Disaster response defining moment — Aquino

MANILA — President Benigno Aquino III said the government’s effective response to disasters would, in part, define his administration even as some critics, including retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, said the chief executive was “the biggest problem of 2013.”

“Our ability to handle (disasters) would be part of it,” Aquino said in a recent media forum.

Aquino said all the efforts of the unnamed government personnel who responded during the disasters — from the pilots of the C-130 cargo planes to the forecasters in the state weather bureau — have made it

possible for his administration to effectively deliver aid and succor to calamity survivors.

“I guess, at the end of the day, you have the government that’s truly worthy of these people,” the President said.

In the week after super typhoon Yolanda struck on Nov. 8, the international press bewailed the slow government response to the disaster.

Cruz minced no words when he said Aquino was a “big joke.”

“First, he does not know how to lead. He is not capable of leading. Second, the country had become more problematic when he became the President,” Cruz said.

“I believe if he will resign — although (the President) will not do it and it will not happen — everything in this country will change. (We will have) a brighter 2014,” Cruz said.

The year has been exceptionally bad for the country in terms of disasters both man-made and natural.

The Aquino administration started 2013 with a carry-over from typhoon Pablo’s damage in December of 2012.

For the second semester of the year, the calamities came one after the other: a three-week hostage siege in Zamboanga City in September; typhoon Santi battering Central and Northern Luzon and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hitting Bohol and Cebu in October; and super typhoon Yolanda devastating most parts of Central and Eastern Visayas in November.

The disasters, and the criticisms about a slow government response, prompted the President to turn the tables on his critics, too.

“Bahala na si Lord sa inyo, busy ako, (The Lord will take care of you. I’m busy)” Aquino told his critics in a speech before members of the Filipino community in Tokyo.

The one-liner recalled the President’s equally infamous “Buhay ka pa naman, di ba? (You’re still alive, aren’t you?)” retort to a Tacloban-based businessman who expressed fears over looting in the typhoon-battered city.

Recently, the President has turned to cracking jokes at the string of disasters that his administration had to deal with, saying life would be boring without them.

But more than the initial delivery of relief to typhoon victims, all eyes are on the President and his team on how well they rehabilitate the storm-damaged areas.

In an earlier interview, Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms executive director Ramon Casiple said failure to successfully implement the rehabilitation plans would mean a “big political problem” for Aquino.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said if anything, the disasters would prove to the world how the Philippines as a country can “rise from the ashes.”

“We are confident that the rehabilitation plan will prove that the Filipinos can weather difficulties, no matter the gravity,” Lacierda said.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said the calamities are part of the regular challenges of governance, and the Aquino administration has used each major disaster as a vital learning point.

“Lessons learned are the platforms upon which better systems and processes for responding have been devised, installed and institutionalized. We are now better equipped to ‘build back better’ and more resilient communities as national and local leaders have mined vital lessons from disasters as springboards for more effective response,” Coloma added.

While the full rehabilitation of the Yolanda-struck areas would be completed beyond his term, this is one task Aquino cannot afford to fail at, if he wants his reform agenda to continue beyond 2016.

It will determine, eventually, whether the President will go down in history as a hero or a zero.