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Philippine President Seeks to Rebuild Public Standing After Typhoon

  • Simone Orendain

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (R) visits the navy port where some relief supplies arrive by boat in Tacloban, Nov. 17, 2013.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino (R) visits the navy port where some relief supplies arrive by boat in Tacloban, Nov. 17, 2013.

The president of the Philippines this week appointed a former senator to head-up rehabilitation efforts of the typhoon-battered central islands. Some say the move could not only help the country recover, but also help the president rebuild some lost political capital.

When Typhoon Haiyan tore a path of devastation across islands in the central Philippines nearly a month ago, criticism over President Benigno Aquino’s handling of the crisis was widespread.

Ramon Casiple, who heads the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Metro Manila, thinks Aquino has an opportunity to gain back some lost ground with his appointment of Panfilo Lacson to oversee the entire rehabilitation effort.

“It’s very significant, in that it is not anymore [Interior] Secretary Roxas or [Defense] Secretary Gazmin who are handling the effort. And in that sense the president still has time to recover politically from whatever negative effects that the disaster had,” said Casiple.

When the typhoon struck, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas were positioned in Tacloban, the coastal city on the east that state forecasters had predicted would be where the storm made landfall. Typhoon Haiyan hit nearby and churned up a storm surge that left thousands of corpses strewn about Tacloban and surrounding towns.

The typhoon obliterated entire towns along with electricity and communications infrastructure. Debris lay in hard to penetrate heaps. All this took place while destroyed roads left residents cut off from any aid for days. The government, which did not have the capacity to handle the storm’s damage without international help, could not respond immediately.

Casiple says the two ministers, who by law co-chair the country’s disaster management council, “put themselves in harm’s way.”

“So you have no leadership during the crucial first day. And it’s of course, very, very difficult to coordinate work, when you yourself are in the disaster area,” said Casiple.

Casiple also pointed out that Lacson has a reputation for “getting things done and he can command people, even politicians,” to do what needs to be done.

In a speech, President Aquino Tuesday defended his cabinet’s actions during Typhoon Haiyan, referred to locally by the name "Yolanda." He also told journalists Lacson is a “no-nonsense guy.”

“Having Ping Lacson at the center… Focused solely on Yolanda’s rehabilitation will undoubtedly achieve the targets sooner,” said Aquino.

Lacson will be overseeing a $3 billion budget for rehabilitation. He completed two terms in the senate this year, where he was known to have passed over lawmaker allocations to fund pet projects. Before that, he was the director general of the national police. Lacson was tied to high-profile murder cases and was a fugitive from justice for more than a year during his second term in office, but the courts later cleared his name in all cases.

Casiple thinks that the president’s handling of the typhoon response is not likely to be a defining moment in President Aquino’s 6-year term. However, he also said that it will have a strong negative effect that the rehabilitation, if carried out well, could minimize.