People who are under so much pressure and stress say things that they may regret. We cut them some slack because they’re under duress. Unfortunately, this privilege doesn’t always apply to public figures.
When Typhoon Yolanda struck and things fell apart, all eyes—and ears—were on President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III. Perhaps, confronted by the confusion and overwhelming devastation, he said some things that fueled debates. There’s a saying that goes, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s not necessarily true in this case. The words of a President can make or break a country’s spirit. Through his words alone, he can give people a sense of direction or leave them completely lost. That’s both the blessing and the curse of his job description.
We picked five Typhoon Yolanda-related statements made by PNoy that clearly polarized public opinion.
“Fully mission capable po ang tatlo nating C-130 upang rumesponde sa nangangailangan. Naka-standby na rin po ang 32 na eroplano athelicopter ng ating Air Force. Nakapusisyon na po ang 20 barko mula sa ating Philippine Navy sa Cebu, Bicol, Cavite, at Zamboanga. Ang mgarelief goods ay naka-pre-position na rin sa karamihan ng mga apektado o maaaring maapektuhang lalawigan; sa mga hindi pa po naaabot dahil pinagbawalan nang pumalaot ang mga barko dahil sa peligro, umasa po kayong darating agad ang tulong paghupa ng bagyo.” —PNoy in a televised speech right before Typhoon Yolanda hit (These words would be used by his critics later on, as government rescue and relief operations were accused of being “slow.”)
“Yung Tacloban, hesitant lang ako. Para bang hindi ganun ka-prepared compared to other areas. Siguro I will reserve comments muna at this point in time hangang mas makumpleto natin yung datos.” —PNoy’s remarks during a National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) briefing a day after Typhoon Yolanda hit Tacloban City and other areas in the Visayas
“But you did not die, right?” —PNoy’s reported reply to a Tacloban City businessmanwho related how he was held at gunpoint by some looters and asked the President what would be done about the situation (To be fair, in a video uploaded by the Presidential Communication Operations Office, PNoy emphasizes that the loss of one life is already a big issue for him.)
“Kung sino ang handa, siya ang unang makakakuha. Sa iba, habang hindi pa alam, di rin namin alam kung ano ang ipapadala sa inyo.” —PNoy on how the government’s relief operations work during the press conference Guiuan, Eastern Samar on November 17 (He explained that local government units who had a ready list of what they needed were most likely to get help first than those who didn’t know what they needed.)
“Ten thousand, I think, is too much and perhaps that was also brought about by…how do I put it?…being in the center of the destruction. There was emotional trauma involved with that particular estimate. Quoting both a police official and a local government official, they were just too close to the incident. They didn’t have basis for it. The figure I have right now is about 2,000 but this might still get higher. We’re hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing. But, so far, 2,000 to 2,500 is the figure we are working on as far as deaths are concerned.” —PNoy replying to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who asked about a police official who estimated the Typhoon Yolanda death toll to be 10,000 (The police official in question was Chief Superintendent Elmer Soria, head of the Philippine National Police in Region 8. Soria was later sacked for his death toll statement.)