PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has instructed the Office of the Civil Defense to review the earthquake disaster preparedness program of the Philippines.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde issued the statement on Thursday in light of the massive earthquake that devastated the impoverished Carribean country Haiti Wednesday (Manila time) where thousands of people are feared dead.

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Remonde said it is timely that the earthquake preparedness be reviewed since the country is in the Pacific Ring of Fire, area of frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

“In view of what happened to Haiti and considering that the Philippines is also in the so called Pacific Ring of Fire and have vulnerability to such kind of tragedy, we need to review our earthquake preparedness so the President, in fact, instructed the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) and other related agencies to also really review our earthquake disaster preparedness.”

The Palace official added that one of the programs needs to be reinforced is regular earthquake drill in private and public establishments.

Pinoy heroes

In line with this, Remonde commended the Philippine peace mission in Haiti, citing that even if they were also victims of the tragedy, they have prioritized the search and rescue operations of people trapped in collapsed buildings.

“We commend the bravery exhibited by our soldiers and policemen in Haiti that despite the fact their quarters were stuck by earthquake, they are still active in the rescue operations,” said Remonde.

He said the government is proud that Filipinos have again showed to the world that they are dependable in any circumstances.

“We are very proud of them and they have demonstrated again, Filipinos are really people who even other nationals could rely on. So we really commend them.”

The government has been continuously communicating with its foreign counterparts to ensure the welfare of about 500 Filipinos in Haiti.

Also, Foreign Affairs spokesman Ed Malaya said the Philippine ambassador to Cuba, MacArthur Corsino, was instructed to form a consular team that will proceed to Haiti as soon as possible.

Deputy Presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar said although there are still problems in getting into Haiti following the damage in an airport in Port Au Prince - capital of Haiti, the Philippine contingent is still trying their best to enter the devastated country and ensure no Filipinos were hurt or killed.

“Also, a task force within the peacekeeping contingent in Haiti has been activated and is now doing search and rescue for Filipinos in Haiti. Ambassador Corsino will coordinate with the task force,” he added.

Remonde further said that President Arroyo instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and UN ambassador former chief justice Hilario Davide to communicate with the UN peacekeeping headquarters in Haiti to ensure the safety of Filipinos reportedly trapped following the earthquake.

Repatriation

Asked if the government is considering for repatriation for almost 500 Filipinos in Haiti, Olivar said they will consider it depending on the condition of those who were injured and needing help.

He said the Philippines has not committed aid for Haiti yet since the United States has been taking an active role in assisting Haitians.

“We’re focused first on looking after the welfare of our people — both the civilians and the peacekeepers there… We will most likely consider how we can participate in that aid effort as well,” he said.

Remonde assured that the country will be responsible and responsive in sending help to Haiti.

The Armed Forces reported Thursday that one of the four Filipino peacekeepers who were trapped inside collapsed buildings in Haiti was rescued.

In a press briefing, AFP public affairs office chief Romeo Brawner said Cpl. David Catacutan was retrieved with only bruises at the basement gym of the Montana Hotel at Port Au Prince around 11:30 a.m.

The rescue of Catacutan brings to only three the remaining Filipino peacekeepers trapped in collapsed buildings.

They are DP3 Perlie Panangui, a clerk at the office of the Force Commander; Sgt. Janice Arocena, a clerk at the Chief of Staff, Central Registry; and Sgt. Eustacio Bermudez, a clerk at the Conduct and Discipline Unit/Force Provo Martial. (Jill Beltran/Sunnex)