited activity due to lockdowns, seems to have been well-prepared for the onset of severe weather. The national government, local government units (LGUs), National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), Office of Civil Defense (OCD), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) acted early, setting up evacuation centers where local residents can temporarily relocate while maintaining basic health protocols as a precaution against COVID-19. The government and existing private media infrastructure- radio and television stations- and the NDRRMC "text brigade" regularly issued updates and warnings to local residents, enabling everyone to prepare for the coming tropical cyclone and leave for safer ground. When the weather began to improve, the full force of the national government, LGUs, AFP, PNP and PCG and their private sector partners began their search and rescue, and relief and recovery efforts, attending to thousands of affected families and providing them with their basic needs, while the Duterte administration is prepared to help affected LGUs by openly asking them what they need and how they can be assisted. President Duterte himself flew to affected areas in Bicol to see things first hand and hear things directly from local residents, and later to Manila to conduct a face-to-face meeting with government and local government officials after monitoring things virtually in Davao City while waiting for the weather to improve.

Unfortunately, there is this noisy minority that decided to take advantage of the recent string of tropical cyclones that struck the Philippines to satisfy their self-serving political agenda. Not contented with what they did during the COVID-19 pandemic and the "new beach" made out of crushed dolomite at the shores of Manila Bay that is part of its Supreme Court-mandated rehabilitation program, some tried to politicize the situation by hoping that the tropical cyclones would be as strong as Yolanda (International Name: Haiyan) in 2013 in order to see the Duterte administration fail miserably due to the massive loss of life and extensive damage to infrastructure and agriculture, which, fortunately, did not happen. Some were more juvenile in their approach, resorting to hashtag politics on social media and even hoping that the tropical cyclone would be strong enough to destroy the dolomite "new beach" at Manila Bay so that they could prove that the Duterte administration failed in its efforts.

A calamity is the worst time for people to engage in partisan activity. Politicking should be done only during the elections campaign, not during a time when there is a typhoon, earthquake or volcanic eruption. It is also a disgrace that someone would use a calamity in hopes of putting down an administration that they do not like in hopes of slandering its head and for them to return to power either through the next elections or through extra-constitutional means.

Now that our country is further burdened by a string of tropical cyclones while also having to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, I sincerely hope that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, will work together to help victims of calamities for their relief and recovery. National survival is at stake and it should be given the paramount consideration instead of going for the political divide. The start of the campaign for the 2022 general elections is still months away, thus my fervent hope that Filipinos will set aside politicking for now and instead help each other not only to survive a natural calamity but also overcome the threat being posed by the COVID-19 pandemic

About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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