Aquino, 8 secretaries visit typhoon-hit town aboard six choppers

NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley (MindaNews/7 December)–Aboard the Presidential chopper, President Benigno Aquino III made a quick visit to this calamity-stricken town on Friday, bringing with him eight Cabinet secretaries on board five other choppers.

At 11:10 a.m., Aquino’s chopper landed at the town’s mud-wrapped sports complex where about 3,000 persons affected by flashfloods were waiting.

Speaking in Filipino, the President said that he visited this town because he wanted to find out why the tragedy happened and how to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

“Hindi ho titigil ang pamahalaan nyo na masigurado na pagandahin ang buhay nyo at iwasan ang ganitong klaseng sakuna (Your government will not stop trying to improve your lives and see to it that tragedy such as this will be avoided),” Aquino told the crowd sitting on the bleachers.

The President also appealed to the displaced villagers to cooperate with the government in building safe and comfortable shelters as soon as possible.

For Raquel Duay, a flood victim from the town proper, her appeal to the President and to the national government is to immediately build shelters for the flood victims.

Duay, a 45-year old mother of three, added that they also need livelihood projects for them to rebuild their lives after Typhoon Pablo wiped out their three-hectare farm in Barangay Andap.

Before the storm, she said they depend on abaca and corn farming to feed the family. “But now everything is gone, we were not able to save even our belongings. We are back to zero,” said Duay in an interview shortly before the President arrived.

Duay added that it would be the first time in her life to personally see a President of the country.

Like Duay, another flood victim Estrellita Raphael told Mindanews that many of them are in need of a new shelter aside from clothing, food and medicines.

Raphael lamented that life in the evacuation center is hard because aside from being crowded, sanitation is a problem, particularly for the children.

Roads hastily cleared?

On Thursday morning, when MindaNews checked this town, the highway from Montevista town all the way here was littered with debris – fallen trees, power cables and roof.

But in the afternoon, a grader was seen scraping the mud out of the streets of the town proper. Then as MindaNews traveled back to Montevista, the highway was already cleared of debris.

On Friday morning, hours after Aquino’s arrival, most of the main roads in the town proper here were already cleared from knee-deep mud and debris, making it more accessible to motorists.

Cash and burial assistance

Two hours before the arrival of the President, several policemen were seen clearing the pavement where the President would speak and where he and his Cabinet officials will distribute food packs to the flood victims.  The pavement is a portion of a tennis court of the sports complex.

Five military trucks loaded with food packs inside plastic bags bearing the logo of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) served as the backdrop for the ceremonial food distribution.

DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman assisted the President in handing out cash and food assistance to the flood victims.

Aquino handed P10,000 as burial assistance to the relatives of the fatalities. The President handed cash assistance only to the first 10 families.

The first to receive was an injured man with a bandage on his right ankle, who lost three of his family members.

A policeman piggy-backed him from the bleacher going to the President. But after receiving the cash, he casually walked away from the President all by himself.

The President also handed food packs to the first 10 families. The food pack contains three kilos of rice, four canned goods, three noodles and coffee.

Nora Apsay, 43 and a mother of five, told MindaNews that it was the first time they received a food aid since Tuesday, the day Typhoon Pablo made landfall in Mindanao and left massive destruction along its path.

Apsay, a flood victim from Barangay San Roque here, said her house was destroyed when a coconut tree was felled by strong winds.

Though they were able to salvage rice and corn, they already stink when they cooked it.

“Pero wala man kami kaonon. Giluto gyapon namo maski baho kesa wala gyud makaon (Because we have no food to eat, we still cook them even if they smelled bad so we won’t starve),” said Apsay, who was not able to obtain the initial batch of food aid from the local government,

“Karon, makakaon na gyud kami tarong. Kung mahurot ni, ambot asa na pud kami manguha pagkaon (Now we can eat better. But if these are all consumed, we don’t know where to get food),” she lamented.

Brand new choppers

The Presidential visit also showcased the two brand new Polish-made Sokol choppers that the Armed Forces of the Philippines acquired last year.

The Sokol choppers were part of the Presidential party that ferried the cabinet secretaries, their aides and other government officials.

Last Wednesday, one of the choppers was used by Eastern Mindanao Command chief Major General Jorge Segovia, when he visited this town.

In a press statement issued early this month, Philippine Air Force spokesperson Col. Miguel Ernesto Okol said: “These helicopters will be used for search-and-rescue missions. It has enough space for two pilots, two crewmen, three medical attendants and six rescued survivors.” (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)