Philippines Mayon volcano eruption: a photo op for politicians

Philippines President Gloria Arroyo and two candidates hoping to succeed her next year are visiting refugees ahead of the imminent Mayon volcano eruption, both showing sympathy for the refugees' plight and associating themselves with a smooth evacuation.

Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo distributes relief aid to an evacuee during her visit to the evacuation center in Cogon Elementary School on Wednesday.

With the Mount Mayon volcano in the eastern Philippines showing increasing signs that it could erupt any day now, it has predictably become a magnet for the Philippine and foreign news media – and, less predictably, for Filipino politicians.

With presidential, congressional, and local elections due in May, candidates have been turning the Mayon crisis into an opportunity to show the voting public their generosity towards people displaced by the threat of an eruption, and to associate themselves with a mostly successful operation to evacuate the danger zone.

Journalists have gathered around the volcano as it trembles palpably, belches ash, and dribbles streams of lava down its slopes. Their cameras and microphones are also trained on some 47,000 residents of the danger zone who are now huddled in evacuation centers.

Now politicians are getting in front of the cameras – touring the evacuation centers, shaking hands, and helping hand out relief goods. So far the visitors have included Sen. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino, whom opinion polls say is the favorite to win next year's presidential election, mostly, the pollsters say, because respondents think he has inherited the integrity of his late mother, President Corazon Aquino, the nemesis of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Another presidential candidate, ex-President Joseph Estrada, who is third in the opinion polls, was due to visit Wednesday. Mr. Estrada presents himself as the champion of the poor. He was ousted from the presidential palace in 2001 by a popular uprising and then sentenced to life in prison for corruption, although he was subsequently pardoned.

A latecomer Wednesday was the incumbent, President Gloria Arroyo. Ms. Arroyo is barred by the constitution from running for president again, but she had raised eyebrows among opposition politicians when she decided to start a vacation in Hong Kong on Sunday, just as Mayon began to show signs of erupting.

Local disaster relief officials said they welcomed the attention from politicians – or from anyone who was there to help.

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