Aquino declares national state of calamity

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011


MANILA (Updated) -- President Benigno Aquino III declared Tuesday a national state of calamity after Tropical Storm Sendong killed hundreds, damaged houses, roads, and bridges, and left many homeless in Northern Mindanao.

The President made the announcement during his visit in Cagayan de Oro City, one of the areas badly-hit by the storm that killed almost a thousand people.

The declaration would enable the government to seek international humanitarian assistance as it deems necessary to help rebuild critical infrastructure in one of the most progressive cities in the country's second-largest island.

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A $3 million-grant from the Asian Development Bank and another $5 million from the World Bank are ready to be accessed if ever the government's calamity funds will be insufficient, Aquino said.

Countries such as Japan, United States, Russia and China are also extending assistance.

"There is no doubt that Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and other areas affected by this tragedy will recover," Aquino said in Filipino.

The state of calamity declaration would also impose an automatic price freeze on basic commodities in affected areas, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a television interview.

The price freeze may be imposed up to 60 days depending on the recommendation by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the same agency that will monitor cases of profiteering and hoarding.

Valte also said the government lending and financial institutions such as the Home Development Mutual Fund (also known as Pag-Ibig), the Government Service Insurance System, and the Social Security System can grant zero interest loans to affected residents.

The declaration would also allow the government to extend hazard allowance to public health workers and science and technological personnel who will be working in the flood-stricken areas.

The declaration will remain in effect until the President chooses to lift it, based on the recommendation from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC). The council monitors and assesses the extent of the damage caused by the typhoon.

“The lifting will also depend on how quickly the affected residents would be able to go back to their homes, how quickly we can go to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of damaged homes,” she added.

President Aquino told the officials and residents of Cagayan de Oro that the government has P1.17-billion calamity funds ready to be used to help the victims of Sendong.

Some P150 million is allocated for the automatic water level sensors in 18 major river basins that will give an early warning to people living in areas near the river.

Another P150 million has been allotted for the rehabilitation of roads and bridges damaged by the storm, Aquino added.

“We would like to assure you that we are going to fine-tune all of the systems in place so that we can prevent this tragedy from ever happening,” he said.

A fact-finding body will study which among the existing systems will have to be augmented to prevent a repeat of the disaster.

The President also ordered local officials and the Department of Public Works and Highways to assist the water district in finding ways to be able to restore water supply as soon as possible.

He also directed concerned officials to exhaust all efforts to locate the 49 persons who are still reported missing.

As several residents blamed the massive flooding to illegal logging and deforestation, President Aquino said he has ordered newly appointed officer-in-charge governor of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Mujiv Hataman to ensure that illegal loggers will not anymore cause problems to the people in Mindanao.

Another priority of the President is the relocation of families living in hazard areas particularly the Isla de Oro.

Isla de Oro is an islet at the mouth of Cagayan River that is densely populated by informal settlers who were swept away by flashfloods during the onslaught of Sendong.

Aquino said the National Housing Authority initially earmarked 1,000 houses for those who lost their homes in Cagayan de Oro.

Cagayan de Oro was earlier placed under a state of calamity through a resolution approved on Monday by the City Council through the request of Mayor Vicente Emano.

The Provincial Government of Misamis Oriental also approved on Monday an allocation of P1-million as monetary assistance for the victims in Cagayan de Oro.

President Aquino also visited Iligan City and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental where he personally assessed the extent of the damage caused by Sendong. He visited several evacuation centers to personally hear the concerns of the displaced families.

In Iligan City, the President said the National Government will provide the necessary assistance to help them in rebuilding their lives.

As additional assistance to flood victims, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman said the government also set aside a P28-million fund for cash-for-work program for Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and El Salvador City in Misamis Oriental. This program will benefit evacuees who will participate in maintenance and clean-up work at the evacuation centers.

Speaking before the locals of Iligan at the Iligan City National High School Auditorium, the President assured the typhoon victims that the National Government will provide all the necessary assistance to help them cope with the disaster.

Aquino handed over at least P11.8 million to Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz as part of the government’s assistance under the cash-for-work program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

He said the program will benefit 5,521 persons who will help in the maintenance and clean-up work in evacuation centers.

The President also turned over a notice of cash allocation (NCA) amounting to P60 million from the local government support fund, which is intended for future projects of the government in the area.

He said the National Government will work closely with Cruz and Iligan Representative Vicente Belmonte to end illegal logging and deforestation in the city.

He also assured that the government will expedite the rehabilitation and reconstruction process to help affected residents get back on their feet as soon as possible.

President Aquino then expressed his personal sympathies to those who have lost their loved ones and properties.

During the visit, the President was also joined by Soliman, Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte.

Based on the 6 a.m. report of the NDRRMC Tuesday, the number of dead from Tropical Storm Sendong has reached 957, with 1,582 injured and 49 others remain missing.

In a related development, the United States said it "stands ready to assist the Philippines," President Barack Obama on Tuesday said.

"On behalf of the American people, I wish to express my deep condolences for the tremendous loss of life and devastation caused by recent flooding in the Philippines," a statement from the White House Office of the Press Secretary said.

"In the spirit of our long history of friendship and cooperation with the Philippines, the United States stands ready to assist the Philippine people and government should humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts be needed," Obama added.

For its part, the Delegation of the European Union in the Philippines (EU) on Tuesday said it already dispatched a team of humanitarian experts on the ground "to identify specific needs" in badly-hit areas.

The team will help the EU decide on the appropriate support needed by calamity victims.

Individual EU member-states have also sent their humanitarian experts to the affected areas in order to assess the required needs.

On Monday, EU President Jose Manuel Barroso sent a letter to President Aquino, expressing his deepest condolences "to the families of all those who lost their lives in this weekend's traffic events."

"His [Barroso] sympathy goes out also to all those who have seen their homes and belongings destroyed or damaged, and who now face the difficult task of cleaning up and rebuilding their lives," the statement said.

The EU commended the Philippines' Bayanihan spirit, saying "without the efforts of all those who are supporting and helping the affected victims, whether from the civil or uniformed services, or as ordinary citizens, the losses would have been even greater."

"The forthcoming concrete support from the EU and its member-states is likely to be confirmed in the coming days," the statement said.

Meanwhile, the governments of Japan and Australia have vowed to send financial aid totaling to P69 million.

In separate statements, Japan and Australia committed to send P14 million (¥25 million) and P55 million (A$1.3 million), respectively.

“This is aimed at alleviating the difficulties of the victims, the assistance comes in the form of relief goods such as water tanks, generators, and other relief items,” said the Japanese Embassy in Manila.

The Australian Embassy in the Philippines, for its part, said it "stands ready to help Filipino families affected by this disaster get back on their feet."

Philippine Red Cross (PRC) chairperson Richard Gordon led the relief operations for the affected residents in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan City on Monday.

The PRC distributed rice, canned goods, water including containers, blankets, towels, laundry soaps, medicines and sanitary kits and kitchen utensils. At least 185 body bags were also given to the City Government.

As of December 18, the DSWD has served a total of P992,530.16 worth of family food packs, used clothing, kitchen wares, sardines, noodles and bags of rice for 31,380 families with 188,280 persons victimized by Sendong.

Donations of food and used clothing from non-government organizations, private citizens, and concerned citizens delivered to the DSWD have already reached to a total of P30,088. (Jill Beltran/CVB/AMN/Terry Betonio/Annabelle Ricalde/Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro/Sunnex)

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