Gazmin late in tapping Guiuan ports for aid
EASTERN SAMAR, Philippines – Three days after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) made landfall in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin arrived in the ravaged town and realized something too late.
This dawned on Gazmin during his first visit, the town mayor said Sunday, November 16: to use Guiuan's airport and seaport to speed up aid to Yolanda survivors.
By then, typhoon survivors in Eastern Samar have begun to grow hungry, and those in the farthest islands of Guiuan, in fact, have gone for days without food. (READ: No food for 4 days in Guiuan islands.)
Thanking Gazmin and other government officials, Guiuan Mayor Sheen Gonzales recounted this as President Benigno Aquino III visited his town on Sunday.
“Hindi po alam ni Secretary Gazmin. Pag-land niya, nalaman niya na napakaganda pala ng airport namin sa Guiuan,” Gonzales told Rappler in an interview. (Secretary Gazmin didn't know about it. When he landed, that was when he realized our airport in Guiuan is good.)
In the dialogue with Aquino, Gonzales also said he volunteered Guiuan's seaport to Gazmin.
“Sinabi ko rin po kay Secretary Volt, meron din po kaming seaport. Hindi po 100% damaged pero magagamit pa po, mayu-utilize. To cut the long story short, nagtalaga po, ibinigay po sa akin 'yung go-signal ni Secretary Volt na ilalagay namin, ibabagsak dito, 'yung mga relief goods,” Gonzales said.
(I also told Secretary Volt, we also have a seaport. It's not 100% damaged but we can use it, utilize it. To cut the long story short, Secretary Volt gave the go-signal to bring here, to drop here, the relief goods.)
Gazmin arrived in Guiuan on November 11, or 3 days after Yolanda hit the Philippines. Yolanda made its first landfall in Guiuan, which became inaccessible because of damaged roads and lack of cellphone signals.
It was only two days after Gazmin's arrival that the government set up an aid distribution hub in Guiuan, aside from those in Ormoc and Tacloban in Leyte.
Mayor: 'I didn't mind'
Rappler asked Gonzales if he didn't expect Gazmin to know about the airport early on, to facilitate the delivery of relief goods to devastated residents.
“Hindi ko na po inintindi,” Gonzales replied. “Ang initial po na ipinaabot ko sa kanya ang pangangailangan po ng lugar.” (I didn't mind it. What I initially relayed to him was the needs of our town.)
He said aid from the national government didn't arrive before Gazmin decided to use Guiuan's airport, but added he didn't mind. He said the local government unit (LGU), after all, is supposed to respond first to disaster, based on the current government framework.
Under this set-up, the national government is supposed to come to the rescue 2-3 days later.
“Oo, pero sabi ko nga, naintindihan ko naman po 'yon kasi ang LGU dapat mag-function. 'Yong LGU naman po, sabi ko nga nakapagbigay po kami ng 3 days' time na 'yon ng relief operations,” Gonzales said. (Yes, but as I said, I understand that because the LGU was supposed to function. Our LGU was able to give 3 days' time for relief operations.)
On Sunday, Gonzales heaped praises from President Benigno Aquino III for preparing well for Yolanda. (READ: Aquino praises Guiuan execs, chides others.)
The sister of Gonzales, on the other hand, earlier blamed the national government for its slow response.
“The President announced beforehand that there would be a strong storm,” former Guiuan Mayor Annaliza Gonzales Kwan said. “They should've deployed military days before. Because how can the local government do it alone?”
Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras, for his part, appealed for understanding.
"Please understand, there has never been anything at the magnitude of what we are trying to do now – not in size, not in volume, not in even the breadth of it. The logistics alone, we discussed over two-and-a-half hours last night talking about how to move goods, where to move goods, how many trucks you need. Even from the packing center to shipping center, it’s not a small amount of work that needs to be done," Almendras said. – Rappler.com