Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Philippine president feels backlash after typhoon

The government says that any other nation would have struggled as the Phillipines has with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, but people are angry and the president’s popularity may take a beating

By Rosemarie Francisco  /  Reuters, MANILA

Since he took office on July 1, 2010, the benchmark stock index has surged nearly 90 percent and foreign direct investment has more than doubled.

However, Filipino frustration, on the streets of Tacloban and in social media, could change the course of his single six-year term that ends in 2016.

“Some of the concerns will be what this means, not so much to his popularity and political stability, but more on whether this will prove to be a distraction in terms of the reform agenda in the remainder of his term,” said Euben Paracuelles, economist for Southeast Asia at Nomura in Singapore.

With the military at the forefront of recovery and relief operations, and government agencies struggling to deliver basic services, Aquino’s support base could weaken, something governments before him have endured at their peril.

Two Philippine leaders have been ousted in the past three decades, while the previous government of former Phillipine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo faced several coup attempts in her troubled, nine-year rule.

Political analysts say Aquino’s ratings will likely suffer in the next opinion polls, especially in the typhoon-swept central Philippine provinces that have been bastions of support. Those areas registered the highest regional net satisfaction rating of “excellent” in assessing his performance in polls this year.

Across the central Philippines, desperate families appear regularly on TV news programs, often in tears, some holding signs reading “Help us” or “We need food.”

Although the government warned of record-breaking winds and a surge of seawater, evacuations were poorly enforced.

And the aid, when it came, was slow.

Foreign aid agencies said relief resources were stretched thin after a big earthquake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by fighting with rebels in the country’s south, complicating efforts to get supplies in place before the storm struck.

Aquino has defended the government’s preparations, saying the death toll might have been higher had it not been for the evacuation of people and the readying of relief supplies.

The toll itself has been a point of contention.

On Tuesday, Aquino said the number of deaths may have been overstated and could be 2,000 to 2,500, a figure aid agencies and analysts consider too low in the absence of accurate reports from far-flung areas and with thousands missing.

Aquino said estimates of 10,000 dead by local officials were overstated and caused by “emotional trauma.” Elmer Soria, a regional police chief who gave that estimate to media, was removed from his post on Thursday. A day later, Tacloban City Hall estimated the nationwide toll at 4,000.

“Downplaying the impact of the disaster, including the death toll, does not do anybody any good,” said Mars Buan, senior analyst at political risk consultancy Pacific Strategies & Assessments.

Aquino has also said that no government could fully prepare for the scale of the disaster, a comment which has drawn criticism.

“He’s already done a 180-degree turnaround,” said Benito Lim, a professor of political science at Ateneo de Manila University. “He is trying to exonerate himself from what he said earlier: ‘zero casualties.’”

At one point last year, Aquino, the only son of democracy icon and former Phillipine president Corazon Aquino, enjoyed a 74 percent approval rating.

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