Static on TV
Contrary to the expectation that Duterte would be on top of the preparations for the then-incoming Typhoons Rolly and Ulysses, the Philippine President was absent in the first high-level briefing on the world’s strongest tropical cyclone of the year, and failed to make a public appearance in the onslaught of both. Citizens took it to social media to question where his priorities were, to be missing at such crucial times. As a result #NasaanAngPangulo trended on Twitter and sparked debates among different parties.
A lot of people seemed to take this hashtag as a nonsensical act of pointing fingers to promote opposition against Duterte, asserting that it was beyond his power to stop the typhoon and that the demand for accountability didn’t align. They expressed frustration that these critics simply wanted to pull him down for any issue they can hop on.
Despite Duterte’s claim of having monitored the situation from Davao during the first typhoon, and having to attend the ASEAN Summit during the second, and even with Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque reminding the citizens, “Hindi po dapat tanungin nasaan ang Pangulo, ‘yan po ay kalokohan lang ng oposisyon,”—the move to turn to online platforms and to voice out the concern for whether the president is doing his job is not something to be discredited as a mere stunt.
When we order a large-sized coffee and receive a medium-sized one despite having paid extra for the bigger cup, we don’t hesitate to turn to the barista and ask why our order is incorrect. Isn’t it more or less the same concept with how we are to act with the system that governs us? We have a number of people elected in their respective positions, people who have sworn to public service. When this service does not equate to the expectation of its recipients, wouldn’t it be appropriate to raise a concern? Out of everyone we have elected into their seats, we put our highest faith in the individual who becomes the symbolic leader of the state. At the time of the typhoons that put thousands of Filipinos in jeopardy, it would have provided great comfort to see that symbolic leader show up before the masses with the consolation that we could get through the hard times.
Enough with the sentiments like, “But the president is tired.” Enough with ordinary citizens giving excuses for him. It should not matter if it feels like Duterte is in a hot seat for where he has been and what he has done in those tragedies. He is entitled to respond to the concerns of the people. We deserve more than emotional promises, the likes of Roque’s, “Lagi po natin siyang kapiling,”—we deserve a president who shows up and informs us of the concrete plans and measures he has employed, in the name that he holds the most powerful position in this country.
The citizens don’t expect Duterte to swim in floodwaters and perform rescue operations himself, they want him to be present as the symbol that he is. With the technology available today, he could have addressed the nation wherever he was.
This is what government accountability entails. It is within our power to demand what we, as citizens looking out for one another, expect of those we have chosen to lead us. It is, after all, our role in this democracy.C