MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday apologized to residents of Cotabato for not visiting them sooner after the province was hit by a series of powerful earthquakes, leaving at least 20 dead and scores injured.
"It’s really scary, and sometimes there’s just a little depression. Madedepress ka talaga, kung nawalan ka ng bahay, anak, tatay, nanay," Duterte said in a speech before evacuees in M'lang town.
(You will really be depressed, especially if you lost your house, child, parents).
"I share your grief, sa totoo lang. Pinilit ko, I must apologize, I am very sorry that I could not be here immediately. Marami hong problema sa Maynila. Kasi busy ako nagmumura doon sa mga water concessionaires na si Ayala pati si Pangilinan."
(There were so many problems in Manila. I was busy cursing water concessionaires.)
The President was referring to government's "onerous" water concession contracts with Ayala-owned Manila Water and the now Pangilinan-led Maynilad signed in 1997 but were extended early during the administration of his ally, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Duterte assured victims of the earthquake that government would help until "you’re able to get back to your feet and start anew with renewed hope and greater capacity to lead your lives."
"I hope that the assistance we will give you today will make you feel the warmth and joy of the Christmas season despite your current situation," he said.
The President also shared his experience of the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that rocked the whole region and hit close to his hometown Davao City.
Duterte and his daughter Kitty were at home in Davao City when the earthquake struck but were "okay," his spokesman Salvador Panelo earlier said.
"Natutulog ako tapos gumaganun na yung bahay. Eh 'di natulog lang ako. Sabi ko wala man to. Mamaya nagtakbuhan na itong PSG at itong aking nurse. Sigaw siya sa danan, 'tindig na sir.' Sabi ko, wag mo akong pakiaalaman, ikaw lang ang magbaba doon," he said.
(I was awakened by the quake but I told myself, this is nothing. Shortly after, the presidential security group and my nurse came rushing, telling me to get up. I told them to just leave me alone).
"Since we migrated there (Davao City) many years ago, I have experienced mga ganun, wala man, tinutulugan ko lang. Pag malas, pag bumagsak talaga ang bahay, wag ninyo na ako kunin, gawin niyo nang semento at yun na ang libing ko," he added.
(I have experienced many earthquakes since we moved there. I just sleep through it. If I get unlucky, don't retrieve my body, just bury me there.)
The President pushed through with his trip to Thailand following the quake to attend the ASEAN Summit while remaining "on top" of earthquake response, Panelo had said.