PH in state of calamity

Aquino says move will hasten delivery of help

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III on Monday declared a state of national calamity to hasten the delivery of relief and the rehabilitation of provinces devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.

“Declaring a state of national calamity is important not only to ensure price controls for basic commodities and services that our countrymen need but also to prevent overpricing and hoarding,” the President said, after he signed Proclamation No. 682.

Law enforcement contingent. From top clockwise: Members of a Special Action Force prepare to leave for Leyte to help keep the peace and prevent looting in the areas devastated by Typhoon “Yolanda”; an aerial photo shows the destruction in Guiuan, Eastern Samar; residents cross a collapsed highway in Palo, Leyte; typhoon survivors line up to receive relief goods at the Tacloban airport. Manny Palmero and AFP
Mr. Aquino also announced an additional P1.1 billion for the Quick Response Fund of the Social Welfare and Development and the Public Works and Highways departments.

“This will ensure the immediate implementation of support programs that will bring normalcy to the lives of our people who were displaced by this tragedy,” he added.

Mr. Aquino said that while the government did all it could to ensure a low casualty count, the storm surges were unstoppable.

“In the coming days, you can be assured that help will reach you faster,” Aquino said, addressing those who suffered most from Yolanda’s onslaught.

He said prayers and the spirit of bayanihan will help the country move forward from the disaster.

“We must show that the heart and spirit of the Filipino people will not be broken by any typhoon,” the President said.

Earlier in the day, the President said he was considering emergency rule in Tacloban City to stop the reported looting in the typhoon-ravaged city.

In an interview with a CNN reporter and other members of local media at Tacloban City, Mr. Aquino said that if the local government officials failed to perform effectively, the national government would take over to avoid widespread looting and arson.

“After I have learned the reported looting, we are thinking [or declaring either a] state of emergency or Martial Law,” Mr. Aquino said.

“We have a provision in our law, Republic Act 10121. Once the LGUs are ineffective or unable to perform functions, the national government may take over the province through the recommendation of NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council),” the President said.

This would include appointing officials to local government offices to make sure that everybody is working together and that “the towns are functional.”

In such a case, the Department of Interior and Local Government would be the overall supervisor until the local government officials in Tacloban can attend to their duties.

Aside from ensuring that the local government is running, the President said he ordered additional police and military forces to Tacloban to restore order after receiving reports of looting. He said troops in armored personnel carriers will arrive in Tacloban to help enforce the law.

President Aquino arrived in Tacloban Sunday morning to assess the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda on Friday. After arriving at about 10:30 a.m. he inspected the heavily damaged passenger terminal of the Tacloban airport.

He also conducted an aerial inspection of Leyte and attended a briefing with national and local officials.

Accompanying the President were Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson.

Despite the looting incidents, Mr. Aquino maintained that the situation in Tacloban City was under control.

He added that the government was working to allay fears that there may not be enough food and water.

Mr. Aquino said incidents of looting were new to the country, and that it was a challenge for his administration to show the people that they did not need to resort to desperate measures because help was already on its way.

“Even if we get to land it here how do you actually tell the people that it’s here? Because you don’t have TV, you don’t have radio, you don’t have newspapers to be able to disseminate the information hence the anxiety persists. So that is a new challenge for us,” he added.

He said relief packs, water purification facilities and other goods were on the way or have arrived in Tacloban City.

He also said the government began distributing some 114,000 sacks of National Food Authority rice in its warehouse in Tacloban City Monday afternoon.

A Palace official on Monday said the government was not blaming anyone for the high casualty count in Tacloban.

“We are not pointing at anyone; we don’t blame anyone,” Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras said in a press briefing. “This is not the right time to point fingers at each other. This is not the time to argue.”

Almendras’ appeal was made after President Aquino was quoted as saying that Tacloban seemed less prepared for Yolanda than other areas.

Almendras said the President was merely emphasizing the importance of coordination between local and national governments.

“The national government is really having a hard time penetrating the locality. We do not know any barangay captain. We do not even know the names of those towns, much more their location, much more where those people are,” Almendras said.

Better coordination between the national and local government would make things much easier, he said.

The Justice Department on Monday opposed calls for tmartial law in Tacloban City, saying the President does not need to impose military rule to address the peace and order problem there.

“I believe there are enough powers allotted by the Constitution and the laws to the national government, specifically the President, in addressing the situation in the Yolanda-devastated areas, including the breakdown of law and order of lawless violence,” said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima in an interview.

She added that a declaration of martial law could not be legally justified under the present circumstances.

“Under the Constitution, martial law is confined to only two situations – invasion or rebellion. I don’t think either situation currently exists,” she said.

She added that a state of emergency would be more appropriate.

Although the law calls for more stringent punishment against theft during times of calamity, De Lima said she agreed with the police that some leniency be exercised.

“There’s a lot of sensitivities involved here. Application of laws should thus be tempered with compassion, mercy or liberality. What is imperative is real and physical presence of authorities, both local and national, to maintain peace and order,” she said.

The Philippine National Police on Monday said contingents from the Special Action Force and other elite units were flown to Tacloban and Ormoc City to contain the looting.

“As of the moment, we’ve at least 883 personnel from the Special Action Force have been deployed in the cities of Tacloban and Ormoc to secure business establishments from looters,” said PNP chief Alan Purisima during a news conference in Camp Crame, Quezon City. He said 120 more were on the way.

Residents on Saturday attacked the Gaisano and Robinson’s Mall, grocery stores and warehouses after the super typhoon laid waste to the city.

Purisima said 60 police commandos arrived in Tacloban City on Sunday morning to take part in a massive rescue, relief and rehabilitation effort in areas severely affected by Yolanda, particularly in Leyte, Samar, Cebu and Panay Islands.

SAF personnel were also sent to Leyte to assist local police forces in law enforcement and public safety operations.

Purisima said arresting the looters was not the priority of the police at the moment.

“Just return what you stole from the stores,” he urged the looters.

The Armed Force said Monday it was sending a battalion –about 500 soldiers--from its 525 Engineering Brigade and another battalion from its Special Forces to clear the roads and provide security in hard-hit areas of the Visayas.

The military’s Public Affairs Office said the troops would be sent to the cities of Tacloban, Roxas and Iloilo.

Their job was to clear the main supply route of debris to allow the fast delivery of relief to affected residents, the military said. – With Sarah Susanne Fabunan, Rey E. Requejo, Florante S. Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay, Florante S. Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay

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