MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino has vowed to exercise political will to make government officials do whatever would be necessary to mitigate the effects of disasters hitting the country every year.
Aquino also said those officials found to have been responsible for the loss of lives in the flashfloods that struck the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan during tropical storm “Sendong” last week would have to face the consequences.
“Like what happened in Iligan, there were so many logs when the ban on logging in the residual forests and natural forests has been there because forest cover has been (denuded), that’s where the flooding is coming from,” Aquino said during an interview with GMA 7 late Friday.
“But the problem is many are still violating (the log ban). So we have a fact-finding team that will determine the violators and we will file cases and hold them accountable,” he said.
Aquino stressed the importance of imposing political will. “Firstly, we will demonstrate political will and force my subordinates to do what is right,” he said.
During a Christmas party for street children held in Makati City yesterday, Aquino said there were many problems at hand, especially fixing the government, but with all the help coming in the aftermath of Sendong, things were becoming a bit easier.
Aquino denied reports that he was “partying” when Sendong struck northern Mindanao.
Aquino said the Christmas party was for the members of the Presidential Security Group and for their families, not for him.
Aquino also said he cancelled several other Christmas parties, but not the one for the PSG because some of their relatives even came from the provinces.
The President added he wanted concerned authorities to do their jobs well in responding to the disaster so he waited before proceeding to Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Dumaguete City.
He said he wanted local officials to concentrate on attending to the problems rather than bother with his visit.
Aquino on Tuesday ordered a probe to determine the possible negligence of officials in the floods that left over a thousand people dead and scores more missing in several areas in Mindanao following the storm.
Aquino said he wanted a probe on who should be held responsible for the tragedy to serve as a lesson so that it would not happen again.
Six days into non-stop retrieval operations, military and police search teams have already accounted for 1,045 bodies and were still scouring tons of debris for the hundreds more still missing.
All combined, the number of fatalities left by Sendong in wide areas of Mindanao, parts of Central Visayas and Bicol has already ballooned to 1,145.
“Our troops are still on retrieval operations for the 651 who are still missing and relief distribution for the 15,006 families who have lost everything and are now staying in seven evacuation centers,” said regional military spokesman Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV.
Osias said Maj. Gen. Victor Felix, Task Force Sendong overall commander, had ordered the deployment of more troops to assist and attend to the needs of the evacuees and also to maintain order during distribution of relief goods.
“We will never abandon them (evacuees) in their times of need. We will be spending our Christmas and New Year and beyond with them as needed,” Felix said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa said he would be spending Christmas with the troops involved in search and rescue operations in Mindanao to boost their morale.
“I can’t be any prouder of our men and women in service, who have exceeded the already demanding duties of being a soldier. This is my way of expressing my appreciation and recognition of their extraordinary efforts,” Dellosa said.
On the other hand, Health Secretary Enrique Ona stressed the possibility of disease outbreaks in the evacuation centers.
“It’s been one week since Sendong so it is possible for diseases to develop by next week,” Ona said.
“Our teams have been going around evacuation centers to remind the people there of precautionary measures to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Angela Travis, a local spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said water, toilets, and other facilities are all urgently needed to head off potential epidemics.
“The water situation is still difficult and we are worried about what this means for their health,” Travis said.
She added damaged tap water systems meant fire trucks had to deliver to the evacuation camps.
Nearly half a million people require immediate assistance, United Nations agencies estimate, including nearly 50,000 at evacuation centers and those reduced to living with relatives and on the streets.
Snejal Soneji, country director for the non-government aid organization Oxfam, said it would put up latrines on top of about 200 portable toilets that UNICEF is scheduled to deliver today.
“They’re resorting to unhygienic practices like not washing hands, which could lead to outbreaks of diseases,” Soneji said.
The UN, which launched a $28.6-million aid appeal on Thursday, likened the force of the disaster to that of a tsunami.
A UN High Commissioner for Refugees chartered plane flew into Manila on Friday to deliver the first batch of 42 metric tons of emergency shelters, blankets, and kitchen implements intended for the flood-hit areas.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) mobilized funds and supplies to provide medical services to more than 12,000 pregnant and lactating women in the affected areas.
The Swiss government also dispatched teams of experts on water and sanitation and logistics
Switzerland is providing aid in the form of technical material as well as in cash for up to 300,000 Swiss Francs (approximately P14 million) toward the ongoing emergency relief and rehabilitation efforts.
The Swiss relief assistance will be provided under the overall coordination of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
The United States, on the other hand, is providing an additional $800,000 (P34.4 million) to support ongoing emergency relief and recovery operations.
The funding augments initial assistance of $100,000 (P4.1 million) provided by the US government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the immediate needs of victims of the storm.
The US Marine Forces Pacific joined the AFP in the relief efforts by bringing in three high-capacity water purification units capable of processing 13,000 gallons of water a day.
The United States Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) also loaned two 15-foot Zodiac rubber boats to help in the search and rescue operations.
Place the right people
Even as relief assistance continues to pour in, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III urged President Aquino to appoint the right people with experience in disaster mitigation in the agencies and areas where they are needed.
Pimentel lamented that a lot of the key officials in government whose jobs involve disaster preparedness and response are merely monitoring developments whenever calamities occur.
“We need these men (and women) by whose decisions and actions lives are saved. The worst thing is to have high-level officials merely monitoring and reporting on the scenario. That’s the role of media,” he said.
Pimentel has been assisting the relief efforts in his hometown in Cagayan de Oro City, among the areas worst hit by Sendong.
His erstwhile political rival, resigned senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, also led relief efforts as Philippine Red Cross governor.
Zubiri said he visited at least nine flood-affected areas and evacuation centers, including Cagayan de Oro City.
“These areas were the hardest hit by the floodwaters and we saw the widespread devastation in these places. Debris, collapsed houses, buildings, bridges, vehicles and mud-soaked belongings of the residents are all over the place,” he said. - With Jaime Laude, Pia Lee-Brago, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Sheila Crisostomo, Jose Rodel Clapano
- By Aurea Calica