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Cracks in government response to Tacloban as tragedy further unravels

GOVERNMENT response to what foreign media has described as an apocalypse in Tacloban City is getting wobbly as an official said President Aquino may not be getting his facts correctly on the tragedy.

This as politicians are stepping up to air their own views on the devastation of Tacloban and provinces in the Visayas region by Category-5 Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan).

On the sixth day after the super typhoon made landfall, disaster-response Council Head Eduardo del Rosario said Mr. Aquino’s figure on the death toll was “unconfirmed.”

Del Rosario, executive director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), told reporters their latest count on the number of fatalities is now at 2,275 people, with 3,665 injured.

Earlier, the President was quoted as saying there may be about close to 2,000 to 2,500 people who died from the typhoon that ravaged the Eastern and Western Visayas regions, especially the cities of Ormoc and Tacloban.

On Sunday del Rosario reportedly peeved Mr. Aquino in Tacloban City after the former presented a not-so-clear picture of the effects of the typhoon, or how he had classified the damage brought upon the ravaged areas, including buildings and structure.

The head of the NDRRMC, which is attached to the Department of National Defense, spoke as the government is also being criticized for alleged slow delivery of relief goods to a city of roughly 220,000 people.

Questions on goods

Cabinet Jose Rene Almendras admitted the current challenge is for the government to produce the “goods,” move them up and distribute them to their correct beneficiaries.

Almendras, former energy secretary, added that he has received phone calls asking him why relief goods are not still in ground zero.

“I hope they could be answered. We’re relying on local talent to do the identification. We don’t know where all the barangays are,” he said.

According to Almendras, based on the distribution plan that they hammered out on Tuesday night, Cebu has been designated as the logistics support center for the humanitarian assistance efforts in the Visayas.

From Cebu, the relief goods will be transported to Tacloban and to Ormoc for the relief efforts in Leyte. While for Eastern Samar, the goods will be transported to Guiuan from Cebu, and there the assistance will be distributed to the affected towns and municipalities.

Roads cleared

THE main challenge in the distribution of goods has been attributed to roads that have become impassable because of debris strewn when the 270-kilometers-per-hour typhoon destroyed coconut trees like toothpicks.

On Wednesday, however, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) announced that all national roads in devastated areas in the four regions have now been cleared for relief operations.

At a press briefing, DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson said a total of 248 personnel from three regions continue the clearing operations, even in the city roads of Tacloban.

Singson said a total of 12,045 kilometers of national roads from Regions 4A, 4B, 5, 6 and 8, were damaged in different levels.

“We are now going to the city roads [of Tacloban] because our first objective is to clear our primary national roads, so that supply lines could be accessed for the relief operations,” Singson said.

Singson said those bringing relief goods may encounter choke points in some areas, as power lines are still blocking roads.

“What is hindering the recovery of the full width of our right-of-way were the power lines, so we had to clear with the electric cooperatives for them to allow us to cut the lines. Until yesterday [Tuesday], we insisted that we be allowed to already cut the lines or segments, so that we can fully recover the road right-of-way,” Singson said.

Looting continues

HOWEVER, media painted a different view as looting continues to be reported Wednesday morning.

During the same meeting with del Rosario, Philippine National Police Supt. R’win Pagkalinawan said more than communist rebels, ordinary people in villages are “ambushing” relief convoys traveling on the road to Tacloban. He added that cases of looting by hungry residents were reported to have been prevalent during the past days in severely affected areas in Leyte and Samar provinces.

Exodus

AS the government attempts to bring in relief goods and rescue personnel, people have been on a mass exodus beginning on Tuesday via a C-130 plane in the airport in Guiuan, Samar, the first town hit when Yolanda made landfall on November 9.

By Wednesday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) augmented the ferrying out of people from Tacloban, Leyte.

PCG Spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said BRP Edsa carried people out to Cebu City after unloading relief goods from the warehouse of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Queen City of the South.

Balilo said they were able on the first trip back to Cebu City to accommodate some 200 people whose names are recorded in the ship manifest.

But after the first flight out from the Tacloban airport on Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) restricted aircraft operations, citing space limitations.

Caap Deputy Director General Capt. John C. Andrews said only aircraft that carries relief supplies and equipment, military flights and commercial flights using turboprop aircraft, would be allowed to land.

The Caap issued a notice-to-airmen (Notam) of the new restrictions after a private jet landed in Tacloban, causing “disruption on the massive relief operations.”

Andrews said President Aquino observed a previously issued Notam prohibiting the use of pure jet (general aviation) aircraft by flying into Tacloban aboard a PAL Express Q400 turboprop plane.

On Monday the Caap allowed these airports to open after being closed three days ago: Roxas; Caticlan; Legazpi; Iloilo; Romblon; Surigao; Kalibo; Masbate; Dumaguete; and, Busuanga.

The Caap said other airports that are now operational are Guiuan, Samar; Bantayan and Roxas in Cebu; Kalibo and Caticlan in Aklan; Busuanga, Palawan; San Jose, Mindoro; Ormoc, Leyte; Tagbilaran, Bohol; Borongan, Biliran and Calbayog, Samar; and, Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.

However, Catbalogan in Western Samar remains closed due to the absence of perimeter fence.

Visa requirements relaxed

FOREIGNERS who say they are taking part in the rescue-and-relief operations for typhoon victims would be spared from the rigorous immigration checks at the airport.

“We are relaxing our arrival formalities for relief and rescue workers. So even if they do not have the proper documents to enter the country, we will process [their papers]. If they want to stay longer in the country, we would process their visa for free,” Immigration Chief Siegfred B. Mison said.

Mison added that the Bureau of Immigration is ready to waive the required six-month valid passport rule and they do not have to have a return ticket.

“You enter here as a tourist and if you want to stay longer, for as long as it is necessary for you to complete your rescue and relief, that would be allowed,” he added. He said the relaxed immigrations rules would also be accorded to foreign media who are covering the devastation.

‘We shall stand, live again’

AMID the bleak landscape, Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte urged all the victims to remain strong during this time, saying “we all know we will bring back our lives to normal after this typhoon.”

According to Romualdez, most of the affected areas in his province are still isolated with no means of communication to monitor the extent of damages.

“This disaster, when it hit Tacloban and other provinces, no one was spared.”

Still, he believes the province can be like American Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said he shall return after Corregidor fell to Japanese control during World War II.

After two years, MacArthur waded ashore on October 20, 1944, on the Red Beach on Leyte Island “Without a doubt, we know all the typhoon victims can stand again and fight for the future. Tacloban, we will rise again, just as MacArthur said, ‘I shall return.’ The Leyte and Western Visayas, we shall return.”

(Joel R. San Juan, Recto S. Mercene and Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz)


In Photo: In this November 11 file photo, survivors carry bags of rice from a warehouse, which they stormed due to shortage of food at typhoon-ravaged Tacloban City, Leyte. Supertyphoon Yolanda slammed the island-nation with a storm surge two stories high and some of the highest winds ever measured in a tropical cyclone. An untold number of homes were blown away, and thousands of people are feared dead. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila, File)


 

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