President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday announced his plan to visit areas hit by the magnitude 7 earthquake, specifically in Abra province, today.
This developed as the Department of Social Welfare and Development said it earmarked an initial P10 million to help residents in Abra, the epicenter of the quake where scores of structures were damaged.
At least four countries – China, the United States, Japan, and France — likewise offered prayers and assistance to the Philippines after the powerful earthquake rattled parts of Luzon.
In a press conference, Marcos said he scheduled his trip to affected areas on Thursday to avoid disruptions to the delivery of local government unit (LGU) services to quake victims.
“I am staying away from going to the affected areas for a very simple reason: It has been my experience as governor, it has been my experience in ‘Yolanda’ that when the national officers come to the affected areas immediately, we are disrupting the work of local governments,” the President said.
“Let (LGUs) do their work. Let us wait for them to tell us what the true situation is, and maybe I can schedule a trip perhaps tomorrow as soon as possible.”
Marcos also said he will push for the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) that will look primarily at matters and concerns during and after the onslaught of natural calamities.
In a Twitter post, the President said he has ordered the immediate delivery of relief assistance to the earthquake victims.
DSWD Cordillera Director Arnel Garcia told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo aid will be released upon the instructions of Secretary Erwin Tulfo.
Residents with destroyed houses will receive P10,000 in assistance, while individuals whose houses were damaged by the earthquake will get P5,000, the director said.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) reported the tectonic quake, earlier logged at magnitude 7.3, struck 3 km. northwest of the municipality of Tayum, Abra at 8:43 a.m. It had a depth of 17 km.
Lawmakers, including House Speaker Martin Romualdez, have filed a measure seeking the DDR, which was initially filed during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
The measure stresses that the “new normal” requires a more “focused and in-depth attention in the way we understand, prepare and respond to natural disasters.”
The state-run Government Service Insurance System will grant emergency loans to its members and pensioners residing or working in the areas affected by the earthquake, its top official said.
GSIS President and General Manager Wick Veloso said the pension fund will ensure that its members and pensioners will receive financial assistance, through emergency loans, to help them recover from the natural calamity.
The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority on Wednesday deployed a 39-man contingent team in Abra.
MMDA Officer-in-Charge Baltazar Melgar said the contingent, composed of personnel from the agency’s Road Emergency Group (REG), Metro Parkways Clearing Group (MPCG), and Public Safety Division, would assist in clearing roads in affected areas.
In a privilege speech, Abra Rep. Ching Bernos appealed to Marcos “to extend all available assistance to the Province of Abra to help us rise from the ashes of this devastating disaster.”
“We are optimistic that the father of our nation will look after us and help us get back on our feet, as we resilient Abreños have always done since time immemorial. I assure you, Abra will rise again,” he said.
Benguet Rep. Eric Go Yap also appealed for prayers for his province, adding: “The quake was strongly felt in many parts of the province, as evidenced in the reports of damage to personal properties and public infrastructure.”
Probinsyano party-list Rep. Alfred Delos Santos said his group mobilized its volunteers across Luzon to respond to the aftermath of the earthquake.
At the same time, Delos Santos cited the need for Congress to expedite the Disaster Department bill, the proposed Laging Handa Act, and the Animal Calamity Rescue bill.
But while most senators renewed their calls to establish the DDR, Senator Robin Padilla said boosting the country’s disaster response in the regions would be enough, noting that creating another department counters the right-sizing plan by Marcos for the government.
The President’s elder sister, Senator Imee Marcos, also said another department would entail additional manpower and funding for the entire office.
Senators Christopher Go and Grace Poe, however, reiterated their calls to build the proposed DDR.
Go also called on his fellow legislators to pass his Mandatory Evacuation Center bill, which requires the establishment of evacuation centers in every province nationwide.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano urged the chamber’s leadership to ask Marcos to certify as urgent all Senate proposals calling for the formation of the DDR.
Cayetano pointed out that the frequency of natural hazards and the unique vulnerability of many parts of the country to meteorological and geological events make the need for a single department in charge of disaster response even more urgent.
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva both support the measure, with the latter saying he would consider following through on Cayetano’s request as soon as the Senate Committee on Rules is organized.
In his tweet, the President said: “Despite this sad news about the damage this earthquake has caused, we are assuring everyone of the immediate dispatch of assistance to our affected countrymen.”
“We are watching out for, both in the structures and watching the dangers of landslides,” Marcos said. “We are hoping that it will not rain for the next two days, so we can stabilize the affected areas to inspect the houses if they are safe to go back to.”
He also advised those whose houses were damaged to stay in evacuation areas, until it is certain that there will be no aftershocks.
“Perhaps, it is still not safe to return even if they are structurally safe to return to, as there will still be aftershocks. That might cause a problem,” he said.
“We have to explain to them that the inspection of their houses must come first.”
In his press conference, Marcos also stressed the need to balance the “cost and mitigation requirements” of Republic Act 6541 or the National Building Code of the Philippines to ensure the “safe” building of structures in the country.
The scope of RA 6541 includes the “location, siting, design, quality of materials, construction, use, occupancy, and maintenance” of both private and public buildings.
Asked if there is a need to conduct regular inspection of buildings, including residential properties: the President said: “There is no need. There is already an existing procedure for that.”
“I think the better way is to educate people that they should not build houses in dangerous areas and make sure that they use construction materials that can withstand earthquakes and typhoons,” Marcos added.
China said it is ready to extend humanitarian assistance to the Philippine government.
“On behalf of the Chinese Embassy, I would like to extend my thoughts and prayers to the Philippine government and the Filipino people affected by this morning’s earthquake in Luzon,” Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian said in a statement.
“We are ready to extend a helping hand to the Philippine side for disaster relief. I believe under the leadership of President Marcos Jr., the Filipino people will be able to overcome difficulties and resume normal life as soon as possible,” he added.
Meanwhile, US Ambassador Mary Kay Carlson posted on Twitter: “Sending my thoughts and prayers to those affected by the [earthquake] in Abra and nearby provinces. The US extends our condolences to those who have lost loved ones.”
In separate tweets, the Embassy of France in the Philippines and the
office of the Ambassador of Japan expressed sympathies to the affected residents of Abra province and its nearby areas.
Meanwhile, Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman confirmed the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Program (NDRRMP) Fund is available to tap for relief operations in the areas affected by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake.
Pangandaman did not say how much is available under the fund for
relief operations. She said there is also a Quick Response Fund (QRF) that may be mobilized if necessary.