MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said the government was "on top of the situation" as typhoon Ulysses (International name: Vamco) lashed Luzon, killing at least 2 persons and paralyzing parts of the capital Manila while some residents, including those on rooftops, awaited rescue due to heavy flooding.
Government agencies were mobilized to respond to the situation "from the beginning," Duterte said hours after the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo trended online over his supposed absence during the disaster.
"While we are facing the heavy downpour and strong winds of Ulysses, I assure everyone that your government is on top of the situation," he said in a televised speech.
"As President, I guarantee you that your government will do its best to provide assistance in the form of shelters, relief goods, financial aid and post-disaster counseling. Rest assured the government will not leave anybody behind. We will get through this crisis, I assure you."
Duterte also told local governments to "ensure that the well being and safety of people remain the top priority."
"As one nation, kapit po tayo. Mga kababayan, magbayanihan po tayong lahat," he said.
(Let's hold on. My compatriots, let us help each other.)
The hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo trended while Duterte joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit via video conference.
Early this month, the same hashtag also gained online traction following Duterte's absence from a Cabinet-level briefing on super typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni), the strongest storm in the world so far this year.
"May mga nagsabi na walang ginawa, tutulog--Wala kaming tulog dito," Duterte said Thursday.
(There are people saying nothing was done, we were sleeping. We had no sleep here.)
He confirmed he attended the ASEAN summit before making his public address regarding Ulysses.
"As soon as I am able to move around... Ganito kasi 'yan. Ang problema ko, binabawalan ako ng nagbabantay sa akin - PSG, lahat, doctor. Hindi ako makalabas," Duterte went on.
(It's like this. My problem is those guarding me - the Presidential Security Group, doctors, bar me from going outside.)
"Sabi ko naman, gusto kong magpakita sa tao lang man. Ang sabi nila nga, bantayan yung ano ko, yung pagkatao ko kasi ako yung presidente. Sabi ko, hindi na bale, tutal meron namang vice president... Eh, ang sabi naman is, marami ho ang officials sa làbas. Isa lang ang presidente," he said.
(I said, I just want people to see me. They said I have to be secured because I am the president. I said it doesn't matter because there's a vice president anyway... But they said there are many officials already outside. There's just one president.)
"It's not that I am at a distance from you... Gusto kong pumunta doon, makipaglangoy nga sa inyo. Ang problema, pinipigilan ako," he said.
(I want to go there, and swim with you. The problem is, I am being prevented.)
Ulysses, the 21st cyclone to hit the Philippines this year, battered a nation still reeling from Rolly, the world's most powerful typhoon this year that killed 25 people and destroyed thousands of homes early this month.
The latest typhoon, which has left 3 missing in a coastal province, comes as the Southeast Asian country is still grappling with a wave of COVID-19 infections and a battered economy.
In some suburbs east of Manila, residents took refuge on top of their flooded homes.
"Just a few steps remaining on our third floor and we have yet to see any rescuer," said Carla Mhaye Suico, a resident in Pasig City, while sheltering on her roof with 15 family members and neighbors.
Arlyn Rodriguez, a resident in Marikina City, told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo she was awaiting rescue with 20 others, mostly children and elderly after the floods rose quickly.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro said 40,000 homes had been either fully or partially submerged in the area.
In parts of Manila, people waded through waist-high floods, carrying valuables and pets, while rescue workers ferried residents around in boats.
Flights and mass transit in Manila were suspended while the coast guard stopped port operations. Government work was suspended and financial markets were shut.
Ulysses has now weakened as it moved out of Luzon landmass, home to half of the Philippines' 108 million people.
- With a report from Reuters