Thursday, 22 October 2009

Preparing for the worst

Better late than … PNP now has 75 rubber boats
By Marlon Ramos, Jocelyn Uy, Melvin Gascon
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer Northern Luzon

MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine National Police Wednesday sent out a fleet of newly purchased rubber boats not for its antiterrorism campaign, but to aid northern Luzon provinces in preparations for the onslaught of Typhoon “Ramil” (international codename: Lupit).

Smarting from criticism of the government’s mediocre response to the devastation caused by Tropical Storms “Ondoy” (international codename: Ketsana) and “Pepeng” (Parma), Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno ordered the immediate deployment of 11 rubber boats to flood-ravaged villages.

“We pray of course that this typhoon will not cause too much damage to our communities in the north, but we have to always be prepared to do what is necessary to save lives,” Puno said at the official turnover of the watercraft at the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Mainly used by the military and the police in sea patrol operations, the rubber boats were utilized in rescuing residents from flooded communities when Ondoy battered Metro Manila and Pepeng pummeled northern Luzon a few weeks ago.

75 PNP rubber boats in all

Puno said the PNP bought a total of 75 rubber boats to bolster the capability of police units to respond to emergency rescue situation.

“It was a matter of great pride for all of us when in the past calamities that we faced, our people saw that it was our PNP men and women who were at the forefront to save our people,” he said.

Director Luizo Ticman, chief of the PNP Directorate for Logistics, said the rubber boats would be issued to the PNP Special Action Force and Maritime Group.

He said 75 additional rubber boats would be delivered to other police units in the next two to three weeks.

Ticman said the acquisition of the watercraft was part of the procurement of P1.5 billion worth of patrol and armored vehicles, firearms and special equipment.

Third US ship

Bolstering the country’s disaster preparedness was the arrival of a third US ship Wednesday.

The USS Denver, an amphibious response vessel that just arrived from a major relief effort in earthquake-stricken Indonesia, will provide the government extra manpower and equipment in rescue and relief operations when Ramil hits northern Luzon, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

The USS Denver will bring to more than 70 the number of aircraft and rubber boats the United States can dispatch to northern Luzon, said the NDCC spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres Jr.

“Collectively, there will be more than 50 US aircraft, mostly choppers, and over 20 inflatable boats that will be available,” Torres said, citing the two other US vessels that have been in the country following the back-to-back storms that killed more than 850 people.

Earlier, the US Marines and sailors had been sent to the country on the USS Harpers Ferry and USS Tortuga to help in the relief mission when Ondoy dumped record rainfall on Metro Manila on Sept. 26 and Pepeng barreled through mountainous provinces in northern Luzon a few days later.


The USS Harpers Ferry is currently docked in Palawan while the other vessel is moored at the Manila Bay. The third amphibious vessel was expected to arrive in Subic Wednesday.

“The help coming from the US Armed Forces is still in line with our earlier request for manpower and equipment and it is still in effect,” Torres pointed out.

After almost a week of preparations for Ramil, Torres said the NDCC had carried out the pre-positioning of the bulk of food items and life-sustaining equipment to provinces vulnerable to flooding and landslides.

More than 100,000 pounds of relief items such as family food packs, water jugs, used clothing and sleeping mats have been transferred from Metro Manila to various locations in northern Luzon since Saturday.

“The NDCC has done everything possible to prepare for the typhoon and mitigate its impact,” Torres said.

10 villages evacuated

In Tuguegarao City, local governments have started evacuating residents in coastal villages in 10 of Cagayan’s 29 towns ahead of the expected landfall of Ramil.

In a press briefing, Cagayan Gov. Alvaro Antonio said evacuation started on Wednesday morning in the northern towns of Santa Ana, Gonzaga, Santa Teresita, Buguey, Aparri, Abulug, Pamplona, Ballesteros, Claveria, and Santa Praxedes.

The Provincial Disaster Coordinating Council (PDCC) reported having stocked 3,812 packs of relief goods at the Lallo sub-capitol for distribution to people in evacuation centers, while 11,000 packs more were ready for release at the PDCC headquarters in the city.

Disregard boundaries

In the same briefing, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro told disaster management officials about a national government order to disregard regional boundaries to fast-track rescue and relief efforts in disaster-hit areas.

He cited the case of Cagayan Valley, which has to extend services to the provinces of Apayao and Kalinga in the Cordillera Administrative Region because of its better access to these areas than the regional center based in Baguio City.

Teodoro said he had ordered disaster response officials in Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon to jointly manage the 50-km stretch of the Nueva Vizcaya-Nueva Ecija Road, which has been a perennial site of road closures in recent weeks due to landslides.

Teodoro’s final check

Teodoro, along with officials of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), arrived in Tuguegarao for a one-hour briefing to conduct a “final checkup” of preparations for Ramil.

Antonio, the Cagayan PDCC chair, said at least 10 rescue teams from the province’s Rescue 29, as well as those from the Philippine Army, the Coast Guard and the PNP had been readied for deployment at the PDCC command center at the provincial capitol and at the sub-capitol in Lallo.

Trucks, choppers on standby

The PDCC also sent all of its 35 dump trucks, while the Army’s 501st Infantry Brigade made available 35 trucks and speed boats for transport of people and canned goods, noodles, bottled water, candles, and used clothing.

In Isabela province, the Department of Education suspended classes in elementary and high schools until Oct. 23 due to Ramil.

Two Philippine Air Force helicopters are on standby in Cauayan City for transport of people and goods, said Col. Joven Ronan, PAF Tactical Operations Group 2 commander based in the city.

In Santiago City, aside from putting up the city’s disaster preparedness team, Mayor Amelita Navarro has resorted to a prayer campaign to “shoo away Ramil.”

With a report from Villamor Visaya Jr., Inquirer Northern Luzon

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