It started with a Twitter message that fanned a social media debate about the merits of partying while 20,000 families scrambled to find missing kin, food, water and shelter.
After hours of confusion and indignation, denials and deleted tweets, actress Valerie Concepcion has come out with a new message. She confirms performing at a Malacanang party in the presence of President Benigno Aquino III.
Concepcion also appeals to Filipinos not to judge the President.
“I just want to clarify that I was invited to perform at Malacañang’s Christmas Party for their employees with their husbands/wives and kids. Yes, the president attended the gathering. I do not see anything wrong with that since its his obligation and responsibility being the head of Malacañang to be present and show his support for his hardworking employees and their respective families. But I believe that it doesn’t mean that the president is not thinking of ways to help our kababayan(s) in Mindanao. It doesn’t mean that the president is disregarding the plight of our fellow Filipinos. Let’s not be too quick to judge”
The second part of her message apologized for sounding “insensitive”. Concepcion said:
“But if I, in any way, offended you guys and sounded insensitive, I am very sorry. It wasn’t my intention to do either. I can’t imagine how difficult life is for the people affected in Mindanao and how difficult it is to be the president of the Philippines at this moment. Once again, I am very sorry for all those people I have offended. May God bless us all.” (Itals mine)
Here is a screenshot of that part of her message:
The thing is, Concepcion doesn’t need to apologize. She is an entertainer. She was earning her living. Any performer would be darn pleased to have the President of the Republic chortling at her wit. Concepcion wasn’t the only performer. The singer, Jessa, was with her.
The debate icentered on two things: First, was it right for President Aquino to party on a day of collective keening and wailing and gnashing of teeth?
By the time the party was underway, the Philippine Red Cross had reported that close to 600 had died from Typhoon Sendong.
Majority of casualties come from the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. A large swathe of Negros Oriental’s area display damage that could take years to repair: a ship had slammed into land; farmlands and orchards were ruined; bridges were cut in half and roads were tipping into gorges.
Half of Cagayan de Oro looked like an inland sea. Iligan City had run out of coffins. The supply of potable water in the these two cities was 80% less than their residents’ needs. People milled on the streets begging for food, for something to quench their parched throats, for money.
Sendong was a typhoon of monstrous proportions, though its fury came from rains and not from heavy winds. By afternoon, the casualty and missing count had surpassed that of Ondoy, the 2009 storm that swamped a big part of Metro Manila.
Ondoy, which occured in
November September, almost did in former President Gloria Arroyo. Many of Mr. Aquino’s followers, stunned by the setback after seeming improvements in weather forecasting and disaster management, believe cancellation of the party would not have helped the victims of Sendong.
They may have a point. Caterers and suppliers for any major party usually collect most, if not all, of what they’re owed before an event.
Critics, however, say that the party hosts should have asked for a refund and donated the cash to agencies helping the displaced families. Indeed, many parties being held across the country last night became aid sessions where cash was collected for Sendong’s victims. RockEd’s Gang Badoy tweeted of an actress who raised funds for badly needed drinking water.
Those who believe in Mr. Aquino, or who could not bear one more piece of bad news on a day full of despair, pointed out that there was no need for the President to do “photo-ops”. Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman was already orchestrating relief operations and the military and police were working heroically to rescue and retrieve typhoon victims.
That line of thought contrasts the incumbent Chief Executive with his much-maligned predecessor. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now under hospital arrest on charges of electoral fraud, liked to be photographed presiding over disaster management conferences and distributing relief goods. Besides, Vice President Jejomar Binay was already doing the rounds of CDO and Iligan.
There is grandstanding. And then there is a genuine need for leadership gestures.
When 20,000 families are left homeless, when just about everyone in two provinces has lost a family member, classmate or friend, and homes and schools have been washed away, is it enough for the President to delegate the task of giving reassurance to subordinates?
Undersecretaries Manuel Quezon III and Abigail Valte are among the more likeable of Mr. Aquino’s communications staff. Quezon was on Twitter the whole day, calmly deflecting charges that Pag-asa (the weather forecaster) and the national disaster coordinating body had been sleeping on the job.
But Quezon and Valte are not the President. They are conduits of information. The vague replies to appeals for a presidential visit to ground zero disappointed many Filipinos who had spent two days whipping up a climate of sympathy and compassion for their southern brethren. It was late in the day when Malacaang announced the President would visit CDO and Iligan on Tuesday. As abs-cbnnews.com reports:
“In an interview with radio dzRB, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte only said the President “wants to make sure that national agencies and those on the ground have a concerted plan” in response to the crisis.
Aquino has been criticized in the past for not making his presence felt in provinces badly hit by typhoons.”
Charges of a cover-up were also hurled when Quezon replied to initial queries by saying the party of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) — the alleged party host — had been held Dec. 10.
Here’s a screen shot of Quezon’s initial replies though latter tweets show him agreeing to double check the date.
(Many thanks to Kay Posadas and Jun Verzola for their quick eyes)