Outrage Over Philippine Govt's Typhoon Response as Duterte Cracks Sex Joke in Briefing

Typhoon Vamco brought massive flooding and killed at least 69 people in the country.
November 16, 2020, 11:25am
Philippines
This handout aerial photo taken and received on Nov. 14, 2020 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows residents sheltering on the roof of their flooded house in Cagayan province, north of Manila, on Nov. 14, 2020, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. PHOTO: Philippine Coast Guard / AFP

The death toll from a typhoon in the Philippines rose to nearly 70 people over the weekend, as anger flared when President Rodrigo Duterte cracked a lewd joke during a disaster briefing.

Typhoon Vamco hit the Philippines on Wednesday, knocking out power in the capital Manila, drenching large parts of the northern island of Luzon, and sending responders scrambling to rescue thousands from rooftops.

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This recent undated handout photo received from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Nov. 14, 2020 shows coast guard personnel using a basin to evacuate a child from a flooded home in Cagayan province, north of Manila, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. PHOTO: Philippine Coast Guard / AFP

It was the 21st typhoon to hit the Southeast Asian country at a time of widespread frustration over the Duterte administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which has led to monthslong lockdowns and one of the worst outbreaks in Asia. The Philippines is expected to get three more tropical cyclones before the year ends, according to forecasts.

Vamco’s toll was worse than usual, killing an estimated 69 people, mostly in the northern region of Cagayan and Southern Luzon, where thousands of people had to be rescued following the release of water from a nearby dam. 

On Friday night, posts on Twitter demanded the government take more aggressive action to rescue those stranded, as images filled the social media site of photos and videos of people screaming for help.

Tensions rose after Duterte, who was accused of not taking a more active role in the response, flew on Sunday to the badly-hit province of Camarines Sur, which was also ravaged by super typhoon Goni the week before. In a public briefing there the same day, Duterte exchanged sex jokes with national and local officials, laughing about having “too many women.” Another official said he was “undersexed.”

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This handout aerial photo taken and recieved on Nov. 14, 2020 from the Philippine Coast Guard shows submerged houses in Cagayan province, north of Manila, on November 14, 2020, days after Typhoon Vamco hit parts of the country bringing heavy rain and flooding. PHOTO: Philippine Coast Guard / AFP

His spokesperson came to his defense on Monday, asking the public to give the president room for a “light moment” during back to back disasters, adding that Filipinos are fond of making sex jokes. 

The famously foul-mouthed president has made headlines before for crass and inflammatory remarks. He has made rape jokes and once instructed soldiers to shoot female insurgents in the vagina. He also kissed a married woman on national TV.

The Philippine disaster agency said more than two million individuals and more than half a million families were affected by the disaster, many of whom are staying in evacuation centers and in need of immediate food relief. 

Critics also said that the recent shutdown of a popular television network that had angered the president with its coverage contributed to an information gap that left people ill-prepared for the disaster.

One governor lamented the absence of news crews that could have helped disseminate critical information about the severity of the massive floods. 

Because of its location in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is battered by an average of 20 typhoons every year, but this is the first time it has had to combat severe storms during a pandemic. The worst typhoon in recent memory was Haiyan in 2013, which killed more than 6,000 people.