‘I know your pain’

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Saturday, December 7, 2013


FIVE years after a cyclone and storm surge devastated large parts of his country, Myanmar’s President U. Thein Sein visited northern Cebu yesterday to bring aid and encourage local officials.

“I know your pain,” the president said through an interpreter.

When tropical cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in May 2008, it “destroyed our fishing boats, farming tools and our livestock were washed away,” President Thein told around 100 officials and municipal employees from Bantayan Island’s three towns.

Bantayan, one of five places where super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan made landfall last Nov. 8, has seen the kind of damage the visiting president described.

Its collapsed poultry farms and roofless houses and public buildings are part of the P35 billion in infrastructure and crops that Yolanda wiped out.

Nearly a month after the typhoon, the national disaster council reported yesterday that Yolanda’s death toll was at 5,786. At least 26,233 were injured and 1,779 remained missing. Some 872,000 families—around four million persons—were displaced from their homes.

President Thein arrived at the Mactan Cebu International Airport at 9:45 a.m. yesterday together with Agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala.

Medical team

The president formally turned over $150,000 worth of medicine, medical items and equipment to Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale at the airport. Documents submitted by Myanmar’s Embassy to the Cebu Provincial Government showed they turned over 75 cartons of medicine, plus medical equipment.

A medical team from Myanmar also arrived yesterday morning and will proceed to northern Cebu today, said Capitol Public Information Office (PIO) head Ethel Natera.

From Mactan, the president, his escort and Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III rode a blue and white helicopter with a Malacañang seal to Bantayan.

Two military helicopter escorts went with them, and the party landed in Sta. Fe around 11 a.m.

“I took this opportunity to visit your country to show our support and solidarity to your people and typhoon victims,” President Thein said.

‘Work together’

He narrated that last May 2, 2008, tropical cyclone Nargis sent a storm surge 40 kilometers into the densely populated Irrawaddy delta, killing 130,000 residents and affecting a total of 2.4 million persons.

“We also provided temporary shelters and tents to our victims, because our areas are similar to the terrain here,” he said.

Before the president’s speech, Bantayan Mayor Ian Escario, Sta. Fe Mayor Jose Esgana and Madridejos Mayor Salvador de la Fuente welcomed and thanked the visiting dignitary.

Thein was the prime minister when Nargis struck his country. He said their rehabilitation and recovery work took about a year.

He urged local officials and the people to work together, pooling the government and private sector’s resources in the reconstruction effort.

Rep. Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu Province, fourth district) said the visit was a privilege.

“It was the first time to have a president of an Asian country here in our island, as our guest,” said Mayor Esgana.

Salimbangon also urged Filipinos to support his “adopt a family program.”

Comparison

It will take P12,000 to P15,000 to rebuild a destroyed home, he said, saying that amount would be enough for a tin roof, wood, cement, nails and other construction materials.

“We will be giving the names of those who lost their homes and show pictures ‘before and now’ to show the damage,” Salimbangon said.

He said there are 68,000 destroyed houses and 40,000 damaged ones in his district, composed of eight towns and a city.

In Myanmar’s experience, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reported that they not only built more than 12,000 new homes and at least 25 new schools, among others, but also trained 4,000 persons in disaster risk reduction.

“I believe in the courage, strength and resilience of the Filipino people, and they will soon be back on their feet,” said President Thein. He and his party left Sta. Fe Airport past noon.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2013.

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