IT WAS a different kind of visit last Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, by President Rodrigo Duterte to the landslide site in Naga City, Cebu, compared to a year ago.
Duterte went to Naga on Friday, where he announced that the permanent housing project for the landslide victims would be free. The occasion was the groundbreaking ceremony and time-capsule laying for the housing project in Naga almost one year after the deadly landslide.
The President ordered the National Housing Authority to give the housing units as a “gift” to them. The landslide affected five barangays, claimed 100 lives and displaced almost 2,000 families.
“Akong gimanduan ang tanang naminaw diri sa gobyerno hasta tong mga bungol. Paminaw mo’g maayo nga kani tanan ang balay ug ang yuta ihatag na sa inyo libre,” he added. (I am ordering everyone in government who are listening to me now and even those who have difficulty in hearing. Listen very carefully. A house and lot will be given to all of you for free.)
Such wonderful words to the ears of the survivors.
Compare that to his visit on Sept. 21, 2018, a day after the landslide. His speech before survivors and grieving families was more on lambasting his political critics than addressing the evacuees’ plight. As I wrote about it then, Duterte gave a few lines of condolences and assurances but most of his talk was on his critics. He said some jokes, too, to suffering, grieving residents.
Duterte spoke of the dangers of typhoons and told evacuees to protect themselves when there’s a storm. After a lengthy tirade on the weather, one female evacuee went up to Duterte and said this was not about a typhoon. Typhoon Ompong spared Cebu when it passed the country. The woman said they’ve had typhoons but these did not cause landslides. What happened to them was because of the quarry operations of a mining company. She asked the President to close down the firm.
What did Duterte do and say? He held her hand and noticed her manicured nails. You were probably in the beauty parlor when the landslide happened, Duterte said. Then, Duterte asked, “Kinsa NPA diri? Walay NPA diri? Bantay mo ha. Yawa. Walay nag suporta sa NPA? Ayaw mo ana.” (He asked if there were members of the New People’s Army, armed unit of the Communist Party of the Philippines, among the evacuees.)
The landslide survivors last Friday who heard the President must have noticed how different his visit was compared to the one almost a year ago.
To make this recent visit most memorable, housing officials and the local government have to ensure that the project would be completed as scheduled and in the promised condition, with roads and basic services such as water and electricity.
If the project ends up the same way as the other housing sites that were not lived in by their original beneficiaries, then this “gift” of Duterte to the Naga landslide victims would be like an empty gift box. Nicely wrapped but nothing inside.