LGUs, NGOs told: Work together
SAGBAYAN, Bohol—President Aquino on Thursday urged the local governments and private organizations to work together to bring relief to residents of this island province that was devastated by a 7.2-magnitude earthquake last week.
Aquino played down reports that Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. drove away Philippine Red Cross volunteers on Tuesday for refusing to turn over relief goods to the municipal government.
Aquino said the reports he had received was that Evasco was not forcing the Red Cross volunteers to turn over the relief items, but was merely asking them to coordinate their relief effort with the local government.
“Why do we need to coordinate? We should, to be sure that all people who need aid will get help. We need to have a system,” Aquino said, in effect agreeing with Evasco, who had angered the Red Cross, which wanted to ensure that the aid reached needy quake victims instead of being cornered by allies of local politicians.
Aquino told a news conference here that the system would allow local governments to bring relief to areas that had not received any help yet.
Despite a warning from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Aquino said village officials could not be excluded from relief operations because disaster councils had units up to the village level.
The Comelec said candidates in the Oct. 28 village elections should not handle relief, as that would be a violation of election laws.
But Aquino asked: Who would take over if village officials were excluded from relief operations?
The Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines cannot handle everything and may also be accused of electioneering, the President said.
Aquino explained that the structure of government involves the barangay (village) and that the first responders during calamities are the local governments, whose smallest units are the barangay.
“How can we exclude them from relief operations where they are the ones mandated by law to respond to the needs of their constituents?” Aquino said.
During the briefing in Loon town, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas ordered the police to watch out for the hoarding of relief and to check if the aid was reaching the intended beneficiaries.
Roxas told President Aquino that reports of local officials hoarding relief stocks were being verified.
But he did not identify the towns or the officials involved in hoarding.
Bohol death toll
The President and some members of the Cabinet were in Sagbayan to distribute relief and to visit areas devastated by the powerful earthquake that claimed the lives of 187 people in Bohol.
Disaster officials reported that as of 3 p.m. on Thursday, 10 people remained missing and the number of injured residents stood at 626.
Aside from Roxas, those with President Aquino during his second visit to Bohol were Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Presidential Management Staff chief Julia Andrea Abad.
Like the President, Soliman called for closer coordination between the DSWD and local governments to speed up the delivery of aid to the quake victims.
“In times of crisis, we should help one another and not engage in politics,” Soliman said at a meeting with Roxas, Evasco and Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto.
Soliman said local officials should be consulted as they knew the circumstances and needs of their constituents.
She stressed, however, that relief need not be turned over to local officials.
Soliman said that as of Thursday, 198,113 family food packs had been distributed to 39 towns and Tagbilaran City by combined teams from the DSWD, the provincial government and private groups.
Aside from food, the DSWD had also provided 153 rolls of plastic laminated tents for use as temporary shelters for evacuees in the towns of Loon, Maribojoc, Catigbian, San Isidro, Cortes, Tubigon, San Miguel, Antequerra, Dagohoy, Carmen, Batuan, Sikatuna, Sierra Bullones, Dimiao, Pilar, Bilar, Sagbayan, Corella and Trinidad.
Of the original 109 evacuation centers, she said, only 81 remain open. There are still 22 community evacuation sites, she said.
The DSWD has also issued Disaster Assistance Family Access Cards to the evacuees as reference for the provision of aid to the quake victims.—With a report from Cynthia D. Balana in Manila