Palace counters ‘Yolanda’ critics
Malacañang on Saturday pushed back against persistent reports of not enough being done for the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), directing critics to official records to see how much the government has done in rebuilding and rehabilitation two years after the strongest typhoon on record devastated Eastern Visayas.
Leyte province, which took the brunt of the devastation, marks the second anniversary of Yolanda on Sunday with the opening of a memorial park in Tacloban built to remember the thousands who perished and the lighting of 50,000 candles on a 22-kilometer route through the streets of the city and three nearby towns.
Also to be unveiled in Tacloban today is a marker on the spot on the airport tarmac where Pope Francis stood on Jan. 17 to deliver his message of mercy and compassion to 200,000 typhoon survivors and pilgrims.
Speaking on state-run radio, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said President Benigno Aquino III’s “meticulous attention” to details ensured the accomplishment of rebuilding and rehabilitation plans, making the Philippine response better than those of other countries that had suffered similar disasters.
Valte said all concerns about rehabilitation reached the President.
“That is why every time the President calls for a Yolanda rehabilitation-related meeting, all data are shown [to him] and the President is not content with just the data. He doesn’t just accept numbers if he sees there is something wrong or insufficient,” Valte said.
The President, she said, wants agencies connected with any rehabilitation plan to be able to fully explain to him the status of every project.
The administration has found itself in the hot seat in the days leading to the second anniversary of Yolanda, which left more than 6,300 people dead and rendered 4.1 million others homeless in the Visayas.
To this day, more than 1,000 people remain missing.
Critics of the administration claim slow rehabilitation efforts. Two years after Yolanda, tens of thousands of survivors remain in temporary shelters, still waiting for the government to deliver on its promise of permanent homes for them.
But Valte said the Aquino administration had done quite better than even the US government, which continues to grapple 10 years after Hurricane “Katrina,” which sank New Orleans and caused severe devastation in states along the Gulf of Mexico, from Florida to Texas.
“Even a country [that] is considered First World like the United States was struggling [with] post-Katrina rehab and I believe Yolanda was even stronger. So even multilateral agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank have pitched in for the rehab efforts, and they themselves say that we are making good progress in our rebuilding efforts,” Valte said.
See Official Gazette
For good measure, Valte directed critics of the rebuilding and rehabilitation program to the Official Gazette, available online.
The Gazette says that, among other things, 96 percent of the 1.02 million families with damaged homes have benefited from the emergency shelter assistance (ESA) program.
Of the nearly 14,000 subprojects that include construction and repair of roads, community centers, and buildings, installation of a flood and river management system, and restoration of electricity, 2,887 have been completed.
As of Oct. 14, according to the Gazette, the construction of 2,315 transitional shelters in Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Western Samar has been completed with the assistance of private groups, among them Operations Blessings, Catholic Relief Services, Operations Compassion and Oxfam.
The shelters serve a total of 1,576 families or 7,302 people.
According to the Gazette, “the National Housing Authority (NHA), which is tasked with the construction of permanent houses for Yolanda victims, has completed 17,641 units while 41,566 units are [under construction].”
More than 900 units have been turned over to families in Tanauan and Tacloban City, Leyte. A total of 92,544 housing units are to be completed by next month.
On comments that the Aquino administration could not take criticism of its rehabilitation efforts, Valte said President Aquino and his team were not “onion-skinned.”
“When we are asked [questions about the rehabilitation], we say that [the] government does everything, especially for our countrymen who are on the fringes of society. All one has to do is to look at the national budget and to look at our budget proposals that have been affirmed by Congress and see that the biggest programs of the Aquino administration are for the marginalized sector of society,” Valte said.
Yolanda memorial park
“If we are callous, we aren’t the ones who were seen at the mall after the tragedy,” she added, referring to politicians who claim they immediately responded to Yolanda, outdoing the government.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez dared President Aquino to come to Tacloban and verify his data.
“We invite the President to come down and see for himself if he or his bosses are satisfied with the data,” Romualdez said in a text message.
In Tacloban, the Yolanda “memorial park” located in the compound of Tacloban Convention Center, will be opened at 8:45 a.m. Sunday after a Mass that will be celebrated by Archbishop John Du.
Thousands of people sought shelter in the convention center after Yolanda flattened Tacloban on Nov. 8, 2013.
The Yolanda memorial park, which sits on a 225-square-meter plot at the convention center compound, will serve as the center of activities on every anniversary of the devastation, according to Dionisio de Paz, Tacloban city engineer.
The names of 2,300 people who perished in the typhoon are inscribed on plant boxes placed around the park.
De Paz said the city council would pass an ordinance designating the place as Yolanda memorial park.
The city government spent P5 million to build the memorial, which was completed this week in time for the second anniversary of Yolanda.
At the center of the park is a 7-meter steel marker shaped like the number 8, indicating the date when the typhoon struck and representing the storm surge that devastated the city.
At the center of the marker is a representation of Earth, meant to “gently remind” people that the planet is their only home and that they should protect it to prevent natural disasters.
The park is the second memorial to Yolanda victims in Tacloban.
The first is the memorial park in Barangay 68 in Anibong district where the bow of the ship that was beached during the typhoon is the centerpiece.
At least 11 people were killed when the MV Eva Jocelyn, a 3,000-ton cargo ship carrying 14,000 sacks of cement, rammed 14 houses in the village as it was thrown ashore by storm surge.
Santo Niño image
At the Tacloban international airport, an image of the Senior Santo Niño de Tacloban that was blessed by Pope Francis will be displayed during the unveiling of the papal Mass marker in the afternoon.
In a statement, Representative Romualdez, a Catholic, said he carried the image to Rome to have it blessed by the Pope during an audience arranged by the Philippine Embassy.
A chapel will be built in the new terminal building at the airport to house the image, Romualdez said.
On Jan. 17, Pope Francis braved an approaching storm to visit Tacloban and say Mass for 200,000 Yolanda survivors and pilgrims.
It was the first papal Mass to be said at an airport and the first to be celebrated by Francis wearing a raincoat.
Msgr. Alex Opiniano, a former parish priest at Santo Niño Church in Tacloban who was privy to the preparations for the Pope’s visit to the city, said the raincoats, in the Vatican’s colors, worn by Francis and his entourage in Tacloban and at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila were given free to the pilgrims, police, military and volunteers.
“We were moved and deeply inspired by Congressman Martin’s tireless support and generosity in a providential display of his signature compassion for the attendees during the stormy papal visit,” Opiniano said in a statement.
He said that in addition to the raincoats, Romualdez also footed the bill for the food given to the thousands of police, military and Presidential Security Group personnel and volunteers, as well as the sound system, the LED video walls, generator sets and portalets in the new apron of the airport.
Romualdez said the observance of Yolanda’s second anniversary provided Leyte residents with an opportunity to begin the difficult process of moving on.
“Even as we mourn the loss of our friends and loved ones, as we remember Yolanda, let our experience be a reminder to celebrate life and new beginnings,” Romualdez said.
At 6 p.m., Archbishop Du will lead the lighting of 50,000 candles along the streets of Tacloban and the towns of Palo, Tanauan and Tolosa, a stretch of 22 kilometers.
Du will join Opiniano for the ceremony in Tolosa, where Opiniano is the parish priest.
Jude Acidre, a member of the candle lighting movement, urged residents along the route to join the ceremony to honor and remember those who perished in Yolanda.
Candles will also be lighted at the mass graves in Barangay San Joaquin in Palo and in Barangay Calogcog in Tanauan.
People living outside Tacloban can join the commemoration through a web page created by the organizers. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan
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