President Benigno Aquino: “We Will Help Those Affected By Tropical Storm Sendong.”
December 20, 2011
The English translation of the speech given by His Excellency, Benigno S. Aquino III, President of the Philippines, on the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sendong, delivered today at City Central School of Cagayan de Oro.
AsianScientist (Dec. 20, 2011) – Under cover of darkness, a tropical storm named Sendong arrived early last Saturday morning, bringing with it a tragedy that has cast a shadow on what was supposed to be a joyous Christmas time. We have reports that due to the amount and force of rainfall, even dump trucks turned over and were swallowed by mud. Families were borne away from the river and carried out to sea, where they were then rescued by the Coast Guard and the Navy.
As of six this morning, nine hundred and 957 of our countrymen died because of Sendong. One thousand five hundred and eighty-two have been injured. We continue to look for the 49 that are still missing; our people have already rescued 432. According to NDRRMC’s latest figures, 63,079 families have been affected by this calamity.
We are currently focused on providing assistance and relief to affected areas. The Relief Supplies and Standby Funds of DSWD have already released 72.5 million pesos. Meanwhile, our soldiers and our police force continue with their emergency missions. Three choppers immediately responded from the Tactical Operations Group of the Air Force. As they arrive, the rice, canned goods, potable water, and other relief goods donated by our compassionate countrymen are being distributed.
PhilHealth will grant benefits even to victims who are not its members, while PCSO, according to its Chair, Margie Juico, will be shouldering the fees of the victims admitted to the Northern Mindanao Medical Center in Cagayan de Oro. DPWH is working to reconstruct fallen bridges so that help can more swiftly reach those who need it. These agencies stand alongside our frontliners from the DSWD, the AFP, the Coast Guard, the PNP, and different LGUs.
We know that relief for our fellow Filipinos can be hastened if we pull together. Our sole C130 aircraft has been working overtime, and I am glad no one had to appeal to the private sector to pitch in, as they spontaneously lent cargo ships and airplanes for relief, such as Air21, LBC, and Philippine Airlines. There are also businesses that have donated clean water, clothes, food, and other supplies for the victims of this tragedy. Schools such as Xavier University have volunteered the use of their facilities as evacuation centers, and are organizing continuing relief operations. And then there are various institutions such as the ABS-CBN Foundation, GMA Kapuso Foundation, TV5, Smart, Globe, Ateneo, La Salle and many others who partnered with so many ordinary citizens to volunteer and generously donate what they can to help. Thank you very much, all of you. You serve as our light in these dark times.
I ask: how did it come to this? We knew that Sendong would strike. Ondoy, Pepeng, and Pedring are still fresh in our memories, and we strived to avoid disasters of their scale. When I entered office, I was told that forty-three of the eighty provinces of the Philippines—more than half—are vulnerable when storms strike. That stunned me, and I had them re-verify these numbers. When the research came back, they amended the tally to comprise 66 provinces at risk.
This gave us even more cause for alarm, which is why we put in place certain measures. The Doppler radars in Subic, Tagaytay, Cebu, Hinatuan, Baguio and Baler are operational. Now, because there is active coordination between the NDRRMC and your local government units, agencies are ready to take the necessary actions, even before the first drops of rain hit the earth. We have also been able to preposition relief goods in a timely way, for the areas that have been determined to be in the path of typhoons. And PAGASA and NDRRMC have been active in disseminating information, not only through their websites and various social networking sites, but also through text blasts.
Complementary to these efforts, our total log ban and National Greening Program represent long-term solutions to the challenges our environment faces. We are working to make everyone more aware of the dangers that climate change poses to the Philippines. And we have repeatedly reminded our countrymen: should you refuse to evacuate your homes and communities during calamities, not only are you putting your lives in danger, so too are you endangering the rescuers who are prepared to risk their lives for your safety.
I beg your indulgence, but this has to be said—often in these situations, the rescuer has to return to dangerous places twice, sometimes even five times. Every rescue he makes, he exposes himself to hazards. As a matter of fact, I have learned here in Cagayan de Oro that some rescuers were killed.
And yet, despite our preparations, we must ask: why are we confronted by a tragedy like this? You are aware that there is a kind of map that details what are called geohazards. This kind of map identifies an area—I believe it is a sitio—known as Isla de Oro, which is a place prone to accumulating floodwater when a typhoon strikes. Because we know the topography of the area, we have also identified the areas in which water levels would rise swiftly. But why are people still living there? If we know that cutting down trees will cause the land on the sides of mountains to give way more easily, why do we cut these trees down so that the land may be tilled? Why do we continue to hear reports of logs swept down the river from Lanao into Iligan? Why are there still some who persist in doing what is wrong?
I am compelled to ask myself (and I ask myself this every day): has your government done enough to avoid this kind of tragedy? I do not think I can accept that we have done everything that is in our power; I am clearly conscious that there is much that we can, and should, still do.
We have no desire to engage in finger-pointing or to assign blame at a time like this. Yet, we have an obligation to find out exactly what has happened. To this end, we have formed a task force composed of representatives from the DILG, DSWD, DPWH, DOST, DOJ, DENR and the Mindanao Development Authority. They will investigate; give solutions and responses to our questions; and identify who must be held accountable.
I expect newly appointed ARMM OIC-Governor Mujiv Hataman will wholeheartedly implement the total log ban on natural forests I declared, as I have received reports that illegal loggers have shamelessly continued their operations in his region.
When I return to Manila later this afternoon, I will sign the State of Calamity or National State of Calamity to deploy the mechanisms that will allow us to access extra funding. Let me inform you that we can obtain three million dollars from the ADB, and if the funds we have set aside to respond to calamities end up insufficient, then the World Bank is ready to lend us 500 million dollars at low interest. We have been overwhelmed with offers of assistance from Japan, America, Australia, Russia, China, along with other countries. For this, we are extremely grateful to the friends of the Philippines and of the Filipino people in the international community.
There is no doubt that Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and other areas affected by Sendong will recover. The only question is how quickly it will happen. Right now, we are focused not only in providing immediate aid to victims of the typhoon. We must also be prepared for the typhoons we are certain will be visiting our country. We will further improve our systems, so that we can more clearly predict the amount and the force of incoming rainfall. Since we came into office, we have been able to increase the number of Doppler radars by four units; three more will become operational in the coming year. Apart from the 60 million pesos allotted to road repairs here in Cagayan de Oro, there is also a 54 million-peso fund to rehabilitate the water system. In addition, 150 million pesos has been allocated to the positioning of an estimated 1,000 automatic water-level sensors in 18 river basins throughout the Philippines. We have allotted 450 million pesos for the construction of core shelters in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. We can be assured of an estimated 1,000 housing units from the NHA, as their initial assistance.
Events such as this remind us of our duties to protect the environment and to give aid to those who need it. More importantly, we must learn to do away with the behavior that has led us to this situation. If we want this tragedy to be the last of its kind, we need to learn from our mistakes.
Rest assured, your government will help in repairing your homes. At the same time, we expect that you not return to areas where your lives will be at risk and where there is certain danger. We will give you jobs and livelihood, but we refuse to permit you to put yourselves in situations where both your lives and our environment are at risk.
Let us prove to the world: such tragedies may strike us ten times, but Juan and Juana dela Cruz shall rise from the fall eleven times; we shall rise from the fall eleven times. Let this tragedy be an opportunity for us to accomplish the kind of change that will weather any storm and withstand any deluge. May this mark the start of a long-term transformation in our views, attitudes, and actions.
In the coming years, may we remember this day not only for what we lost, not only for our mourning, and not only for our shared grief. We shall look back at this time and recall how united we were, how we were galvanized into action, and how we proved to the world that the Filipino spirit cannot be crushed.
Many, many thanks, and good afternoon to all of you.
[English translation of the speech delivered at City Central School of Cagayan de Oro on December 20, 2011]
The original speech in Tagalog: President Aquino’s statement on the aftermath of Tropical Storm Sendong, December 20, 2011.
Source: The Philippine Government; Photo credit: www.noynoy-aquino.com.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.