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Aquino declares state of national calamity

Proclamation prompted by ‘Pablo’s’ ruinous aftermath


FLATOUT BROKEN The view from the air of Boston town in Davao Oriental province shows the massive devastation wrought by Typhoon “Pablo” on Tuesday morning. The President said he will declare a state of calamity. REY MARFIL/CONTRIBUTOR

President Benigno Aquino III has placed the Philippines under a “state of national calamity” because of the “severe gravity of the damage” wrought by Typhoon “Pablo” in Mindanao, Central Visayas and Palawan this week.

Mr. Aquino signed Proclamation No. 522 late Friday on the recommendation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to free up government resources and hasten the delivery of aid to thousands of people displaced by Pablo in Mindanao, Central Visayas and Palawan.

President Aquino has ordered an investigation to determine why so many people died despite early typhoon warnings from the government and widespread preparations for disaster response.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said no one who would be found accountable would be spared.

The declaration also authorized local governments to use their calamity funds for search, relief and rescue operations.

It also put into effect price controls on essential goods, but only in typhoon-ravaged areas of the country. The price controls will be effective for 60 days unless lifted earlier, according to Valte.

The declaration also allowed the disbursement of foreign assistance to help the typhoon survivors rebuild their lives.

Mr. Aquino signed the order after returning from an all-day survey of the typhoon damage in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental on the eastern coast of Mindanao.

The NDRRMC recommended the declaration of a state national calamity after determining the areas that bore the brunt of Pablo: the provinces of Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte in the Davao Region; Surigao del Sur in the Caraga Region; Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao; Siquijor in Central Visayas, and Palawan in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan).

The NDRRMC said the toll from the typhoon in nine regions had reached 456 people dead, 533 missing and 445 injured as of Saturday.

Of the dead, 416 were from Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, the NDRRMC said.

Looting for survival

The declaration of a state of national calamity came as the hungry and homeless typhoon survivors appealed for help and desperate people in the hard-hit town of Cateel, in Davao Oriental, looted shops in search of food.

Local officials monitored the desperate scenes in the early aftermath of Pablo’s onslaught in Cateel, Cedric Daep, a provincial public safety official said.

“The food aid took so long to arrive that the locals broke into whatever building left standing in search of something to eat,” said Daep, a specialist sent to the south by the government to help rescue and relief operations.

Warehouses and grocery stores were broken into in Cateel, a coastal town near where Pablo’s eye made landfall on Tuesday, Daep said.

Officials said damage to roads and bridges by floods and landslides trapped 150,000 people for three days in Cateel and the nearby towns of Baganga and Boston, where they said 97 percent of buildings were flattened or unroofed.

Four days after Pablo struck eastern Mindanao, officials have struggled to bring in food and relief convoys through roads that had been blocked or swept away by floods and avalanches of rock, logs and mud.

Scavenging for coconuts

About 4,000 residents in the destroyed farming village of Maparat in Compostela Valley had eaten the village’s surviving chickens and were left with scavenging fallen coconuts, nursing mother Virginia Dodres, 38, said Saturday.

“I tried to breast-feed Mica, but they’re dry from lack of food. So I gave her coconut water, and now she’s down with colic,” Dodres, who has three other children, said as she comforted her 1-year-old daughter.

All the houses in the village had been carried off by floods and survivors were sleeping 80 to a room on the bare concrete floor of the local elementary school.

The survivors share the toilet’s two stalls and are doing their washing and bathing at a nearby spring, which is also their only source of water.

Dodres said church workers with two big pots of porridge arrived on Saturday bearing the first relief aid to Maparat, located a few kilometers from the devastated town of New Bataan. The survivors gobbled up the food within minutes, Dodres said.

The United Nations, the United States, Australia and Canada pledged assistance to the typhoon survivors on Friday.

On Saturday China joined the international donors, announcing aid of $30,000 (P1.2 million), to be given through the Red Cross Society of China.

Israel expressed sympathies for the families of the typhoon victims and lauded the Philippine government’s preparations that prevented the loss of many more lives. A statement from the Israeli Embassy did not say whether Israel would give aid for the typhoon survivors.

To help the relief effort, the Bureau of Customs will donate seized food and clothing to the survivors of the typhoon.

Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said on Saturday that the agency would inventory its stock of confiscated goods and donate those that had been forfeited to the survivors.

All 286 members of the House of Representatives have pledged cash donations to help the typhoon survivors in Mindanao, Compostela Valley Rep. Ma. Carmen Zamora said on Saturday.

Zamora said the district representatives and the party-list lawmakers promised to give P5,000 each to help the relief effort.

Some lawmakers promised to give more, including Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio Lagdameo Jr., who pledged P500,000, Zamora said.

“It’s their personal pledge, and I am more than grateful to accept it,” Zamora said.

The pledges will come up to P1.4 million. “[It’s] a big help,” Zamora said.

Search for missing

The search for the missing continued Saturday, with the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Compostela Valley reporting that 290 bodies had been recovered as of Saturday.

The council said 437 people remained missing, 90 percent of them from New Bataan town alone.

Compostela Valley Gov. Arturo Uy sent chainsaws and heavy equipment to clear blocked roads leading to isolated areas of the province to press the search for missing people.

The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) sent a 15-member rescue team to Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley on Friday to help in the search for the missing.

MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino said the agency’s rescuers would work with local civil defense offices in the two provinces in looking for missing people.

“MMDA is ready and willing to help anytime, anywhere. Our services are not limited to Metro Manila,” Tolentino said.

US forces under the Joint US Military Advisory Group (Jusmag) have joined the search and retrieval operations in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said six Philippine Air Force helicopters had been tapped to speed up the search for and retrieval of missing people.

Roxas said more sniffer dogs had been deployed to the two provinces to aid the search for bodies.

Stunned residents

The search and retrieval operations in hardest-hit New Bataan have been hampered in part because many residents of the farming community are too stunned to assist recovery efforts.

“We are having difficulty finding guides,” Marlon Esperanza, a spokesperson for the municipal government, said. “Entire families were killed and the survivors are still in shock. They appear dazed. They can’t move.”

Esperanza said the rocks, mud, tree trunks and other rubble that litter the town have destroyed landmarks, making it doubly difficult to search places where houses once stood. With reports from Nikko Dizon, Tina G. Santos, Tarra Quismundo and Maricar Brizuela in Manila; Frinston Lim, Nico Alconaba, Ayan Mellejor and Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao; and AFP and AP

First posted 2:48 pm | Saturday, December 8th, 2012

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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , disaster , Pablo , Politics , state of national calamity , Weather

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