THE CAPTAIN AND HIS SHIP
The man who weathered the storm, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez was the last man to leave the city during the height of Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
By Ragie Mae Tano-Arellano
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO S. PERALTA, JR.
Sinipa ko pa yung pinto ng bahay nya, pinaalis ko (I kicked the door of his house for him to leave),” recalls Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez of an instance of how he forced his constituents to leave their homes as Yolanda threatened to devastate Tacloban in 2013.
Super Typhoon Yolanda, with international name “Haiyan,” struck the Visayas region on November 8, 2013.
It devastated 44 provinces, affecting at least 16 million people. The storm claimed the lives of at least 6,300 people in Tacloban City alone, caused 2,000 people missing, and destroyed 1.1 million homes. Overall damage is estimated to have cost USD 5.8 billion, or Php 322 billion, according to a 2018 report from humanitarian organization World Vision.
The last-term chief executive of Tacloban believes in the leadership of influence, and this is how he managed to face the challenges post-Yolanda. Romualdez recalls, “I cannot [face the challenges] alone but I [have] to have the ability to convince people after the tragedy that happened here, to move on, that’s difficult, but you know, that’s when you can gauge one’s leadership capabilities—if they are still standing when everyone else has fallen. But it’s really a tough job. Because you’re human too, sometimes you also want to cry. That’s difficult to control; you have to consider that there are others leaning on you for strength. While you’re facing [the battle], you can’t run away, you have to carry the burden and keep it together. That’s why when [Yolanda] happened, I
was the last to leave. I took care of other families first. I was caught in the middle of the storm because I was the last to leave.”
HARSH ACCUSATION ON VACCINATION
Because of this, Romualdez was understandably very upset when he was falsely accused of immunizing himself before his people during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. “My golly, I would never do such a thing. Bakit ako [makikipag-unahan] magpabakuna? Eh nung Yolanda nga, ako ang huling nag-evacuate (Why would I abuse my power to get vaccinated first? During the Yolanda tragedy, I was the last to evacuate),” says Romualdez.
According to him, the government ordered all the senior citizens and frontliners vaccinated first. But after the coronavirus vaccine had been distributed to local government units (LGUs), including Tacloban, there were claims that the Sinovac vaccine was unsafe for frontline workers and senior citizens. People were alarmed by these allegations so Romualdez came up with the idea of getting himself vaccinated first to set an example
in order to persuade the populace to heed the government’s call for vaccination, against his doctor’s orders since he has comorbidities. “When I.....