(Updated 3:54 p.m.) As the hashtag “#NasaanAngPangulo” trended in the wake of the strongest typhoon that has visited the country this year, recollections surfaced about how then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte managed to visit Tacloban when a similar super typhoon battered the Philippines.
Duterte, who is now the chief executive, was absent in the first high-level public briefing of government officials hours after Super Typhoon Rolly (international name “Goni”) made the first landfall at Bato, Catanduanes early morning of November 1.
Reports said that by the time officials had addressed the nation, “Rolly” has already made a second landfall on Tiwi, Albay at 7:20 a.m.
Prior to the briefing, Filipinos on social media have been asking for the whereabouts of the president as news updates about the typhoon and its potential impacts continuously filled the public’s social media feeds.
By the time the briefing was held, the hashtag grew to gain traction as Duterte’s absence was eventually noticed.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said that the chief executive is in Davao, his hometown, and was said to be “closely monitoring” the situation despite being not physically present.
“Ang scheduled na pagbalik niya ay sa Tuesday pero siya ay nakatutok at nag-utos sa atin na mag-conduct ng ganitong press briefing,” Roque said on November 1 in response to questions on whether the president will visit areas that have been hit by Rolly.
He added that Duterte cannot go back to Manila to preside over the public briefing that time due to weather conditions, even though he has been able to hold his weekly addresses with officials from his family’s bailiwick through video conferencing.
Such absence, while the country was being struck by the world’s strongest tropical cyclone in 2020 so far, also prompted some Filipinos to recall how he responded when Super Typhoon Yolanda (International name: “Haiyan”) hit the Philippines in 2013.
“Remember the Duterte campaign PR when he went to Tacloban to deliver aid? Kaya niya gawin noon, bakit ‘di nya magawa ngayon? #NasaanAngPangulo,” a Twitter user asked.
Duterte was not yet running for president at that time.
“As a girl from Tacloban, I will always remember the Duterte that cried on national TV and sent trucks from Davao at the onslaught of Yolanda. So where is that guy now?! When all of the nation’s resources are at his fingertips, biglang waley na siya ginawa?!” another online user said.
“Duterte’s silence in the midst of #RollyPH reminds me of what happened in Yolanda. Although President Aquino and his cabinet officials were on the field, they still messed up big time. Duterte responded by sending Davao units to Tacloban, catapulting him into national prominence,” another Filipino wrote.
“Thus why it is hypocritical for President Duterte to be silent as the country faces the strongest typhoon this year. Tama lang na hanapin siya ng taumbayan sa gitna ng crisis na. ‘Di ba nandoon siya nung Yolanda kahit na mayor pa lang siya; bakit wala siya ngayong Pangulo na siya?” she asked.
Duterte, when he was still the mayor of Davao City, reportedly turned over P8 million worth of relief goods and equipment to areas that were severely damaged by the super typhoon.
He also visited Tacloban, the city that was the hardest hit by Yolanda.
Duterte had likewise sent a convoy of medical teams that included 20 doctors, 20 nurses, and 40 relief workers to help in the search and rescue operations and appealed to Filipinos to provide help for the affected areas.
He also was reported to be “almost in tears” when he returned from his visit.
Super Typhoon Yolanda was considered the “worst typhoon to ever hit the Philippines to date” and is placed number one among the top 10 worst storms in terms of damage to properties, as well as for casualties.
Its rehabilitation efforts are still ongoing and according to the National Housing Authority, 37,414 out of 53,038 housing units have been completed.
Efforts to be undertaken
Meanwhile, Rolly was deemed the strongest tropical cyclone to have entered the Philippines this year.
It was also the first time in a while that the National Capital Region was placed under Tropical Cyclone Wind Signals No. 3 and 4, both considered destructive by the state weather bureau.
Sen. Bong Go, who acted as Duterte’s longtime aide before, said the president is slated to visit Albay, including Legazpi City, on Monday.
Roque said that Duterte will also conduct an aerial inspection of CALABARZON, another region that was greatly affected by the typhoon.
Asked why Duterte did not preside the press first public briefing on Rolly, Roque said the president could not travel due to the inclement weather.
“Mahirap kasing magbiyahe ngayon sa Maynila ano, dahil nga sa bagyo ‘no. Pero naka-monitor po ang Presidente at we actually expect him to address the nation. Hindi ko lang po alam kung kailan,” Roque said.
“Pero bagama’t araw po ng Linggo, siya po ang nag-utos na ipulong lahat po ng mga Kalihim na nangunguna sa pagbigay tulong sa ating mga kababayan sa panahon ng bagyong ito,” he added.
The super typhoon entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility on October 29.
Roque also said that in the days leading up to its landfall, the state weather bureau and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council were already giving updates and press conferences about the tropical cyclone.
(Editor’s Note: This has been updated to reflect a quote from the official transcript of presidential spokesperson Harry Roque’s Nov. 1, 2020 press briefing.)