President Aquino, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II and officials of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) should be investigated and held accountable for the slow government response to the widespread calamity triggered by typhoon “Yolanda” that had resulted in a humanitarian crisis for the survivors who up to now have reported to be receiving minimal assistance despite the outpour of foreign aid.
Chapters of the fisherfolk federation Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in Yolanda devastated areas in Leyte, Samar, Northern Negros, Northern Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Antique, Guimaras, Northern Cebu, Masbate, Palawan, Mindoro Oriental and Mindoro Occidental had asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to investigate the possible criminal and civil liabilities of Aquino, Roxas and other officials involved in the relief efforts.
In a two page letter to de Lima, dated Nov. 21 coursed through email, Pamalakaya told the Justice Secretary that the letter was collectively shared and endorsed by member organizations of Pamalakaya in Leyte and Samar, Northern Negros, Northern Iloilo, Aklan, Capiz, Antique, Guimaras, Northern Cebu, Masbate, Mindoro Oriental, Mindoro Occidental and Palawan provinces.
“Madam Secretary Leila de Lima, the national leadership and mass membership Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) together with our regional and provincial chapters particularly in Leyte, Samar and other affected provinces in the Visayas and Southern Tagalog totally assert that President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, together with key officials of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) should be held accountable for the death of thousands of people and for the injury and displacement it caused to the communities and livelihood of the people, mostly farmers and fisherfolk in those affected regions and provinces across the Visayas,” Pamalakaya wrote De Lima.
The letter signed by Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France said “it is extremely unpardonable to let go the President, DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas III and their men and free them from any criminal and civil accountability despite the glaring fact that the national government is principally accountable for the devastating impact of super typhoon Yolanda due to grand display of incompetence.”
Pamalakaya noted the statements made by Aquino days before super typhoon Yolanda made her catastrophic landfalls and perfect wrath in the Visayas. According to Mr. Aquino, the national government had prepared enough contingency to deal with the super typhoon, which, experts touted as the strongest storm ever to be recorded in recent history.
“Madam Secretary, the President in a national address assured the public of the government’s readiness to face super typhoon “Yolanda” which will directly hit Samar and Leyte at midnight of November 7. In a televised speech, the Chief Executive Aquino told the general public that the country’s C130 aircrafts are fully mission capable to respond to those in need, adding that 32 airplanes and helicopters from the Air Force are on standby together with the Philippine Navy’s 20 ships which are positioned in Cebu, Bicol, Cavite and Zamboanga,” France said.
France argued that the President also mentioned available relief goods, which he said, were pre-positioned in many of the areas expected to be affected by the super typhoon and that councils and committees of the NDRRMC both at the national and local levels were activated to mitigate the effects of the typhoon.
“Honorable Secretary, these assurances of President Aquino pertaining to government readiness never happened in the immediate aftermath of typhoon Yolanda. The aircrafts were nowhere in sight. The 32 airplanes and helicopters never came in the first week chaotic week of after typhoon Yolanda. The ships carrying loads of relief goods only came nearly more than a week after the perfect storm. Everything the President promised was a 99 percent failure,” the group said.
Pamalakaya said a full-blown investigation on the possible criminal and civil liabilities committed by the President and his men in dealing with the national disaster in Eastern Visayas and 34 more provinces. The group insisted that the President and other concerned government officials will have to be investigated and properly held accountable for the loss of lives that is now pegged by the national disaster agency to more than 5,000 lives, for the injury of 18,557 individuals, for the missing 1,602 people and for more than 2. 145 million families or more than 9 million individuals displaced.
“If not for the government’s sheer incompetence and insensibility, the damage to local agriculture (Php 10.45 billion) and to local infrastructure (P1.7 billion) as of November 20 could have been minimized,” the group lamented.
Prior to typhoon Yolanda, the situation of the people in Eastern Visayas, the most devastated region is deplorable. Region VIII which compromises the provinces of Samar and Leyte ranks the 3rd poorest region in the Philippines as of 2013. Another region hit, Western Visayas that include Negros, Panay and Guimaras islands, has a poverty incidence of 24.7 percent and unemployment rate of 27.8 percent.
Pamalakaya further stressed the environmental catastrophe and the chaotic social situation in Eastern Visayas and other affected communities stemmed from the poor disaster preparedness and climate change mitigation program of the national government. On the other hand, the natural defense capacity of the region and other affected areas were diminished and destroyed by various government projects like eco-tourism projects, export-oriented industries, large-scale reclamation and massive black sand mining.
Pamalakaya said the DoJ should also look into the possible implication of massive blacksand mining in Eastern Visayas, which it said could have something to do with the loss of natural defense barriers in coastal villages of the region.
It said black sand mining is all over Samar and Leyte ( about 117 black sand mining applications are now pending before the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources) have destroyed the natural defense barriers of the region against storm surge and climate change.
Aside from magnetite mining, the seemingly unstoppable big time operations of corporate owned logging syndicates further led to environmental deterioration and disarray of the region.
The World Bank, meanwhile, added $480 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, taking to nearly $1 billion its support as the death toll from Yolanda passed 5,200.
World Bank President Jim Yong Kim made the pledge, added to $500 million committed Monday, in a phone call with Aquino, the development lender said.
The new money will be provided through the bank’s existing Community Driven Development Project for the Philippines, which will alow localities to tap the funds for their own rebuilding projects.
“The project will empower communities themselves to lead the reconstruction effort, by offering a transparent way for people to identify their own needs,” the bank said in a statement.
The Bank has already deployed disaster specialists to Manila to help the government assess the damages and identify rebuilding priorities in the wake of the storm, which blasted through the center of the country on November 8, flattening entire communities and leaving up to four million people displaced.
Early estimates by analysts of the typhoon’s economic cost to the Philippines have been put at around $14 billion.
While the World Bank had scaled up its support to the typhoon victims, the US military is scaling back its emergency relief operations.
The US Navy has pulled out its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, but still has ten C-130 aircraft delivering relief supplies. Last week, the United States had 50 ships and aircraft in the disaster zone.
Jeremy Konyndyk, director for Foreign Disaster Assistance at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), said the US military had started to reduce its presence to allow civilian aid agencies to step up efforts. “What we have seen, particularly over the past week, is now civilian and private-sector commercial capacity has started coming back up again and that is taking the burden off of the military actors,” Konyndyk said. “You don’t want the military playing that role in the long run, they are an interim bridging capacity there, but in the long run, that really needs to be civilian role,” he added.
Konyndyk said there had been significant progress in meeting people’s basic needs as more roads and ports opened in the worst-hit Leyte and Samar islands. “Food has been distributed to 3 million people, shelter kits have been delivered to tens of thousands of families. I think the situation with immediate humanitarian needs is becoming stabilised.”
Aid delivery was gathering pace as access to affected areas improved, the UN humanitarian office said it its latest report. However, major issues remained including the distribution of food and access to clean water and shelter material.
Presidential deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said Aquino was able to talk with the different foreign leaders who signified support for the rehabilitation efforts.
“And I understand that the World Bank president had also offered an additional financial assistance from World Bank to help communities to lead in the reconstruction efforts,” Valte said.
“The President was able to speak to a number of world leaders yesterday by phone. Among them was President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and as well as the President of the World Bank, Mr. Jim Yong Kim,” Valte said.
Valte said Aquino related that himself and the Filipino people “are very thankful for all the expressions of solidarity by our neighboring countries”.
Valte said Aquino was saying that the foreign leaders have all been quick to offer their help.
“The President did mention that it matters because it’s important for us as a people at this time to know that our neighbors are here and that our neighbors are helping us and that there will be other nations who will be rooting for our recovery,” Valte said.
Valte claimed that the Philippine embassies abroad are receiving calls for pledges from organizations to individuals.
“Our embassies have been getting flooded with calls from foreign volunteers,” Valte said.
Valte said an influx of foreign volunteers have arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) who have been asking to be allowed to go to Samar-Leyte.
“In fact, they had to set up a special desk, specifically for foreign volunteers, so their needs can be addressed,” Valte said.
Budget secretary Florencio Abad had launched a website where foreign donations can be viewed, cash or in kind.
Valte said the administration would have to advise the Filipino diplomats assigned in the embassies abroad to reach out to the Filipino communities.
Valte also said that the administration is receptive on the statement of the United Nations representative, “because, really, the government is doing what it can given its limitations”.
Valte assured the typhoon victims that even if Interior secretary Mar Roxas had declared that “the worst is over”, they would not be left behind by the government.