Customs ordered to flood areas hit by ‘Ompong’ with rice
Anticipating critical shortages of foodstuff in areas in the path of Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: Mangkhut), the government has ordered the release of smuggled rice and other food items to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for immediate distribution.
Government emergency service operations in the northern and eastern parts of Luzon and the Visayas kicked into high gear on Friday as heavy rains whipped by Ompong’s powerful 255-kilometer-per-hour wind gusts lashed the regions well ahead of its landfall before dawn on Saturday between Cagayan and Isabela provinces.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration raised typhoon Signal No. 4 over the two provinces before 6 p.m. on Friday.
Ompong claimed its first victim in Pio Duran town, Albay province, when an 8-month-old infant fell through a hole in the bamboo floor of a house and drowned in waters that overflowed from a nearby river on Thursday night, police said.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Friday directed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to make available all confiscated food shipments, particularly rice, for distribution to areas expected to suffer the brunt of the strongest typhoon to hit the country this year.
“Please release all seized rice and foodstuff in your possession to the DSWD for possible disaster relief,” Dominguez said in his directive to Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña.
The Department of Finance (DOF) said on Friday that Dominguez’s order was “in response to President Duterte’s directive to all government agencies to ensure the highest level of readiness for the typhoon.”
Rice and other seized goods such as onions, garlic, noodles and goods that can be used for shelter, clothing and medicines may be donated to the DSWD under the BOC’s Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
The DOF noted that the BOC confiscated 100 6.1-meter (20 feet) containers with 50,000 sacks of rice from Thailand at the Manila International Container Port in August.
On Tuesday, the BOC and the Philippine National Police raided seven warehouses in Marilao, Bulacan province, and seized 125,000 sacks of smuggled rice worth about P300 million.
About 10,000 more sacks of rice from Thailand and Vietnam that were seized by BOC agents in a warehouse in Calamba, Laguna province, in July may also be donated to the DSWD, finance officials said.
With still 24 hours until its landfall, Ompong had already forced tens of thousands to flee their homes for safer areas, airlines to cancel most of their flights to Luzon and schools to call off classes from Cagayan to as far south as Samar province.
The Philippine Coast Guard announced it would apprehend any boat caught violating its “sail ban” in the eastern seaboard of Luzon and the Visayas after nine people were rescued from a passenger boat that capsized due to strong winds and 3-meter (10 feet) waves on Thursday night off Catbalogan City, Samar.
The motorized banca, MB CA3J Signwater, was on its way to Barangay Singko, a village on Canduyong Island, when it sank 500 meters from the Catbalogan wharf at about 7 p.m., a report from the Coast Guard station in the city said.
Businesses and residents in Cagayan and Isabela busied themselves on Friday boarding up windows and tying down roofs that could be sheared off by winds, as farmers rushed to harvest palay, corn and other crops that could be destroyed by flooding.
Rice and corn farmers, particularly in Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya provinces, braved Friday afternoon’s heavy rains, saying Ompong forced the premature harvest of their crops.
“These (corn crop) are due for harvest next month, but we need to gather them, hoping to make up for even just the planting expenses,” said 71-year-old Pedro Bangayan, as he and his three sons loaded newly harvested corn onto a cargo vehicle in their farm at Barangay Riverside, Tuguegarao City, Cagayan.
Tugade, Bello briefings
Also on Friday, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III briefed police teams at the police regional headquarters at Camp Marcelo Adduru in Tuguegarao before their deployment for disaster relief operations in the region.
“They will be our lifeline to Malacañang and will relay to the President all our concerns in relation to this typhoon,” Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said of Tugade and Bello.
In a command conference of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council on Thursday, the President designated Tugade in charge of relief operations in Cagayan. Bello has the same task in Isabela.
Secretary Francis Tolentino, who was designated by Mr. Duterte as overall head of the government’s relief operations for Ompong, took a long overland travel to Cagayan after civil aviation authorities prevented his plane from taking off in Manila.
According to Mamba, preemptive evacuation was enforced in the northern coastal communities of the province, as well as in the villages along the banks of the Cagayan River.
About 500 families from flood-prone communities in 25 of Tuguegarao’s 49 barangays were brought to six evacuation centers in the city, according to city social welfare officer Myrna Te.
Jail authorities in the provincial capital, Aparri, moved 143 prisoners detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology facility that faces the Pacific Ocean to secure government buildings in the towns of Lal-lo and Gattaran, said Supt. Flory Sanchez, the bureau’s assistant director for Cagayan Valley.
Eyes on Benguet roads
In Isabela province, some 500 families in coastal towns, including 300 in Maconacon, 50 in Dinapigue and 50 in Palanan, were evacuated to safer areas after typhoon Signal No. 3 was raised over the province on Thursday night.
Anticipating major landslides, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar deployed personnel and heavy equipment to 44 critical areas in the Cordilleras on Friday.
Special attention was given to roads in Benguet province, which supplies the bulk of vegetable produce to Metro Manila and lowland provinces.
In an advisory on Friday night, the Manila International Airport Authority said that from Friday to Monday next week, 154 flights would not be able to depart or arrive at all four terminals of Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
Cebu Pacific listed the highest number of cancellations with 66 flights, while flag carrier Philippine Airlines had 30. —With reports from Melvin Gascon, Dexter Cabalza, Julie M. Aurelio, Ma. April Mier, Rey Anthony Ostria, Maricar Cinco, Joey A. Gabieta, Leo Udtohan, Erwin M. Mascariñas, Bong Sarmiento and Judy Quiros
Inquirer calls for support for the victims of typhoon Ompong
Responding to appeals for help, the Philippine Daily Inquirer is extending its relief to victims of the recent typhoon Ompong.
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