CAUAYAN CITY, Isabela, Philippines – President Aquino yesterday led officials in relief operations here and assured residents more aid and relief would be coming to areas devastated by typhoon “Juan.”
Mr. Aquino arrived here to inspect the coastal areas that suffered extensive damage from the typhoon.
Officials led by Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Isabela Gov. Faustino Dy briefed the President on the extent of the damage in the region.
Dy said residents in the coastal towns of Maconacon, Palanan and Divilacan had suffered massive damage to their homes and were left with limited food supplies after huge waves washed away roads.
He added Isabela has already lost P1.2 billion in agricultural produce based on initial damage assessments.
Typhoon Juan (international codename “Megi”) smashed into mostly farming and fishing areas of Northern Luzon with gusts of 260 kilometers per hour (kph) on Monday.
Officials said three million residents of Isabela and areas in Cagayan were the worst hit.
Juan, described as the strongest Pacific storm in recent history, left the Philippines yesterday after lingering for over a day in the South China Sea, and headed to southern China.
Juan has already wreaked havoc in the Philippines, killing 19 people and leaving relief workers scrambling to deliver aid to remote towns in Isabela and Cagayan.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the death toll from Juan increased to 19 with 28 others injured.
The initial estimate of damage to property was at P4.771 billion, including P4.767 billion in agriculture and P4.22 million in infrastructure, the NDRRMC said.
Even as disaster officials scrambled to deliver aid to the areas devastated by Juan, preparations are being made for another potential typhoon expected to hit the country on the weekend.
The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) said they are monitoring the tropical depression developing in the Pacific Ocean near Saipan.
Pagasa officer-in-charge Graciano Yumul said three international weather agencies came out with different forecasts for the new weather disturbance.
“Based on the forecast of Japan, it will move closer to Northern Luzon but will recurve toward Japan. The forecast of Taiwan, on the other hand, showed that it will hit Bicol on Thursday. But the US forecast said it will dissipate. So we really have to monitor it,” Yumul said.
Yumul, however, said two of the three weather agencies predicted the new weather disturbance would enter the country on the weekend.
Yumul said the new storm would be named “Katring” once it enters the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR).
“With regard to its track, we will know more of that next week,” Yumul said.
Pagasa said the new cyclone is likely to enter PAR late Saturday.
Only in extreme cases
President Aquino, on the other hand, called on local officials to be wise in availing of their calamity fund allotments.
Mr. Aquino reminded local officials here that there are procedures to be followed to avail of the calamity funds as well as the manner to utilize them.
“Access to calamity funds must only be available if there is really a calamity. If it is not an emergency area, any releases should be through the (General Appropriations Act or the National Budget),” Mr. Aquino said.
The President also pointed out the calamity funds of the national government have practically been used up even before typhoon Juan hit the country.
“It’s probably between 95 to 97 percent used up. Our only solution for this is if Congress releases any supplemental budget (for the purpose),” he said.
The President said typhoon-hit areas like Isabela should be given priority for calamity fund and rehabilitation work.
“Typhoon-hit areas will be prioritized in our budget. They must be given priority access to calamity funds,” he said.
Mr. Aquino also called on local officials to relocate residents from high-risk areas to prevent casualties during calamities.
“We have to relocate these residents to a better and safer place. If they are near the shorelines we have to get them to safer ground,“ he said.
Mr. Aquino noted that at least 200 families from the towns of Maconacon, Palanan and Divilacan were rendered homeless by the typhoon.
Relief operations for these three towns have been hampered by bad weather since Wednesday.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) also announced the postponement of Monday’s barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections since school buildings in the areas have been destroyed.
Officials said more than 330,000 people were affected by the typhoon, including 11,000 who fled to evacuation centers scattered in Northern Luzon.
Over P4-billion worth of crops and infrastructure were damaged and nearly 5,000 houses were damaged and destroyed, according to the NDRRMC.
Apart from Isabela and Cagayan, the provinces of Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Benguet, the Cordillera Administrative Region and Pangasinan were also affected.
The provincial governments of Cagayan, Isabela, Pangasinan and Zambales in Central Luzon had already declared a state of calamity in their provinces to avail of the calamity funds.
The NDRMMC also issued flood warnings in affected areas as the Ambuklao, Binga, Magat dams released excess water yesterday.
NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said the release of excess water was justified to prevent structural damage to the dams.
“This is to prevent a major disaster from happening once these dams sustain structural damage if excess water is not immediately released,” Ramos said.
“We have to release excess water from these three dams to prevent damage to any of the water facility structures. This is in line with our existing flood control protocol,” he said.
The release of excess water from the three dams is expected to add to the existing flooding of low-lying areas in the provinces of Pangasinan and Isabela.
Charlie Lagasca, Philippine Star