'Political punchline': Duterte denies slow response to typhoons

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 16) — President Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed as "political" criticisms on his administration's supposed slow response to calamities.

In an interview with reporters in Camarines Sur, Duterte claimed that government agencies and local government units deployed their resources even before back-to-back typhoons hit most of Luzon in the past weeks.

"Saan ang bagal dito? Nandiyan ang pagkain, ang housing. They are ready to implement, they have the money. Kung pulitika yan, sa totoo lang that's a political punchline," Duterte said, responding to a question concerning the performance of government agencies and LGUs.

[Translation: Where's the slow response here? You have food, housing. They are ready to implement, they have the money. If that were political, in fact, that's only a political punchline."]

"We are government workers. What are we supposed to do in our work? Sit on our ass? And even without the typhoons coming in, might as well prepare for the eventuality," Duterte said.

The President also noted that government officials should be given time to properly assess calamity expenses before rolling out funds to typhoon-hit areas, or they could face charges before the Office of the Ombudsman, an anti-corruption body.

"You go right away and spend money, you land with the Ombudsman. Give them time to make the proper assessment," he added.

Duterte previously defended himself from critics who took a swipe at his absence in initial briefings held by government officials at the height of Super Typhoon Rolly that hit the country early November, prompting #NasaanAngPangulo and #PatayNaBa to trend online for hours.

He defended himself anew in a six-minute taped speech during the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses in Luzon, noting that he wanted to "swim" with the typhoon victims to share their agony but he was prohibited.

The death toll from Ulysses has climbed to 69 in six regions in Luzon, Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said on Sunday.

However, NDRRMC spokesperson Mark Timbal and the agency's public information office said Monday that confirmed fatalities are still at 67, and they have yet to validate the two additional deaths. Of the confirmed deaths, 22 are from Cagayan Valley, two are from Central Luzon, 17 from CALABARZON, eight from Bicol Region, 10 from Cordillera Administrative Region, and eight from National Capital Region.

Even after Ulysses left the country on Friday, rescue and relief operations are still ongoing in the critical areas of these regions, with some provinces still reeling from the effects of Super Typhoon Rolly.