TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez marked the second anniversary of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) by apologizing to President Benigno Aquino III for harsh words he issued in the aftermath of the disaster.
At a commemorative ceremony in the Tacloban Astrodome, Romualdez thanked Aquino for the assistance Tacloban received after the world’s then most powerful storm brought the city to its knees.
“We would like to thank the national leadership including the President for all the help given to the people. I want to say to all that sometimes, when we are in our most desperate times and moments, we do not bring out the best in us,” he said.
Romualdez then added: “Nakapagsalita kami ng maanghang na salita but in no given time are we ungrateful for help given to us. Pasensya na kung nakapagsalita ng maanghang.”
(We said harsh words. Sorry for saying harsh words.)
The mayor and Aquino exchanged criticism after Yolanda ravaged the Visayas on November 8, 2013. Romualdez then took a swipe at the national government for its slow response to the disaster while Aquino blamed the mayor’s leadership for refusing to adequately prepare for the typhoon.
Both the national and local governments were overwhelmed with the disaster that killed more than 6,000 people, left thousands homeless, and wiped out communities.
Romualdez belongs to Leyte’s powerful political clan led by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, wife of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos sent Aquino’s father, Benigno Jr, to jail, and the late senator was assassinated during the Marcos dictatorship.
Romualdez explained why he and other Tacloban residents had strong words against Aquino after the typhoon.
“Kami po ay nasaktan dahil napakasakit talaga ng nangyari sa amin,” said the mayor. (We were hurt because what happened to us was really painful.)
Romualdez recalled how the Tacloban Astrodome became the refugee of residents, and saved 8,000 lives.
“We are all here to honor the men women and children who didn’t make it but fought so hard for their survival. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who helped all of us Taclobanons in many ways,” Romualdez told a crowd of aid workers, NGOs, and volunteers.
While Tacloban was ground zero of the disaster, it also become the hub of operations of UN agencies, and other humanitarian workers who stayed on months and years after Yolanda to help the community build back better.
The mayor devoted his message to his fellow Taclobanons who weathered the ordeal, and still struggle with slow rehabilitation efforts.
“Let this memorial be a symbol to all leaders of the world. Let us work hard for the future, the next generation. Let us always remind ourselves that in times of desperation, we have a duty not only to people but to God to always bring out the best in us, and to love one another.”
He concluded: “Continue fight to be strong, to be resilient, and to always stand up for what is right.”
‘People can’t eat cement’
Romualdez’s tone was conciliatory a day after he identified gaps in the rehabilitation efforts.
Less than 10% of Tacloban’s housing target has been achieved. Romualdez said the city government cannot resettle survivors to new shelter because the houses in the northern part of the city still have no water system.
He said the city needs the national government’s help to fund the water system, which entails a sewerage system and a treatment plant.
He said the both the government and the private sector can help out through a public-private partnership program involving big water companies like Manila Water and Maynilad.
The mayor pointed out that most of the funding from the national government is spent on roads and bridges, and a sea wall in the city.
Romualdez said: “’Yun ang reklamo ng mga tao, ang priority nila infra. ‘Di nakakain ang semento. Ang hinahabol namin magkaroon ng bahay, livelihood or jobs. The local economy is back on its feet. We are pushing for a stronger economy but it’s still not enough.”
(That is the complaint of people. The government’s priority is infrastructure. People cannot eat cement. They want houses, livelihood or jobs for them.)
“We still have to give them shelter, their basic human right.”
photo credit: Rappler