The Benigno Aquino III administration yesterday said it was gearing up for “sustained relief operations” in both souhtern Philippine provinces of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental as some 90,000 families had been left homeless and bereft of livelihood in the aftermath of Typhoon “Pablo” (international name: Bohpa).
In an unscheduled press conference at the Palace, Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras assured typhoon victims that Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Lt. Gen. Jorge Segovia, commander of the Eastern Mindanao Command, were on top of the situation.
“The national government is very, very cognisant of the fact that this is not a quick fix,” Almendras said.
He denied reports of rioting and disorganised distribution of food packs to residents of typhoon-ravaged areas in New Bataan, Compostela Valley.
“The disaster is of a magnitude that we have never seen before,” Almendras said.
Question of hands, feet
“It’s not a question of resources but hands and feet,” he said of the efforts to bring the relief goods to the villages hit by Pablo.
“This is going to be a long haul. Fortunately for us, we have the resources. We have the money. There is still a balance in the calamity fund. There is augmentation that can be used for that and we are ready to provide that support,” he said.
Almendras and Soliman were planning to go back to Davao Oriental on Friday “just [to] assure people that things are happening there and that the national government is definitely going to be with them. We will not turn our backs on them. The instruction of the pesident is to bring them back up their feet and we are very, very serious about doing that.”
The funds will be released immediately although “there is no immediate rush for it because there are still stocks” for relief operations, said Almendras.
“But we realised that this is not something that can be finished this week—or not even next week. We realised that we need to support the food requirements of [the victims]. Our calculation on Saturday was 80,000 families. It’s going to be a bit bigger now. Maybe it will go up to 90,000 families for the next few weeks. We need to provide for them [relief goods] and shelter,” Almendras said.
Almendras explained that Segovia and the others—Col. Edgardo de Leon, chief of Operations Search and Rescue, Navy Capt. Robert Empedrad, commander of Maritime Search and Rescue, and Col. Randy Tibayan, commander of Aerial Search and Rescue—had to leave the disaster areas and face the media in Manila “to set the record straight”.
The president summoned these officials, along with Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), to a closed-door meeting at the Palace for a briefing on the progress of the search and rescue efforts.
Almendras said that there had been reports that Navy ships delivering supplies had been mobbed by people, that relief distribution had been disorganised and the people in need were not being reached.
“All of them are here to answer those questions. There have been very many reports about what has not been done. There have been criticisms as to the effect of what the military has failed to do,” he said.
Almendras had a four-hour command meeting in Davao with both military and government organisations, where they set up a system and a process “to make sure that we can deliver to the victims as fast as we can”.
“And from where I sit and what I have seen, I think our uniformed personnel have done a fantastic job in Davao. I know that there will always be criticisms because there is always not enough that can be done.
“But the truth of the matter is I have seen our uniformed men and women sacrifice so much just to deliver and attend to the civilians that have been a victim to this,” said Almendras.
The NDRRMC yesterday put the overall death toll from Pablo at 740 and 890 missing. The typhoon struck Mindanao on December 4 with monster winds of up to 200 kilometres per hour, flattening farmlands, destroying houses and buildings, and sparking landslides and flash floods.
Almendras said the United States sent an aircraft to conduct high altitude reconnaissance operations and Indonesia, a Navy vessel to help search for some 300 fishermen in 50 boats missing at sea.
If the missing do not turn up alive, the toll of lives from Pablo could exceed the 1,200 killed by Tropical Storm “Sendong” when it slashed across Mindanao a year ago.
The United Nations has issued a global appeal for US$65 million to help the Philippine government provide assistance to 5.4 million people affected by the typhoon.
Very much in control
Segovia likewise dismissed reports of mobs storming relief distribution and people rioting to get supplies.
“I’ve been there, I was there during the first delivery in Baganga,” he said, referring to the town in Davao Oriental where Pablo made landfall before dawn on December 4.
“I saw the relief goods on trucks,” said Segovia, who was the military commander in Rizal when Tropical Storm “Ondoy” hit Metro Manila in 2009 and left nearly 1,000 people dead.
Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon was “very much in command of the situation,” he said, adding that the rest of the officials there were “very well organised”.
“In fact, most of the province… is doing well in terms of relief operations. I personally talked to the doctors and I saw—they expressed no problems. They need more medicines but on emergency situations, they are able to go through their business,” Segovia said.
“I would say that the people of these devastated areas are very resilient, they are very patient, and as we go through with this disaster, we need more delivery of relief goods to assure our people that we are attending to them. Both the government and the private sectors are cooperating in this endeavour,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Soliman had denied that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) failed to bring relief goods to some areas such as the worst-hit village of Andap in New Bataan and uphill areas of Davao Oriental.
“All municipalities in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental have already been reached, including the elevated areas,” Lacierda said.
He said Soliman was in Compostela Valley to personally oversee the relief operations.
But President Aquino himself, in a speech at the awarding ceremonies for the Philippine Quality Award in the Palace yesterday, appeared to contradict Soliman’s pronouncement.
“There are still some isolated communities that we are having difficulty in penetrating due to weather and due to the closure of various roads due to landslides,” the president lamented.
“We have made available the use of our Navy ships, [which were] also augmented by the Coast Guard. During the visit of Secretary Manuel Roxas, he ordered the utilisation of fishing vessels to augment the ship-to-shore and some short trips by sea to deliver necessary relief goods,” Segovia said.
He said that efforts were also focused on the hardest hit towns of Baganga, Cateel and Boston, all in Davao Oriental.
Baganga was the “most isolated” town because of destroyed bridges, Segovia said. One bridge on the Cateel road had been repaired but another going to Mati would take a long time to repair. He said an alternate route had been found through Compostela.
“The first shipload of goods coming from the provincial government of Mati landed in Baganga because that was the most isolated. Cateel and Boston were initially delivered relief goods coming from Surigao del Sur,” he added.
Michael Lim Ubac
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