Flood politics: When disaster becomes opportunity


Farmers call it “Siyam-siyam.” It is a colloquial term meaning “nine days of rain,” denoting the start of the rainy season. Some politicians gearing up for the 2013 national and local elections call it opportunity.

The torrential rains from the southwest monsoon poured more than 1,000 millimeters of rainfall all of last week over Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Southern Tagalog. At its height, it covered an estimated 80 percent of Metro Manila’s area with flood waters.

National and local public officials in the affected areas had a heyday of public service, personally present in many disaster events rescuing people, giving instructions to rescue personnel, and giving out relief goods. Not to be outdone, politicians seen as potential candidates in the coming elections set up their own relief and rescue efforts, vying with incumbents and each other for media attention and for the gratitude of victims and their families.

There were those who contented themselves with photo opportunities in the rescue and relief efforts. However, others made sure that there will be name recall by setting up signage in disaster areas, including putting their names and faces on relief goods. Still others hitched on or accompanied media personalities on their relief sorties.

Though not a candidate, even President Aquino was accused by his critics of doing this when he brought along with him and his cabinet secretaries, on their inspection of disaster and relief sites, the four senatoriables he himself endorsed earlier. The latter defended themselves, a little lamely maybe, by explaining that they were invited to be part of the government’s relief team and were not there to campaign.

Whatever the excuses, it is a fact that Philippine politicians, as a matter of electoral strategy, take advantage of all and any occasion—during election season—to convert it into a name-recall and vote-generation exercise. Thus, there is widespread tactic of a politician’s presence or monetary contribution in weddings, funerals, and baptisms of their constituencies. Every project—whether government or their own—is an occasion for publicity and identification.

Floods and other disasters, unfortunately, are not immune to political antics. The misfortunes of others, in fact, are a golden opportunity and fodder to an electoral campaign. If a politician calculates wisely, he would have nailed the elective post he or she aspires for.

However, disaster can be a double-edge sword, particularly for an incumbent politician. It can also be the last nail on the coffin of a political career when he or she gets the blame for the disaster. In this case, name-recall becomes a curse. Flood politics is a winner-take-all game.

Ramon Casiple is a well-respected political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).