PINAMALAYAN, Oriental Mindoro — President Benigno S. Aquino III visited calamity-stricken residents here Wednesday to bring them some glimmer of hope this Christmas season as they rebuild their lives in the wake of Typhoon “Nona.”
The Chief Executive conducted an aerial inspection shortly upon his arrival in the province to determine the extent of damages wrought by the storm internationally known as “Melor.”
Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali Jr. then gave President Aquino a detailed briefing on the latest figures and updates with respect to the impact of Typhoon ‘Nona’ on their province.
Umali said more than 422,495 of their population from 95,651 families were affected by the typhoon and over 14,000 individuals are currently taking refuge in 60 evacuation centers throughout the province.
The typhoon also left 13 people dead and 339 injured, Umali reported, adding that 30,064 houses have been totally destroyed and 46,478 were partially damaged for a total of 76,542 affected houses.
In terms of the typhoon’s economic impact, Umali said they have incurred a total of PHP4.474-billion in losses and damages affecting the sectors of agriculture, infrastructure, and power.
The agriculture sector sustained losses amounting to PHP2.9-billion in agricultural losses, infrastructure damages were pegged at PHP1.5-billion, and the local power sector also around PHP290-million.
Umali said the Manila Electric Company or Meralco has sent over 70 personnel in Oriental Mindoro to help in the restoration of power in their province.
“Nagpapasalamat po kami sa Meralco dahil sila ho ang unang-unang tumugon at dumating dito at tumutulong po sila,” the governor told President Aquino at a municipal gymnasium here where the meeting was held.
“Ang pangako po nila sa amin before Christmas may kuryente lahat ng munisipyo. Pero ang mga malalayong barangay baka abutin daw ng mga isang buwan pa,” Umali added.
The Department of Health through Secretary Janette Garin, meanwhile, assessed the total damage on five rural health units, 55 barangay health stations, and three public hospitals to be at PHP73.5-million.
“We have included this in the quick response fund of the Department of Health,” Secretary Garin told President Aquino.
The Department of Education division of Oriental Mindoro reported to President Aquino they are currently undergoing clearing operations in affected public schools but assured that classes will resume by January 4.
The Department of Agriculture, for its part, has been distributing certified seeds to all affected farmers while the National Food Authority said there is enough supply of rice for relief operations.
The Department of Public Works and Highways in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development have sent in 60,000 galvanized iron sheets and other construction materials for the early recovery shelter assistance.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman added that the cash-for-work program is also being implemented on top of the continuing food relief operations in cooperation with the provincial disaster risk reduction management council.
After hearing the reports, President Aquino said the government is ready to help Oriental Mindoro get back on its feet, but told the local government officials that he would need to have their assessment validated first.
“Mayroon ho tayong kakayahan in terms of funding dito sa mga nabanggit na nga pero hindi ko naman pwedeng sabihin sa inyong sigurado na lahat ito,” President Aquino said.
“Kasi mayroon tayong mga pinanggalingang ibang lugar na ang sabi sa akin kunwari ‘yung kanilang niyugan ay 15 milyong ektarya ang bumagsak. ‘Yung niliparan ho namin wala kaming nakitang ektaryang nakabagsak,” he added.
President Aquino said he just wanted all the facts presented substantiated further to avoid possible questions from the Commission on Audit (COA) in the future.
“Gusto kong ipagdiinan, may kakayahan tayong gawin ang dapat gawin. Itong mga eskuwelahan na ipinakita kanina, ako na ang mag-co-commit sa inyong bubuuin natin ito sa lalong madaling panahon,” the President said further.
President Aquino tasked the Department of Public Works and Highways to reconstruct the damaged schools in accordance with better specifications, including the capacity to withstand 250-kilometer per hour winds.
“So importante ma-validate na natin lahat itong datos na ito para maumpisahan na ang proseso,” President Aquino said, noting that there are funds which the government is willing to tap from its 2015 savings to support these measures.
He said this particular sum has to be obligated before the end of year lest it becomes subjected to an election ban.
“Palagay ko may exception naman ito kung calamity pero ayaw na nating dumaan doon sa hihingi pa tayo ng opinyon kung exempted ito o hindi exempted sa election ban. Kung pwede na nating gawin ngayon, bakit pa natin ipagpapabukas?” President Aquino said.
The Chief Executive, nonetheless, said the homeless and those who lost their livelihood would be prioritized. He also reported that the National Telecommunications Commission is already working on the remaining six cell sites ruined by the storm.
“So huwag kayong mag-aalala… Kailangan lang natin tapusin ‘yung validation tapos ma-ma-map out na ‘yung dapat na maging priority,” President Aquino told the Mindorenos.
After the meeting, President Aquino presided over the distribution of relief goods courtesy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to the estimated 1,500 typhoon victims who gathered at the meeting venue.
Umali said the provincial government started relief operations as early as December 18, which they will try to finish by January 7. So far they were able to deliver 20,648 packages.
The provincial governor also mentioned they continue to receive donations from various government agencies, civil society organizations, and private companies.
Oriental Mindoro also has PHP131 million remaining in its calamity fund, which Umali said they are planning to use for their ongoing shelter assistance, aid to individual in crisis, and infrastructure rehabilitation programs.
“Alam ko kaya natin ito. Kaya sa mga mamamayan natin dito sa Silangang Mindoro, tuloy ho ang Pasko, huwag kayong mag-aalala. Nandito ho ang ating Pangulo. Ito ho ang pamasko niya sa atin kaya kaya po natin ito,” Umali told his constituents.
Typhoon ‘Nona,’ a Category 3 storm according to the US military’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center, passed by the Philippines last week putting several areas in the central and southern parts of Luzon under water.
Oriental Mindoro was immediately placed under a state of calamity in the storm’s aftermath with the town of Pinamalayan bearing the brunt. The typhoon has so far claimed over 40 lives in total and displaced more than 17,000 families across the nation. PNA/northboundasia.com