MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday aides had barred him from going to victims of Typhoon Ulysses, after critics called out his absence during the calamity that has left at least one person dead, while some residents still awaited rescue on their rooftops due to rising floods.
Duterte earlier Thursday attended a virtual summit of Southeast Asian leaders, while the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo (where is the President?) trended on Twitter as people noted his absence while several parts of Luzon bore Ulysses' lashing.
The President said he has left the summit. However, he said, his doctor and the Presidential Security Group advised him against going out in public.
"Gusto kong pumunta doon, makipaglangoy nga sa inyo. Ang problema pinipigilan ako, kasi raw 'pag namatay ako, isa lang ang Presidente," he said in a televised speech.
(I want to go there, swim with you. The problem is I was being stopped because they said if I die, there is only one President.)
"Ang sabi ko eh may Vice President naman. Wala naman silang sinasagot, nagtitinginan lang sila, tapos 'Hindi--hindi ka puwedeng mamatay nitong panahon na ito. Kung malunod ka, malulunod kaming lahat na nagtatrabaho sa'yo,'" he added.
(I told them there is a Vice President. They did not answer, they just looked at each other and said, 'No, you cannot die at this time. If you drown, all of us working for you will drown, too.')
In late October, #NasaanAngPangulo also gained online traction following Duterte's absence from a Cabinet-level briefing on Super Typhoon Rolly, which left a trail of devastation in several Bicol and Southern Luzon provinces.
"May mga nagsabi na walang ginawa, tutulog... wala kaming tulog dito," said Duterte.
(There are people saying nothing was done, we were sleeping. We had no sleep here.)
ULYSSES WREAKS HAVOC
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 in November.
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 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.
Vamco has now weakened as it moves across Luzon, home to half of the Philippines' 108 million people.
- With a report from Reuters