Tuesday, 29 September 2009

International and local assistance starts pouring in for flood victims

AFP, B. U. Allauigan, J. F. S. Valdez, G. P. Alba, D. T. Wee, V. B. Ramos and J. A. D. Hermosa

THE INTERNATIONAL community on Monday rushed aid to disaster-struck Philippines, where at least 100 people have been killed and nearly half a million displaced by freak floods brought by tropical storm Ondoy (international code name: Ketsana).

The United States, China, Japan, Singapore and United Nations agencies raised funds for relief work and to get the capital’s broken health infrastructure working again.

Washington sent $50,000 for the relief efforts, China pitched in $10,000, while Singapore raised $30,000 and a further $20,000 in seed money to jump-start a donations drive by the Red Cross.

US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney yesterday said the additional $50,000 in "immediate disaster relief assistance" will come from the US Agency for International Development, bringing the total donation to $100,000 (P4.73 million).

The assistance will be given to the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), the US embassy said in a statement yesterday.

In addition, US Navy personnel are assisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines with search and rescue efforts in Cainta and Pasig, the US embassy said.

Tokyo, meanwhile, said it would send $220,000 worth of relief goods to the Philippines, where rescue and emergency workers and the health infrastructure have been overwhelmed by the flooding.

In a letter to the Philippines, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuyo Okada expressed his "heartfelt sympathy" for the loss of life and serious damage to infrastructure in Metro Manila and other regions.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and destruction to property caused by the storm that swept through the central Philippines over the weekend," added Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, said those crammed into evacuation centers were at risk of water- and airborne diseases.

"There is also a greater risk of acute respiratory infection and injuries, [and] wound infection from doing repairs after the floods," the agency said as it announced a $42,000 relief fund.

"Health care management is also a priority," it said, while noting that public and private hospitals were flooded and many have become inaccessible.

"Many hospital staff were not able to report for work because of the impact of the floods on their own families and homes," the WHO said.

For its part, humanitarian agency World Vision said it had begun distributing relief packs by helicopter and was assisting the Philippine Coast Guard.

It said it planned to raise about $2 million and was appealing for more funds from its donors.

Senate action

In the Senate, a total of P1.5 million will be donated to the victims of the deluge.

The money will be turned over equally or P500,000 each to the ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc., GMA Kapuso Foundation and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC), Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said yesterday.

In addition to the financial aid, the Senate yesterday approved Senate Resolution 1378 that seeks to enjoin all 23 senators to donate at least P1 million of their priority development assistance fund or "pork barrel" for relief efforts.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the economic affairs committee and author of the resolution, said in a statement: "The most kickback-prone projects from pork barrels are those involving public works. In this case, we will make sure that there will be full disclosure of the disbursement of the funds for the benefit of the victims of the storm Ondoy."

For his part, Senator Edgardo J. Angara, chairman of the finance committee, said the Senate will approve a supplemental budget for the calamity if the House of Representatives from which all appropriations measures emanate will approve it.

"There’s no request yet... But we will fast-track it once we receive it," Mr. Angara told reporters.

He said there was no ballpark figure for the supplemental budget, but noted a provision for purchase of rubber boats and rescue vessels should be included.

House leaders were unavailable for comment.

Palace relief center

As this developed, Malacañang will be opened to become an evacuation and relief center for storm victims, Palace officials said yesterday.

Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita said in a briefing: "The middle front of Malacañang Kalayaan building. That is where we can allow people to be entering. We’ll be setting up tents in front of the Mabini building."

Mr. Ermita said that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the First Family was set to move out of their official residence and stay in Bahay Pangarap across Pasig River for an indefinite period for the full use of Malacañang as relief center.

In addition, Press Secretary Cerge M. Remonde said Malacañang shall also serve as a drop-off point for relief goods and donations.

Other relief good centers are the National Relief Operations Center between the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) 1 and 2 near the Air Transport Office in Pasay City; central office of the Social Welfare department across Batasan Road in Diliman, Quezon City; and the National Capital Region Crisis Intervention Unit in Legarda, Manila.

For her part, Deputy Presidential Spokesman Lorelei C. Fajardo said in a separate radio interview: "The President gave a directive to convert Heroes Hall in Malacañang to become the central emergency center — the center of relief operations. There would be a Cabinet meeting today to be done in the NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) office to discuss relief operations."

In the Palace briefing, Deputy Presidential Spokesman and NDCC Deputy Administrator Anthony T. Golez, Jr. said the Cabinet meeting would discuss the probability of extending the two-day suspension of classes in Metro Manila and neighboring Rizal province ordered by Defense Secretary and NDCC Administrator Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. which ends today.

Marikina Mayor Marides C. Fernando yesterday said classes in the city are suspended for one week.

Local aid

In Mindanao, producers of canned sardines based in Zamboanga City are sending over their products to Luzon for flood victims.

William Tiu Lim, president of Mega Fishing Corp., said his company has initially distributed 200 cases of sardines to private groups since Saturday.

"One cargo container of sardine-in-a-pouch from Zamboanga will be sent as soon as possible to Manila," Mr. Lim, who is currently in Indonesia for a business trip, told BusinessWorld in a text message.

Edgar B. Lim, manager of Permex, an exporter of canned sardines and tuna, said sardines manufacturers are consolidating food items that would be shipped to Metro Manila.

He told BusinessWorld local manufacturers’ efforts to distribute food suffered delays since most of their warehouses in Metro Manila were also submerged.

Zamboanga City’s sardines manufacturers control roughly 90% of the domestic market.

For its part, the disaster coordinating council of Misamis Oriental is mobilizing the province’s contribution of relief goods to the flood victims.

"We will be shipping relief goods on Wednesday night through Negros Navigation," said Misamis Oriental provincial disaster coordinator Teddy Sabuga-a.

For its part, Makati City has released P15 million for the purchase of relief goods. Mayor Jejomar C. Binay said in a statement.

The Quezon City council also passed a resolution to aid victims in at least 53 barangays. The police said 45 people died from the flood in Barangay Silangan in Quezon City.

"The city council passed a resolution to aid the victims of the tropical storm. However, the amount of calamity fund to be released is still unspecified because we have to assess first the extent of the damage," Majority Floor Leader Councilor Antonio E. Inton, Jr. said in a phone interview.

"This has been certified as urgent by Mayor [Feliciano R.] Belmonte [Jr.]," he added.

Court postponement

At the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno has suspended proceedings and work in courts in flood-hit areas such as Malabon, Pasig, Marikina cities in Metro Manila and Cainta, San Mateo and Antipolo City in Rizal.

In a statement, Mr. Puno said the concerned executive judges and presiding judges of these courts will determine when to reopen sessions. They were also asked to report the condition of their courts to Court Administrator Jose P. Perez.

In another memorandum, Mr. Puno also ordered the Associate Justices and Chiefs of Office and Services of the Supreme Court; the presiding justices of the Court of Appeals, Sandiganbayan, Court of Tax Appeals; as well as the presiding judges of lower courts from Regional Trial Courts down to the Municipal Circuit Trial Courts to relax the rules on attendance.

They were also asked to consider the absences and tardiness of employees as well as litigants on account of Ondoy.

Mr. Puno also postponed today the second part of the oral arguments on the revenue share case in the Camago-Malampaya natural gas reservoir. He has yet to give another schedule.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Bar Confidant also assured Bar examinees who lost their permits due to Ondoy that they do not need to reapply for new permits.

The high court had suspended the last day of Bar examinations on Sept. 27. The exams were moved to Oct. 4.

Meanwhile, a two-day conference that would have gathered private sector recommendations on how to implement the recently passed National Tourism Policy Act has been postponed as organizers have decided to focus on relief operations.

The event, dubbed the National Tourism Dialog, had earlier been slated for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. No new dates were provided.

"Following the aftermath of Ondoy which brought unprecedented flooding and damage throughout Metro Manila, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce (PCCI) and German Technical Cooperation have jointly decided to reschedule the conference to a later date. This is in the interest of focusing resources and efforts to assisting those adversely affected by the typhoon and supporting the initiatives of the PCCI and the government to deliver rescue and relief operations," PCCI tourism committee chairman Samie Lim said in a statement yesterday.

Private and public sector leaders had originally been scheduled to discuss topics such as tourism standards, financing, investment incentives and tourism zones, and promotions strategies, at the event. A compilation of recommendations for the new tourism law would have been presented to government at the event’s culmination. —

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