PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III did not attend any of the ceremonies in Tacloban City marking the second anniversary of the destructive visit of Typhoon “Yolanda” because he was not invited, the Palace said Tuesday.
As typhoon survivors marked the second year since Yolanda killed more than 6,000 people and devastated Eastern Visayas, Aquino drew flak for attending a wedding and issuing a statement about the anniversary that was read for him by a spokesman.
“First of all, I checked with the Appointments Office. No invitation was received by the Office of the President,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, in a radio and TV interview.
“The President and the government continue to implement comprehensive rehabilitation program for building more resilient communities,” Coloma said.
“Actual implementation of rehabilitation programs is the government’s primary focus,” Coloma also said.
Coloma said Aquino did not intend to skip the commemoration rites to avoid meeting Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who has been critical of the slow pace of the administration’s relief and rehabilitation efforts.
While local government officials and lawmakers led the commemoration rites in Tacloban, the President was attending a wedding in Pasay City of business tycoon Andrew Tan’s son Kester.
Also with Aquino at the wedding were Cabinet Secretary Rene Almendras and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Belmonte told reporters Tuesday that Aquino did not stay long at the wedding.
“You know, commemoration is in the heart, not in the show. Isn’t it better to [commemorate on your own] instead of being there symbolically and just have your photo taken at the airport? I was there when the President went a day after Yolanda but nobody gives him credit for that,” Belmonte said.
Last year, the President also skipped the ceremonies in Tacloban, and went instead to Guiuan in Eastern Samar where Yolanda first made landfall.
In Tacloban, the Department of Public Works and Highways said it would hold three in abeyance sections of its tide embankment or seawall project after local officials and residents expressed skepticism over what they called “The Great Wall of Tacloban.”
DPWH Assistant Regional Director Edgar Tabacon said the project will be temporarily put on hold in highly populated areas in the city until all issues are addressed.
Among the concerns raised were the lack of consultation, incomplete relocation projects and the absence of clearances from government regulators.
The 27.3-kilometer seawall—four meters thick and high—was designed to shield coastal communities from storm surges after huge waves brought by Yolanda wiped out most of Leyte province.
“We will hold it in abeyance for the Tacloban area, as government looks for long-term solutions to different issues and concerns. We will probably start the construction in Palo and Tanauan, since those areas are less populated,” Tabacon said.
Mayor Alfred Romualdez asked the DPWH to seek endorsements from other national government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.
“I’m not against the project, neither am I supporting it. I am asking for studies that support the project because even in building houses, there are many required clearances,” Romualdez told reporters.
“We cannot just rely on JICA [Japan International Cooperation Agency] studies because they are not accountable to the Filipino people,” he added.
Also on Tuesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay urged Malacañang to release the P1-billion People’s Survival Fund to help thousands of victims of calamities and to help local government units mitigate the impact of climate change.
Binay said it is the obligation and duty of the government to provide immediate assistance to survivors of calamities to bring their lives back to normal.
A private religious group, Operation Blessing Foundation Philippines, on Tuesday turned over 20 permanent houses to Yolanda survivors in Barangay Palanog, Tacloban City.
The 20 houses are part of the targeted 324 homes that the religious foundation seeks to build.
Each house employs bamboo-cement technology which allows it to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake and typhoons of up to 250 kph. With Mel Caspe, Vito Barcelo, PNA
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