Gazmin scolded over ‘minor role’

‘Defense chief not in command in Yolanda’s wake’

SENATE Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile on Wednesday castigated Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin for failing to assume command when supertyphoon Yolanda slammed Eastern Visayas on November 8.

“Why was the Defense Secretary relegated to a support position when he was supposed to be in command?” asked Enrile when he made his interpellation on the proposed P82.245 billion of the Department of National Defense.

Enrile, who served as Defense Secretary during the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, stressed that the military should be the one in command during calamity operations and should always be the first one at the scene.

He recalled that during his time as defense chief, once the weather bureau had ascertained that there was a typhoon passing through a specific area, they immediately informed the military which, in turn, gathered its resources to assist the populace, including delivering the necessary equipment to secure the safety of the people.

“I’m sure they [weather bureau] have done that. That is why I’m wondering why people were complaining that there was no communication,” Enrile said.

He said the military should have also immediately assisted the police in keeping peace and order in typhoon-hit areas.

Interviewed later after the hearing, Gazmin told reporters a military platoon was deployed in Tacloban City, but only for disaster response.

“The answer there is that we have only one military platoon in Tacloban City to respond to calamities, even way before Tacloban was declared insurgency-free. It was under the police. Since this (the looting) is a police matter, the police should be there. We have soldiers but they were few,” Gazmin explained.

Senator Loren Legarda, who was defending the budget of the DND, said the police was already in charge of the Tacloban City after it was declared insurgency-free even before it was flattened by typhoon Yolanda.

But Enrile said the police cannot be expected to operate in a calamity because their families were also affected by the typhoon.

“That is why we have military manpower. That’s the reason why we organized the national disaster control system. The military is always the one in command,” Enrile insisted.

He also questioned the failure of the military to stop the looting in areas ravaged by Yolanda.

“Why was it that the troops were not able to stop the looting? I was wondering why there were reports that there is no communication. I know that the Secretary of Defense can communicate with any unit of the military anywhere in the country anytime, including the commander-in-chief,” he said.

He said the President was supposed to be able to communicate with all the (military) units all over the country.

“Don’t you have a separate communication backbone for the Armed Forces of the Philippines? How come there were complaints about the lack of communication with the units on the field when we were supposed to have a separate military communication backbone precisely to secure and ensure the safety and security of this country,” Enrile said.

Legarda again took the cudgels for the DND and insisted there was no lapse in so far as radio communications was concerned. She said the cell sites were down, but the military communications had been operational as early as Friday when Yolanda made its first landfall.

Legarda said that according to the DND, there was communication with the President.

“There was no lapse in communication using military equipment but the cell sites were down. That’s a different matter,” she said.

“So the communications of the military was also dead?” Enrile asked.

“It was not dead. In fact, it was operational. They did not bog down according to the DND and it was working during the typhoon,” said Legarda, adding that the military knew what was happening when Yolanda was battering the Visayan region.

She also denied reports that military soldiers were not visible in the communities ravaged by Yolanda.

“The first relief goods were brought in by the military. We understand that with the sheer destructive strength of Yolanda, It was really difficult to really have a zero casualty,” Legarda said.

Another opposition member, Senator Nancy Binay, questioned the military’s capability to respond to disasters in terms of equipment, and if the DND has enough satellite phones.

Later, it was learned that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council did not even have its own satellite phones.

“Apparently, we got too dependent on communication provided by the telcos. We need more satellite phones,” Binay said.


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