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‘Buck stops with PNoy’

Militants: No excuse for slow response

MILITANTS on Thursday said the buck stops with President Benigno Aquino III, whom they blamed for the slow pace at which the government was bringing aid to the survivors of super typhoon Yolanda.

A Palace spokesman said the administration welcomed criticism, but the President’s men defended their actions in the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban, which international journalists said showed “no real evidence of organized recovery or relief” five days after Yolanda struck.

Day 6. Workers of the National Food Authority carry sacks of rice for loading into 10-wheeler trucks that will take them to the Ateneo University in Quezon City for repacking for the typhoon victims in Leyte and Samar. The photo at the bottom shows Tacloban City residents lining up to receive rice while the people in the background  ransack a warehouse for food. Manny Palmero and Ver S. Noveno
“We will gladly welcome all criticisms and suggestions on how to further improve our disaster response system,” said Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, after CNN and other foreign news organizations slammed the government’s slow response in the Visayas.

“Every experience will serve as a bridge for a more organized and systematic process of delivering aid in the future.”

Coloma said the administration would not pass the buck and would apply the lessons it learned to improve its disaster management and response.

“We never said we would not be prone to mistakes. But what I can say is that we never intentionally neglected our duties,” he added.

But the militant umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said there was no excuse for the government’s slow response.

“The President and the national government are ultimately responsible for the relief and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda. This becomes increasingly true as the local governments in affected areas are hardly functioning as a result of the severe impact of the storm,” Bayan said in a statement.

“The growing international criticisms are valid since much needed aid has failed to reach many storm-ravaged areas. These criticisms should push the government to do more in the face of the worsening humanitarian crisis in the affected areas,” the group added.

Earlier, CNN reporters Anderson Cooper and Paula Hancocks, who are in Tacloban City, described how disorganized the government’s relief efforts were.

“It looks like the end of the world, for many here it was...The people in Tacloban have great dignity and deserve better than what they have gotten,” Cooper said in his Twitter account.

“The search and rescue never materialized...There is no real evidence of organized recovery or relief.”

In his television report, Cooper said: “It’s a miserable, miserable situation here. It is not getting better day by day... You would expect maybe a feeding center that has been set up five days after the storm. We haven’t seen that, certainly not in this area.”

Hancocks, in her report, said: “It is certainly not organized. It’s just a drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed.”

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan noted that “minimal amounts of aid have reached the worst-hit areas.”

“Desperation is growing in the areas hit by typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda’s international name), as heavy rains lash survivors facing a fifth day without food, water or basic medical supplies,” she wrote in her London-based paper.

Cooper said the slowness of the Philippine government contrasted with how the Japanese handled the Fukushima earthquake in 2011.

“When I was in Japan, right after the tsunami there two years ago, within a day or two, you had Japanese defense forces going out, carving up cities into grids and going out on foot looking for people, walking through the wreckage. We have not seen that here in any kind of large-scale operation,” Cooper said.

The international group Doctors Without Borders described the situation as “total chaos.”

“The situation is catastrophic...Access is extremely difficult and is preventing people from receiving help,” Doctors Without Borders emergency coordinator in the Philippines Natasha Reyes said.

In an earlier interview with CNN, the President put the onus on local governments that he said failed to respond.

“Our ability to take care of our problems rather quickly, except in this particular case, the foundation of our efforts rely on the local government units. And unfortunately, two or three were just simply overwhelmed by the degree of this typhoon that affected us,” the President said.

“The problem is when the local government unit who are acting as first responders fail to respond appropriately, then there was that breakdown. People became desperate and that’s why we are trying to fast-track the situation where national government takes over these local government functions so that order is restored and people gain the confidence that their needs are being addressed and will be addressed fully.”

Questioned about the slow pace of aid, the President’s men echoed Mr. Aquino.

“As I have said, nothing is fast enough in a situation like this,” said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II. “In our framework, the local government unit is the first responder. The national government [is] supposed to come at Day 2 or Day 3 to be able to support that.”

Earlier, Roxas’ wife, ABS-CBN news anchor Korina Sanchez, stirred up angry public reactions when she cast doubt on the accuracy of CNN’s reporting in Tacloban City.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the national government was already running the show in Tacloban City and denied reports that it was slow in bringing aid to typhoon survivors.

He called Cooper’s observations unfair, and dismissed a report that there was no sense of urgency at Villamor Airbase, where the country’s C-130s are housed.

“I don’t think it’s an accurate observation. The C130s have been flying up to the time they’re able to fly,” he told the ANC news channel.

He also blamed logistical problems for the lack of shelters and feeding centers five days after Yolanda hit land.

“We’re already addressing that, the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) is looking for tents available since most are in Bohol used by the earthquake victims,” he said.

He also said the Public Works and Highways Department was looking for areas in the affected communities where the government can put up temporary shelters.

He did not give a timetable, however, saying only that these would be done “as soon as possible.”

Gazmin said the search for bodies, which littered the city and have remained uncollected, has started.

“Initially, we gave priority to the living…Two days ago, we started operations for the retrieval of cadavers. We have mobilized the Bureau of Fire Protection, the military…We do have problems because of the debris,” he said.

He also said the increase in the number of police and soldiers addressed the instances of looting and other peace and order concerns.

Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras earlier declared that President Aquino is in charge of all relief and rehabilitation efforts.

“The [one] calling the shots is actually the President and the Cabinet members,” Almendras said at a press briefing Wednesday.

He described the effort as “one of the largest logistic and relief operations that the Philippine government has ever done in history.”

Almendras said Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman was “on the ground to make sure that the distribution [of relief] happens.”

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