Disaster ops centers needed to avoid ‘post-Yolanda problems’

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Monday, December 9, 2013

A SENATOR urged the government on Monday to prioritize the establishment of national and regional operation centers in times of disasters and calamities to avoid problems observed after Typhoon Yolanda hit central Philippines early this month.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, chairman of the congressional oversight committee on the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, said it is important that the government must prepare at the soonest time, "considering that our country is facing several typhoons yearly, and that Congress must also fast-track in preparing concrete laws that will protect the people."

Trillanes’s statement came after Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, who was invited in the committee hearing Monday, hit the National Government for playing politics during the post-disaster operations in Tacloban.

Romualdez, who turned emotional as he recalled and shared his experience when the typhoon hit the area, claimed that despite the presence of National Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, they were not given the assistance they badly needed, especially the security to enforce peace and order.

"I don't want to burden the National Government. But the looting was really rampant. I was practically begging for help. We need more police and military to help us in our peace and order situation but instead, our chief of police was even relieved from his post," the mayor said.

“I could not understand why I could not get help from National Government,” he added.

He said he talked to Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras and told him that they needed soldiers, but no help was extended.
Romualdez also denied reports that he was forced to resign, but admitted it was Roxas who talked to him several days after the storm, asking him to write a letter stating that he could no longer perform his functions as mayor and that everything must be legalized.

Romualdez recalled that he replied: "Well this is a gray area, as far as I know, the President is the President of the Philippines, and he is also the President of Tacloban City."

Roxas, according to Romualdez, reminded him to be careful. "You have to be careful because you are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino."

He said Roxas and Gazmin were there even before the typhoon arrived, but they only focused on giving out the relief goods.

He also said the National Government wanted an ordinance for a curfew, but there was no fiscal office.

“Lagi tayong assess nang assess. You cannot assess if you do not have people on the ground for information. Everyone was a victim,” he said.

Romualdez also said that President Aquino, who arrived in Tacloban City three days after the typhoon, did not talk to him either.

"If they can muster 1,000 military personnel to secure the President, bakit hindi naman kami mabigyan ng kaunting security din. What is so frustrating is that the President was there, two secretaries were there; still, there was looting," Romualdez said.

“We keep begging for more help. I even directly told the President we only have 26 police. Pero hindi po kami pinagbigyan,” the mayor added.

He said the whole place was devastated and the first thing that he asked from the National Government led by Roxas and Gazmin was to clear the road going to the airport but the suggestion fell into deaf ears.

Trillanes, who presided the hearing, said they will invite both Roxas and Gazmin to clarify and explain their side before the committee.

"We will have to wait for Secretary Roxas, I'm sure he will have some justification for his actions," he said.

Biazon, for his part, said: “This is not a fault-finding session,” adding that the objective of the meeting was to pinpoint which parts of the law should be examined for the government to become better in dealing with calamities.

He said the law should be evaluated to be clear on how and when the National Government should come in local disasters like in Tacloban.

Close to 6,000 individuals have been confirmed dead after Yolanda ripped through central Philippines last month. Tacloban City in Leyte was among the areas worst hit by the typhoon.

Some 2.6 million families were affected, and P35.5 billion worth of properties were damaged by the weather disturbance, based on latest government records.

Romualdez, during the hearing, clarified that the local government prepared food and evacuation centers before the typhoon ravaged the city.

He admitted, however, that it was difficult for them to explain to the public what a storm surge is, adding the local officials used tsunami warnings to the people but most of them were not aware of the danger of Yolanda.

"We were aware of the height, but not the strength," Romualdez said.

Biazon said Filipinos should be given the education about dangers of storm surges. He said the National Government must now study on how to implement the right rehabilitation, reconstruction, rescue operation, relief and utilization of engineering brigades.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of National Disaster Risk Management Council Eduardo del Rosario said the government will need P139 billion in its reconstruction program, which he explained is higher than the earlier proposal of about P74 billion.

Del Rosario also stressed the need to revise old laws that will fit the present situation, as well as the acquisition of mobile devices and transportation that will increase access and mobility for air, sea and land.

He also raised a challenged to those affected areas to exercise "bayanihan" (community spirit) and seek the help of Congress for the reconstruction’s needed materials.

Also present in the hearing Monday were Leyte Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Senator Ferdinand Bong Bong Marcos who said that under law, the National Government is the one tasked to handle the situation like that of Yolanda in Visayas region. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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