A necessary evil in any calamity’s wake

It is a reality that whenever a calamity occurs in a certain place in this disaster-prone country, the nation’s main media entities soon come flying in and with them publicity-hungry politicians of all stripes.

Like vultures attracted by the smell of a rotting corpse, today’s journalists descend on picture-worthy scenes of destruction and despair and milk it for what it’s worth on primetime TV.

On the other hand, politicians, whether in power or not, hire or borrow planes from friends and corporations, bringing with them expressions of their sympathies for survivors.

Last weekend, Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, a Red Cross national officer like its chairman Sen. Richard Gordon, planed in to take a personal look at the debris left behind by super typhoon Rolly and turn over 150 bags of rice to Governor Joseph Cua for the provincial government’s relief efforts.

The Nov. 14, 2020 visit was part of a day-long swing in Bicol, where he also donated 150 sacks in Sorsogon, 250 sacks in Albay and 250 sacks in Camarines Norte.

The very next day, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, together with his brother Congressman Wes Gatchalian and officials of Valenzuela City where the family has held sway for over a decade now, planed in to turn over the city’s P1 million donation to the province and another P300,000 for Virac.
It was part of a P6 million financial assistance for typhoon-hit provinces in Bicol: Albay and five of its cities and towns got a total of P2.2 million while Camarines Sur and five towns received a total of P2.5 million.

The senator himself, or his aides, brought a quantity of slippers, face masks and face shields for the relief efforts in the three provinces.

And these donations from the city of Valenzuela and Sen. Zubiri certainly are most welcome, as the local government units’ 5% Calamity Funds have been depleted by expenses for the Covid-19 pandemic response.

But what escapes most residents is the fact that these visits from persons in national politics are almost always done in aid of reelection, with 2022 just a year away.

Those who had the misfortune of witnessing Sen. Bong Go’s circus, complete with a faded actor and a comedy skit, could not help but wince at the clumsy attempt to woo hungry voters.

In the two senators’ assistance to Bicol provinces, Catanduanes got the smallest share, despite being hit the hardest by super typhoon Rolly.

For those who understand the intricacies of Philippine politics where mathematics trumps compassion for the suffering, the island’s getting the short end of the stick is all too understandable: it has only a small population of voters numbering just over a hundred thousand while Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon have more than two million combined.

Winning in national political contests depend on name recall, and that name recall of course depends on how much a candidate can spend on TV and radio exposure through ads and virtual endorsements from popular media personalities.

For some, the expense in sending advance parties and chartering a plane is much, much more than the value of actual assistance these politicians donated.

True, if their real intention is to help people in need, they could have sent in the money through the banks.

But the sad reality is that for these characters, a calamity offers them a venue of putting themselves in the national limelight without having to spend much on TV where spots go for as much as P15,000 per second.

For us beggars, we need all the help we can get.

We can take the hypocrisy and the media circus, as long as they leave something chewable for both the people and local politicians at the end of the day.

Like the rest of the suffering islanders, even powerful elected officials have to eat.

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