DAVAO CITY, Southern Philippines –Desperation has gripped the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless and with neither food nor water by Typhoon Pablo (Bopha).
So much so that a local journalist, Nathaniel Quiñones, thought it prudent to pen a warning to colleagues planning a coverage in one of the more hard-hit areas, Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental.
“Attention media people: Kung pupunta kayo sa (If you’re planning to go to) Baganga at Cateel don’t dare bring your cameras. Ayaw nila ng (they don’t want) pictures, gusto nila ng pagkain (They want food). Bring food not cameras kung ayaw nyo batuhin kayo ng mga tao dun (if you don’t want to get assaulted),” he wrote on Facebook.
Some residents of Cateel reportedly ransacked a government warehouse and looted 17,000 bags of rice after hearing that a major bridge had collapsed from Pablo’s onslaught and that they were now cut-off from the rest Davao Oriental.
The report, plus the failure of police officials in Southern Mindanao to verify the incident, irked Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, who was here in Davao City for a briefing last Friday.
“It’s not an excuse not to know what happened in your AOR (Area of Responsibility),” Aquino said.
On Friday, Aquino also signed Proclamation No. 522 – granting his approval to a course of action recommended by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) following the typhoon.
The proclamation placed the nation under a state of national calamity to free up money to buy and deliver aid to those displaced. It also put into effect price controls on essential goods in areas affected.
NDRRMC chairman Benito Ramos said they’ve so far be able to confirm 439 dead, 445 injured and 383 still missing. He said more than five million individuals were affected by Typhoon Pablo in seven regions all over the country.
Worst hit by Pablo are Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao del Norte in the Davao Region; Surigao del Sur in the Caraga; Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao; Siquijor in Central Visayas; and, Palawan in Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan) Region.
Also during his visit here Friday, President Aquino ordered an investigation on factors that lead to so many deaths in Southern Mindanao following Typhoon Pablo.
He wants the Department of Interior and Local Government as well as the environment department and the justice department to look into illegal logging, noting that logs carried by floodwaters caused much damage in the town of New Bataan, Compostela Valley, and destroyed that bridge in Cateel, Davao Oriental.
One official had suggested to Aquino that the logs could have been uprooted by the strong water current brought by Typhoon Pablo, but President Aquino showed pictures of cut logs published in newspapers.
“Uprooted ba’ tingin nyo dito? Parang cut, eh (Do these look like they were uprooted? They look cut to me),” Aquino said.
President Aquino said the probe’s ultimate goal is to minimize if not prevent massive deaths during calamities like typhoon.
“I would like to get to the point na sigurado yung Pilipino na mabibigyan sya ng timely information, meron syang malilikasan na lugar para mailayo sya sa panganib, at mabawasan kundi tuluyang mawala yung nawawalang Pilipino kada merong natural disasters tulad nito,” he said.
(I want to get to a point where we can assure the Filipino that they will be given timely information, a safe place to evacuate to. I want to minimize, if not eliminate, the chance of people losing their lives every time a natural disaster like this comes.)
Aquino said the DILG will look into the possible failure of some public officials that led to the massive loss of lives while DOJ will look into the potential criminal and civil liability and the DENR on the necessary scientific facts for whatever conclusions are reached.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte meanwhile said that no one who would be found accountable would be spared.
He called on a similar probe in neighboring Cagayan de Oro following Typhoon Sendong in December of last year. No results were ever released.
Following the briefing, the President visited the towns of New Bataan and Cateel.
He was told during the briefing that a forced evacuation was implemented in the towns of Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental and New Bataan in Compostela Valley but the evacuation centers where the evacuees were brought were also affected by the typhoon.
In New Bataan, in particular, Aquino said the community is very near a narrow channel of the river that could easily spill over to the houses during heavy rains.
“Nakita ko na yung community dun ay masyadong malapit sa isang narrow channel that could really burst if magkaroon ng funnel effect,” the President observed.
It was learned that prior to the arrival of Typhoon Pablo, a dam caused by accumulation debris formed in an area above several barangays in New Bataan.
Authorities blamed the bursting of the dam for the flood that hit New Bataan and caused the death of so many residents.
Much of the affected areas remain without electricity. The President was informed by a representative from the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines that power may be restored by Dec. 14 only. (Ben O. Tesiorna for Pecojon.PH/knr)