Aquino: I know government could have done more
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday declared a state of national calamity and vowed to mobilize assistance for victims of the worst storm to hit his presidency.
“I need to ask myself. Did the government do enough to prevent this kind of a tragedy? I don’t think I can accept that we have done everything,” Mr. Aquino told evacuees at Cagayan de Oro Central School during a lightning visit to the disaster zone four days after Tropical Storm “Sendong” struck. “I know we could have done more.”
The President himself has been criticized for attending a Christmas Party for his Presidential Security Group on Saturday as Sendong rampaged across Mindanao and the Visayas, igniting flash floods and causing death and destruction.
“My concern right now is specifically those missing,” Mr. Aquino said. “Let us exhaust all possible means to try and find all of these missing individuals,” he told national and local officials at the base of the Philippine Air Force Tactical Operations Group 10.
The President also stopped at the cities of Iligan and Dumaguete to inspect the devastation and help distribute relief goods at the evacuation centers.
“We will be assisting not only Cagayan and Iligan, but also Negros Oriental and Iloilo. We’d like to assure you that we are going to fine-tune all of the systems in place so that we can prevent a similar tragedy from happening.”
The President said the calamity funds stood at P1.17 billion. He said he declared the state of calamity to start the mechanisms from which the government could get additional relief funding.
“We can get P3 million from the (Asian Development Bank) while there is P500 million on standby that the World Bank would loan in case the funds that have long been prepared for these kinds of calamities run short,” he said. “There are also offers of help from Japan, America, Australia, Russia, China and other countries.”
Among the expected expenses are the repair of a vital bridge, which will cost P54 million; the reconstruction and replacement of some components of the water systems, P90 million; and a thousand automatic water level sensors for 18 major river basins, P150 million.
“The core shelter for both Cagayan and Iligan will be about P150 million,” President Aquino said.
“Plus, part of the reason that we’re here is really to assess the need for the houses, permanent houses. We don’t have an estimate for that yet but there’s an initial 1,000 houses earmarked for Cagayan from the (National Housing Authority),” he added.
The President said that he had formed a multiagency task force that would look into ways to improve the systems to alleviate the effects of natural disasters.
“There is also going to be a fact-finding team to determine exactly where we can still augment the systems and procedures in place so that there are no casualties of this magnitude ever again,” he said.
“I think all of us are aware exactly of certain situations that have happened, deforestation which has always been a problem,” the President said.
“We have a geo-hazard map that identified Isla De Oro as a place that will be a catch basin of floodwaters when a storm comes. Because we know the topography, we have also identified places where the waters will quickly flow,” Mr. Aquino said.
“Why were there still residents in these places?” he added. “We don’t have any intention of fixing blame at this time. But it is our obligation to find out what happened.”
Mr. Aquino said he had instructed the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police to prevent residents from returning to the danger areas—such as riverbanks.
“Going back to danger areas should no longer be permitted. I want that very clear… no settlement in portions already described as extremely dangerous …like Isla De Oro, and neighboring barangays (villages),” the President said.
“To prevent a repeat of this tragedy, we need to know where there were shortcomings, who were at fault and how these should be made accountable,” he said, adding that he had ordered Mujiv Hataman, officer in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, to stop illegal logging.
In Dumaguete City, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said a family whose home was partially damaged was eligible to get assistance worth P5,000 while families whose homes were totally damaged could get up to P70,000 each.
Soliman said the money would be taken from the P4.1-million funding assistance to be given on condition that the victims do not move back to the riverbanks. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Karen Boncocan in Manila; and Alex Pal, Inquirer Visayas
Originally posted: 11:20 am | Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
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