Much levity courtesy of the Summit of the (Lame) Ducks in Washington.
Got this by way of Age of Brillig who pointed to Bush To Filipino President: “I Am Reminded Of The Great Talent Of The — Of Our Philippine-Americans When I Eat Dinner At The White House” in the Huffington Post, and which pointed in turn to Bush jokes about the White House chef in the Los Angeles Times’ Countdown to Crawford blog. What caught my interest was not the famously barely comprehensible American President’s folksy attempt at being gracious (Filipinos are, after all, very proud of Cristeta Comerford, and the White House has a long tradition of Filipino stewards serving there), but rather, this exchange near the tail end of the Oval Office photo-op. See President Bush Meets with President Arroyo of the Philippines:
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thanks for coming.
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you, thank you. Mr. President, with your permission, I’d like to address our countrymen in my own native language. (Speaks in Tagalog.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT ARROYO: Thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, all.
Snippets found the President’s delivering a statement in Filipino from the Oval Office curious, but I don’t see why. The President took the opportunity to film a message to her people from the most famous stage set in the world. That message was the justification of the trip, Exhibit A in proving the trip was worth it. (What I do find curious -because the President and her handlers have been very conscious of the subconscious effects of colors on the public- is why the President’s been appearing in cheery and bright colors when she herself and American officials have tried to soberly pay tribute to the victims of the recent typhoon.)
Interestingly enough, though, as of the time I’m writing this, the Palace’s propagandists haven’t posted anything on the Oval Office meeting. So we don’t know what she said.
What I find very interesting -see Matthew Good as an example, or Inky Horizons or Wonkette– is that many Americans offended by their President’s remarks, thought our President was visiting Dubya to rattle a tin cup and ask for typhoon relief. To the minds of these Americans, it makes perfect sense that at a time of tragedy, our President was panhandling their President. But that was not the purpose of our President’s trip, see her list of things to do.
Anyway, the President, having secured her photo-op with the Great White Father, can proudly say “mission accomplished” and have NBN endlessly replay her cameo appearance in the Oval Office: she’s in Good Odor and can brag about obtaining Dubya’s Seal of Good Housekeeping.
According to RG Cruz, the subsequent improvement in the President’s mood can be seen by all and sundry, as a Public Works and Highway Undersecretary discovered:
Aquino: I am representing secretary ebdane who visited Iloilo. Out of nine bridges that were damaged, we have restored two bridges
GMA: Are u talking here of guimbal and sta. barabara
Aquino: No ma’am, these are in Iloilo ma’am
GMA: Yes they are both in Iloilo (laughs out loud)
If u were not such a good undersecretary on the ground I will spank you (laughs more)
Aquino: These are the towns of sigma dau cuatero road in capiz
GMA: That’s not Iloilo that’s capiz
Aquino: Yes ma’am all in panay island
The President continues her torrent of instructions: Arroyo orders flooding of NFA rice in typhoon-hit areas. This as Farm, schools damage: P7B.
In his column, Manuel Buencamino points out, in an open letter to the President,
And then, as an added treat, according to your press secretary’s web site, “Some 600 Filipino-Americans witnessed the President’s conduct of a video conference with the National Disaster Coordinating Council where President Arroyo showed that despite her being out of the Philippines to foster diplomatic relations with its most important ally, she remains focused and on top of the situation back home.”
Your president at work?
A total of 198,545 Ilonggos are in 58 evacuation centers in Iloilo City; 353,000 were displaced in the rest of the province; 33,000 families suffered the same fate in Eastern Visayas; and over 700 are dead in a ferry accident. And you’re in Fresno, California, posing for pictures.
In Washington the only meeting you cannot pass off to a Cabinet member is your tête-à-tête with lame-duck George. That’s nothing but a photo op. What lasting commitment can you get from him, who will be gone by January?
It would be nice to personally thank Bush and the US Senate for the Veterans Bill, but there’s a calamity back home. They will understand.
You don’t have to go to the Pentagon. Gilbert Teodoro can meet with his counterpart to discuss defense reform even though it’s a waste of time because he will be talking to a lame-duck secretary.
There is no meeting in Washington that you cannot cancel.
As for New York, do you really have to personally wine and dine those UN permanent representatives to get their vote for Miriam Santiago? What do you think the people of Iloilo will appreciate more: Your presence in their province or you campaigning in New York for their province-mate?
You have been compared to Marcos countless times. It’s unfair to the late dictator and his family. Marunong makiramay ang mga Marcos in times of calamity.
Imelda Marcos and her children, even at the height of a typhoon, would always be at the scene of a disaster giving aid and comfort to the victims. You always arrive late.
I remember when Milenyo hit the country, the first photo to appear in the papers was you, in your cute little rainwear, inspecting the fallen trees in Malacañang while hundreds of thousands of victims in the Bicol region and Southern Luzon were waiting for some relief. And you wonder why you are the most disliked president this country ever had?
I have seen Imelda shed tears as she embraced victims of calamities. Her tears were real. I have seen you in similar situations; you look uncomfortable, and your discomfort is real.
(more, in a similar vein, from Fil-Ams Perry Diaz and Greg Macabenta who, for some reason, thinks Fresno was on the President’s itinerary to help her avoid, and not see, Fil-Ams! OTOH, knicnax defends the President)
So what, indeed, did the President have to attend to, that her subordinates couldn’t have undertaken in her absence?
Billy Esposo sent an email containing his conspiracy theory, which I find difficult to subscribe to in full:
A state of the art nuclear powered aircraft carrier task force is not needed for Typhoon Frank victims. The US has never been this compassionate. This is all about China and GMA’s shift to China – the real US agenda for the meeting with GMA. A lot things can happen with this development. We cannot discount these possibilities – a US-backed coup, civil war or an MILF war with the US backing the MILF which is just about the last burden the GMA regime can afford to take on.
Esposo seems to believe that America’s interests lie in separating Mindanao from the Philippines, although personally I think his suspicions are a Cold War hangover, the kind that sees the CIA lurking behind every bush. American interests more likely lies in using Mindanao as a kind of sideshow laboratory to learn jungle-fighting but not much else; certainly the Philippines isn’t worth the time and resources required to redraw the region’s map.
But I do think it’s quite possible the President made obtaining Uncle Sam’s blessings for martial law one of the main objectives of her trip -the Americans had vetoed martial law in 2005-06, after all- and if you’re going to go into conspiracy theories, Tony Abaya’s column makes more sense to me:
But my sense is that the real purpose of the visit is the meetings with Bush, Obama and McCain. And she is meeting with these three to protect her flanks. Everything else is mere fluff.
The coordinator of this visit — San Francisco consul general (not Ambassador, as media describe him) Marciano Paynor, Jr. — says he did not see anything wrong with PGMA meeting McCain and Obama ahead of the presidential elections. He said that this was something done by every head of state or government…
Really? In the past 60 days, President Bush was visited by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I do not recall either of them meeting with McCain or Obama or Hillary Clinton.
President Arroyo has been trying to meet with Bush for years. In the APEC Summits in Hanoi and Sydney, her press people talked about 20-minute one-on-ones with George W, which were either cancelled by the Americans or reduced to a seven-minute “pull-over” photo-op, meaning, I presume, that he was pulled over on his way to or from the men’s room.
In February 2006, on the 20th anniversary of Edsa I People Power “Revolution”, it was suddenly announced that she was leaving for Washington to address the American Press Club (APC), but then, just as suddenly, her trip was cancelled…
My interpretation of this little mystery was: Malacanang’s PR retainer in Washington DC was able to wangle the speech invitation from the APC, a poorer cousin of the prestigious National Press Club With this speech invitation, the White House was asked for a meeting with Bush, since GMA was going to be in Washington anyway.. When the White House said no, the speech date with APC was cancelled.
President Arroyo is not the favorite “ally” of the Americans that she may think she is, after she withdrew the 51 Filipino policemen from the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq in 2004, and after she signed an agreement with Beijing for the joint exploration for oil in the Spratlys, also in 2004. In 2005, Vice-President Dick Cheney is said to have started moves to remove her from power, starting with the Hello Garci tapes, which, according to my information, were made possible by the US National Security Agency or NSA.
The Americans could not have grown fonder of her after the aborted, corruption-ridden ZTE broadband contract in 2007, which would have given the Chinese total and instant knowledge of all decisions of the Philippine government, including sensitive ones such as on the positioning of US troops and intel assets in Mindanao, Sulu, and Basilan. How could she have been so naïve as to be unaware of the consequences of her actions?
President Arroyo obviously wants to personally explain to Bush (and his successor) why she did what she has done. And perhaps sound them out on a possible declaration of martial law if and when it becomes necessary in 2009 or 2010, given the deteriorating global situation. Or a possible asylum in San Francisco, just in case.
The reason America would be a preferable haven to, say, Spain or Portugal (her previously-rumored potential exile haunts) is that her human rights record will result in her being hounded in the European Union the way Pinochet was, arrested in England upon orders of a Spanish court. And her other possible place of exile, China, may not be so hospitable considering the NBN-ZTE brouhaha.
blackshama’s blog says the Vice-President’s coming off looking positively presidential as he presides over disaster management meetings:
Political pundits here on the Mango Isle (hey! They are found from the lowliest barangay of the smallest provinces to the elite kapihans of Manila) say that Queen Gloria’s refusal (even when Frank has caused a national disaster rather than a regional one like previous typhoons) to cut short her glorious junket to the US of A will cost her much. According to the pundits the one who wins the pogi points is no other than the Veep Noli.
Some have remarked that Noli de Castro once dismissed as a talking news puppet, looked soooooo presidential in leading the national disaster response committee, even more presidential than the Queen herself…
So methinks the biggest political beneficiary here is the Veep. We ask the logical question. Did Malacanang intend this? or is Malacanang the victim of the law of unintended consequences?
Palace sez: Arroyo sets Tuesday visit to Iloilo to assess storm damage: President to hold Cabinet meeting there. She’s the Boss.
While I don’t think that once something’s online, it’s there for ever (lots of articles I once had online have vanished), in the wake of any major event, personal stories published in the blogosphere bring the scale and scope of the typhoon to life.
blackshama’s blog recounts arriving at the scene in the wake of the typhoon:
The road from the new international airport is littered with the remains of washed out houses and vehicles some of which were completely filled in with mud. Not a few of the cars were brand new. Evacuees line the road and many have begun the clean-up. One resident told me that the water just rose within five minutes leaving them caught unawares. The only good thing is that this happened during the day and if it did happen in the night,the death toll would have been horrible, says the cab driver who took me around.
Iloilo is defined by two rivers and a geography the gives the city its name. Residents say that they have never experienced an “Ormoc style” deluge in their lives till Saturday. This is attested by a centenarian who lived to see this day.
PromdiLiving.com recounts Iloilo stories:
A friend’s house was flooded up to the roof. A boss’ car was swept by floodwater. I heard a story about a Mayor who cried while watching helplessly a family on top of their roof as they were swept by the current. Poor and rich families were not spared. Typhoons do not discriminate on status. It destroys anything and everything on its path. I am fortunate my family was spared.
On to the ill-fated Princess of the Stars (the nomenclature of which blogged about by Pine for Pine), PCIJ points to its past reports, Sulpicio Lines and maritime safety: An often woeful, tragic tale:
But the occurrence of major tragedies such as the recent sinking of the Princess of the Stars has only served to underscore what problems remain to this day, some of which were identified in the PCIJ story - ageing and badly maintained ships, the absence of minimal safety navigational aids like lighthouses, and lack of competent seafarers, many of whom are lured to work in more well-paying shipping companies abroad.
Back in the early 1990s, a Japanese study already pointed out that at least 700 lighthouses were needed to illuminate the country’s major waterways. At the time of the PCIJ report, existing lighthouses were only half that number. At present, the number has reportedly increased but to no fewer than 500, many in very poor conditions.
The spotlight fell as well on the Coast Guard, whose authority to ensure sea safety continues to be hampered by poor funding and badly trained - and some charge, corrupt - personnel. The Coast Guard now gets almost P2 billion from the national budget, five times the allocation it used to receive when it was still under the armed forces. Back then, a commodore estimated that at least P1 billion is needed to make the Coast Guard an effective regulatory agency. Today, that amount is not even enough as more than P1.3 billion go to cover the cost of personal services, mainly salaries and allowances.
What the PCIJ also found out then was the weak and fragmented authority of the Coast Guard when it came to enforcing safety standards as its decision in the controversy surrounding the Filipina Princess was set aside by the Department of National Defense. Ordering a second review, the DND argued that the Coast Guard’s decision to ban the ship from traveling was “unjustly” issued and without due process. Sulpicio had asserted the safety of its ship, whose navigational record in the last eight months that time included suffering at least six breakdowns at mid-sea, one lasting 20 hours.
If you go through the Maritime Industry Authority website, you’ll find that its mandate is very broad, indeed, while that of the Philippine Coast Guard is more specific, but also very broad and may actually conflict with Marina’s.
They do have a Memorandum of Agreement, PCG_MARINA_MOA_3.pdf but in its editorial, Sulpicio’s ally, the Inquirer also points out the enormity of the problem, in that Marina has a broad mandate and the Coast Guard, responsibilities that have either been delegated by Marina or which have been left hanging.
Austin Dwi Lawyer takes up the cudgels for the Coast Guard but says it’s been compromised by its dealings with Sulpicio Lines:
And add to the equation, the poverty of PCG for which reason, Sulpicio sonofabitches fucking shits gave alms to their weary palms.
Someone said, the PCG is so poor that even their diesel is always up for sale. When the President and the higher ups say: “Hoy, habulin ninyo ang Abo Suyya!” “Mga totoy, hulihin ang mga pirata!” “Oy, ano, intersepin niyo ang mga illegal fishing boats!” “Daliiii!” “Ano ba!?!&%$#” “Kilos na!!!”
The PCG will allegedly only very demurely quip:
“Ay Maaam, Siiir, ay surreee po, wala tayo krudu!!!)
So, Sulpicio knowing, and feeling compassion, gave alms to the Coast Guard. And Coast Guard supposedly feeling the crunch, accepted the beggar’s relief cash. Possibly some relief goods too.
Sulpicio probably knew there was a disaster-in-waiting. They gave out relief cash and goods in advance.
As far as figuring out responsibilty for the tragedy and doing something about it, is concerned, the first step requires untangling the relationship between Marina and the Coast Guard and other agencies, including their mutual mother agency, the DOTC. There’s an alphabet soup of agencies with overlapping functions, and any government effort will be in the nature of a patch-work solution (and thus, only as good as the next, and inevitable, tragedy) unless the current process left to unfold to reveal its deficiencies, then the entire system is reviewed.
The problem is that everything is so interconnected, the official neglect so pervasive, that tackling one problem only leads to others cropping up and everyone ends up despairing over anything actually getting done.
Meanwhile, as both the editorial and At Midfield pointed out, Sulpicio Lines has already calculated its maximum payout from the tragedy -each passenger’s insured to the tune of 200,000 pesos- and surely, the cost of such a payout versus adequate maintenance, etc. for its fleet, was calculated time and again by the shipping line.
Piling on the bureaucracy to address the shortcomings of the existing bureaucracy, is, of course, the solution bureaucrats adore. And so, DOTC drafts executive order creating National Transport Safety Board (NTSB).
But it’s the human cost that keeps being hammered home: two days ago, My beautiful life…… blogged about a missing cousin:
I was hoping that my Mom’s first cousin and Cebu Port Captain for Sulpicio Lines would be able to provide us with information but it seems like Uncle Bondjing had limited info as well. And I’m sure he’s got his hands full right now coordinating and managing things. Jay is his nephew as well.
I really worried about Jay. I spoke to my Aunt this morning and apparently she was able to talk to Jay briefly when the ship was already aground. Auntie Juvy received a text message from Jay asking for prayers due to their very dangerous condition. Auntie Juvy called his cellphone to confirm it was indeed Jay.
Auntie apparently passed the phone to Jay’s son who then told him to be brave and not to be scared because he still wants his tatay to bring his toys back in Cebu. And the phone went dead.
More recently, Tingog.com blogs that he’s lost a cousin:
I just found out a few hours ago that my cousin Bebot was on The MV Princess of The Stars. Bebot used to help drive me around on some occasions when I was still in school. He’s a good guy that everyone is fond of. He has a daughter that just graduated nursing. He’s a good father, having had to sacrifice going overseas, as a seaman, in order to make a living. And now, because of the assholes at Sulpicio, The Coast Guard, and hell even PAGASA, the perfect storm has taken my cousin. A father, a husband, a cousin, a damn good guy.
The Mount Balatucan Monitor and Ricky Carandang (who has an acquaintance whose brother is missing) both take issue Sulpicio Line’s handling of the concerns of relatives of the missing or confirmed lost. Carandang is particularly scathing:
During the press conference held by the company, the vice president Sally Buaron, who answered reporter’s questions kept referring to the loss of the ship and seemed more concerned about that than the hundreds of people who in all probablility are dead.
I remember when one reporter was pressing her for more information about the fate of the vessel and the survivors, she said something like “If you are very concerned, so are we. That was our boat and it was expensive.”
Another reporter asked her if the company had quantified the cost of damage and she said something like “I don’t want to think about it. Sasama lang ang loob ko.”
Pedestrian Observer even points to a comment that brings up the possibility of looting taking place in the capsized ship. Manilenyo in Davao has some interesting observations and suggestions:
Maybe they should increase the number of check-ups/maintenance of their vessels. It was soooo ironic that the ship was reported to have had problems with its engine during that day. There were no reports of inadequate life saving equipment, so i guess its true that the vessel really passed the safety standards.
The Captain knows best, its his ship and for sure he has vast experience sailing even in worst conditions such as that one. Maybe, this is just a hunch, maybe the captain knew that if he asked the people to abandon ship early, they will be crushed by the big waves. Maybe the captain thought that staying in the ship will be better and he was hopping that the tides would push them near the shore. But then again, the captain should know the area. I think the part were they capsized has a rocky sea bed which punctured the vessel.
The passengers should know best. Their lives are at stake here. This are those times where constant communication and information updates should be present. If they knew that there was a typhoon, they should cancel the trip. I hope that Shipping lines could include this in their policies that any customer can re-book their trip in consideration of their welfare whenever there is a typhoon. And when 30% of the passengers re-books, then the shipping line can cancel the trip. That’s just a suggestion. I think its better to cancel the trip than face the consequences of a sunken ship and loosing lives right? Maybe airlines can adopt this also.
I asked around from people who often use and travel by water/sea and they said that big ships like the MV Princess can withstand a signal number 1 and 2 typhoon. I asked 2 of my uncles who works as seamen, they said they often experience typhoons along their way. What made this case different is that the ship had problems. It was not able to “go with the flow” and battle the waves. It was like a sitting duck.
By way of the Washington Monthly, you can You can check out the Map of the (American) Political Blogosphere. For less America-centric mapping, see Frog in a Well (China), which links in turn to TouchGraph and Websites as Graphs.