Aquino back to Ground Zero on Saturday
President Benigno Aquino III will return to Ground Zero of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” on Saturday to reassure the millions of hungry, homeless and despondent residents of Tacloban City that his administration has not abandoned them.
The President made this announcement during a surprise visit to three repacking centers in Metro Manila on Thursday night, where he called on the Filipinos’ spirit of volunteerism to get more volunteers to contribute their resources and time in feeding the 270,000 families solely dependent on the government for their survival.
Mr. Aquino, who visited Tacloban City two days after one of the world’s strongest typhoons tore through central Philippines, said he would return on Saturday “to show our kababayan (countrymen) that we have not abandoned them, to ease their tension and end their desperation”.
In a speech at the Fort Bonifacio Philippine Army Headquarters in Taguig City, the President cheered on the volunteers.
“If you are not here, all of these [donations] will only pile up. Any delay will be an added burden to them. I am thankful for your help. Please remember that each food pack you finish will help one family get through two days,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said there was not enough manpower to sort out and prepare the food packs. A bag of food is enough to sustain a family of five for at least two days but it takes at least two days to bring these relief items to the victims.
He said the five repacking centers were churning out 140,000 food packs each day to meet the estimated 275,000 families, or roughly 1.4 million individuals, who probably had no one but the government to depend on for food, water and shelter for the next few months.
The President said the country needed volunteers whom he described as a key cog in the government’s efforts to speed up the distribution of relief goods by fine-tuning the supply delivery, repacking system and transport schedule.
He said the lack of communication had compounded the feeling of hopelessness of the victims in the devastated areas.
“No electricity, no communication, no TV, no radio, no newspaper. People there, such as those in the 40 towns of Leyte, have not received any information [or government help], so they are overcome with fear,” said Mr. Aquino.
“Where are we going? Who are we going to approach? I plan to go back by Saturday and I hope that we can completely meet all of their daily needs because we cannot solve their problems quickly, since all of them have lost their homes. We are not only talking of months if we plan to restore all their homes,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said it would take until the middle of December (“and that involves prayers”) before power could be restored in the region, as 100 power transmission towers were destroyed, the geothermal power plant in Leyte province was damaged and the power link between Luzon and the Visayas was severed.
“Just imagine if you are there, you have no electricity, no food and no immediate solution to your problem. That is why I am asking that we hasten our preparations to speed up the transfer of these goods because anybody in their place can get desperate and that is what we want to avoid,” he said.
“We have heard about the looting. If they become more desperate, the situation will only get worse,” he said.
LGUs giving up
He said that while individuals had come forward to help from all over the country, he could not blame some local government units (LGUs)—the front-lines in the state’s disaster preparedness—for “giving up” because of the enormous task they are facing.
“We are supposed to depend on the local government because they have the barangays, they know their people, they know who needs the most help. But there was one who told us in my visit [last Sunday] that they could not do it anymore and they have passed it on to us. So this is the first time [the national government] has no help in some areas because the officials and members themselves suffered deaths and have to address their own families’ needs, and this has complicated our situation,” Mr. Aquino said.
The goal was to help get the typhoon victims back on their feet so they could reclaim their lives on their own, he said.
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