President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted his critics on Monday after being away from the public eye during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Rolly.
This year’s strongest storm battered the Bicol Region on Sunday with thousands of houses destroyed, left billions of damage in property and agriculture, and killed 20 persons according to the latest tally of the Office of Civil Defense Region 5.
“Iyong nagsabi na wala ako rito kasi wala, nasa probinsya, so, what’s your problem? Ang mga papeles pinadala, tapos pirmahan ko. Ipadala ko ulit. Eh, machine lang naman iyan,” Duterte said in a meeting with Cabinet members and disaster officials in Malacañang.
[Translation: Those who said that I was not here because I was in the province, so, what’s your problem? The documents were sent, I signed them and sent them back. Those can be done through a machine.]
The President said he was in his hometown Davao City when the super typhoon hit Bicol and parts of Southern Luzon. He also skipped an emergency briefing on Sunday, led by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, where government officials assessed the damage left by Rolly.
Many netizens used the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo and #PatayNaBa, which trended online for hours on Sunday, to express their displeasure over Duterte’s absence.
The President is in good health, his spokesperson Harry Roque insisted as he pointed out that the 75-year-old leader is well enough to visit a typhoon-struck community in Albay.
“He is as good as anyone of his age. Siguro naman, hindi siya makakapunta sa Guinobatan kung hindi mabuti ang kalusugan ng ating Presidente [The President would not have been able to fly to Guinobatan if he wasn’t in good shape],” Roque told reporters during his Tuesday briefing, while admitting that the President might have grown irritated after people went looking for him in the middle of a raging storm.
Duterte was also seen removing his face mask while in front of a crowd of typhoon victims that gathered to see him, which appeared to be a violation of health protocols. His spokesman came to his defense to say that the President simply could not resist facing the community despite the risk.
Duterte emphasized those who live in provinces like him regularly travel in their hometown for vacations and celebrate occasions such as All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. He visited the grave of his parents in Davao City last Wednesday.
“Kaya nga ako nauwi. Itong mga ugok naman, sinabi na wala ako. I was waiting for the typhoon to pass, then lumipad ako,” he said.
[Translation: This is why I came home. Then this stupid people say I’m absent. I was waiting for the typhoon to pass, then I flew.]
Duterte also sarcastically mentioned the controversial crushed dolomite beach in Manila Bay in firing back at his critics.
“Do you want me to stand in the white sand [crushed dolomite beach] of [Environment Secretary] Roy Cimatu just to see that I am here?” the President added.
Duterte led the aerial survey of Albay and Catanduanes, provinces hardly hit by Rolly. He later visited the town of Guinobatan in Albay to personally see the damage inflicted by the super typhoon.
Roque explained in a press briefing on Monday afternoon that Duterte needed to rest on a Sunday.
“We were expecting landfall yesterday, and besides it was Sunday. Just because the President was in Mindanao does not mean he was not working. The President works 24/7,” Roque said.
Super Typhoon Rolly has weakened into a tropical storm as it is expected to leave the Philippine Area of Responsibility on Tuesday morning. It made four landfalls on Sunday in the towns of Bato, Catanduanes; Tiwi, Albay; San Narciso, Quezon; and Lobo, Batangas.