Apologizes to Yolanda victims for gov’t failure
PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Thursday apologized for the government’s failure to act more quickly in bringing relief to the survivors of super typhoon Yolanda, which battered most parts of Eastern Visayas four months ago.
Aquino issued the apology as he took questions from four high school transferees from Tacloban City who are now enrolled at Hope Christian High School in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
“I apologize if we couldn’t act even faster,” the President said in response to the query of Zar Agustin Yu, who originally came from the Sacred Heart High School in Tacloban City.
Yu said based on his own experience, residents of Barangay 48 where he used to live, had to wait for three days for government relief after the super typhoon struck.
“We did not receive help from the government—no relief, no medical care, nothing. It took three days before the help came. So why did it take a long time before the government help the people of Tacloban during the Typhoon Yolanda?” asked Yu, one of the 200 students from the Visayan city who have transferred to the Hope Christian High School.
“We are also students—we want to learn from this experience and do even better next time,” the President said.
Aquino acknowledged that the government could have done better, but said the magnitude of the damage caused by the super typhoon was “unprecedented.”
“This is the biggest storm to make landfall anywhere in the world...Amongst the things that were immediately hit were the prepositioned goods by the Department of Social Welfare and Development,” he said.
Aquino assured the student that three days was not the normal response time for the government to give aid to calamity survivors.
“As to the three days to get to you, that shouldn’t be the case. In a situation such as this, normally there will be an evacuation center, pre-positioned goods are already in place waiting for all who have need of them, and we will be able to respond,” he said.
“But the area affected is well, 44 provinces out of 81. You have something like close to 4 million families affected by it, which is something like 20 million people.”
“Everything was down—cell phones, et cetera. Even the equipment whether it’s heavy equipment, whether it’s trucks, whether it was police vehicles, what have you, were also hit,” the President added.
Another student, Frances Uy, asked Aquino why he did not keep his promise to stay in Tacloban “until everything was in order.”
“Before I left, I was under the impression that there was already smooth coordination between the local government unit with the national government agencies. There were also certain things I couldn’t handle from there - communications were very difficult because the cellular systems were down. Satellite phones were subject to how cloudy the atmosphere was. I had to handle things like provision of fuel,” he said.
A spokesperson for the People Surge alliance of Yolanda survivors, however, questioned President Aquino’s sincerity in apologizing to students.
“Why only now?” demanded Sister Edita Eslopor, a Benedictine nun who represents People Surge. “Four months after Yolanda flattened us, here he comes apologizing and explaining in front of the students whom he could easily convince,” Eslopor told the Manila Standard.
She said victims needed an explanation from the President for his refusal to look into their petition for immediate financial aid to survivor families.
“He should formally answer our petition, instead of discussing the Yolanda crisis before the students,” Eslopor said.
Joan Mae Salvador, Gabriela’s secretary general, added that Aquino’s “criminal negligence” did not go away with a mere apology.
“Thousands have died, many of whom may have been saved if they were as prepared as he said in his speech before Yolanda actually made its landfall. And even now, months after Yolanda hit, many are still going hungry and could not even start rebuild their lives as the government continues to fail in its responsibilities to the people,” Gabriela said in a statement.
Instead of apologizing, the President should heed the call of the storm survivors, the women’s group added.
At the same time, Aquino’s ally, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, whose province was also hit by Yolanda, called for vigilance over the P19.4-billion initial funds released by the Department of Budget and Management for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of disaster areas.
Of the amount, Evardone said P1.068 billion will go to the Additional Quick Response Fund while P18.337 billion is intended to the Recovery and Rehabilitation Program.
He said that of the P18.337 billion recovery and rehabilitation funds released, P6.218 billion was for public infrastructure for the rehabilitation of government facilities like the National Food Authority, P111.21 million; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources offices, P500 million; National Electrification Administration, P3.929 billion; and others.
Evardone said the Department of Social Welfare and Development got P953 million for the provision of temporary employment for the displaced families and P1.789 billion for social assistance of which P1.766 billion was for general food distribution and P113 million for supplementary feeding.
He said the additional quick response fund amounting to P1.068 billion was also released to DSWD.
Earlier, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund warned that “immediate risks still loom largely on children” in disaster areas, particularly because the typhoon was a Level 3 emergency, according to the World Health Organization.
“It may take years before communities fully re-emerge from this disaster,” UNICEF said in its report “Four Months After Typhoon Haiyan” released this week.
UNICEF said the risks include “epidemic outbreaks; disruption and loss of access to learning; greater exposure to violence, exploitation and abuse and risks for both women and children of sliding into malnutrition.”
UNICEF has helped vaccinate 83,200 children in Yolanda-hit areas against measles while 55,300 kids received vitamin A supplements.
The UN agency, however, noted that despite the growing sense of recovery with the re-opening of health centers and with children back to learning in temporary schools, “there is still an overwhelming reminder that much more needs to be done to restore devastated lives and communities.”
The Asian Development Bank also provided a $20-million grant to revive livelihood opportunities and rebuild infrastructure projects in the 70 towns ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda. (See related story on Page B3)
Meanwhile, Aquino thanked the Asian Development Bank for its assistance in handling the Yolanda disaster.
“In the aftermath of the storm, the ADB reached out to our government and to the Filipino people—in a sense, clearing paths through the rubble, and showing us where we could pick ourselves up and continue to journey towards inclusive growth,” Aquino said in a speech.
“I am told that the assistance you are giving us, in the form of loans and grants, is expected to exceed one billion dollars. On top of that, you set up an office in Tacloban City to coordinate the use of funds, and to give guidance to our various local governments.
“The Filipino people will not forget the kindness you have shown us—whether in the aftermath of Yolanda, or in the wake of previous disasters.
“The ADB provided our country grants after the massive mudslide in Southern Leyte in 2006. And you helped in our people’s crisis recovery efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009,” the President said.
“From 1966 to the end of 2012, your organization has loaned our country more than $13 billon —money that has gone to vital infrastructure projects—whether it be roads, airports, or power plants. I am also told that, right now, you are our 6th largest source of Overseas Development Assistance, with your overall net commitment reaching more than S833 million.” With Rio N. Araja and Maricel V. Cruz
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