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Typhoons, Floods and the Face of the Presidency

Who will want to be president of a country when you only find yourself frequently in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation? So now – and not that he is ever out of the limelight – President Noynoy finds himself under a bit of criticism for not having been seen commiserating with the victims of massive flooding on the aftermath of Pedring and Quiel.

Albeit, a palace spokesperson revealed that he was due to make his field inspections today, Wednesday; and as though this did not have the stench of “afterthought” splattered all over it.

The President, the spokesperson felt impelled to say, had been on top of the situation from the moment he arrived from his state visit to Japan. Perhaps, he hypothesized, people have simply become accustomed to previous Presidents being seen on site. Also, he added, that the current President has his own style of doing things in contrast to his predecessors.

Sometimes, one simply wishes that palace spokespersons would just shut it. There are times when they just, to put things plain and simply, talk too much. “The President is already scheduled to visit,” said emphatically and as a matter of course would have ended the big to-do.

The way these spokespersons do things, they frequently sound to the point of ennui as though they have to desperately defend against every trivial accusation hurled at the President. Who, by the way, is not at all averse to making accusations himself; as we hear often enough in his speeches.

But to get back to the crux of the matter, the President was – in fairness – seen on live television last week having convened a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). Well and good to target zero fatalities and casualties; but hey, dream on! We are humans. We do not win against Nature.

In a perfect world, logical protocols based on experience would have simply kicked in as a matter of course immediately after Pedring left the country. It was never as though Pedring was the first-ever typhoon to have entered the country. Do we not live in Typhoon Alley, after all?

Considering that, on average, about 19 tropical disturbances enter the country annually – with about nine making landfall each year – one would have thought that we would have sorted out our protocols a long time ago. Now, let me tell you about this hot new game everyone is playing. It is called “Who Let the Water Out?”

At the end of the day, if our disaster protocols were only correct – and assuming that everyone in position was diligent – then there would have been absolutely no need for a whodunit meeting and the President would have had all the time in the world – if he cared – to do his inspections right away. It is never a good idea for the President to visit affected areas immediately after disasters, the palace said.

But that is utter bull. It is not as though Pedring and Quiel left behind something akin to the Biblical Noah’s landscape. The flooding might have been – and still is – widespread; but there was still land. Or, perhaps his chopper could have flown low and he could just have waved. God knows people on the roofs, their predicament notwithstanding, were always in good humour and always happy to wave right back.

There is no mistaking the concern and actual work hours that PNoy has rendered to ensure that agencies were rallied and supplies, manpower and equipment were sent to those affected. That said, whether he is seen or not on site is not down to style at all. The ceremonial aspect of the Presidency is something that previous Presidents probably understood more – contrary to what palace spokespersons have said.

The matter of morale is something that should never be understated nor underestimated. At this point in time, just as important as behind-the-scenes management are in-the-limelight photo-ops; if just to show the constituency that the President cares. Or, let me rephrase that, that there is a President. Morale is such an intangible that it is really difficult to ascertain or measure; but it has been known to be the difference between losing or winning wars.

Or the difference between surviving or perishing on the aftermath of Nature’s wrath.

On the one hand, the behind-the-scenes work ethic and a lack of desire to milk a situation for politicking value are reassuring in that the President is telling us that he needs no more popularity points and that there will be no speculation on his trying to machinate for an unconstitutional second term. On the other hand, the President is also the face of not only government but also of the entire nation.

And it is a face that God knows has to be seen in and after an emergency.

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