MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The farthest islands in Guiuan, Eastern Samar have gone 4 days without food.
With all their boats damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), locals from these islands remain totally cut off from Guiuan town proper and much needed aid, said Annaliza Gonzales-Kwan, sister of Mayor Christopher Gonzales, who is in Manila to ask for more help. (READ: 2 Eastern Samar towns in ruins)
“There are 19 island barangays in Guiuan. The ones hardest to reach haven’t received relief goods. These are Homonhon, Manicani, Suluan and Calicoan. The mayor requested for a chopper from the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) to deliver food because there’s no other way to reach them,” she told Rappler. (The estimated population of the entire town of Guiuan is about 47,000, based on a 2010 census.)
Though the request for a chopper has been made, there is no news yet of when the chopper can make desperately needed deliveries.
The island barangays have not benefited from the two waves of food distribution intended to alleviate the situation in Guiuan town proper. Goods are able to reach the town proper through its only airport which, despite having been built by the Americans during World War II, is still functional. As of November 13, there are about 390 bags of relief goods from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have arrived in C130 planes.
But they are far from sufficient, lamented Gonzales-Kwan, who is also a former mayor of the town. There are around 45,000 mouths to feed in Guiuan.
Yolanda first made landfall in Guiuan on Friday, November 8, but despite being the first-hit, the town is the last to receive goods, said Gonzales-Kwan.
“The planes pass by Leyte and other parts of Samar before getting to Guiuan. By that time, there aren’t much relief goods left to distribute.”
What Guiuan needs are relief goods sent directly to Guiuan. She expects Japanese planes to arrive in Guiuan within two days. She herself has collected many donations from Manila which will be delivered to Guiuan by barge from Batangas Port.
But help is on its way, assured the government. In a DZMM interview on Wednesday, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said goods have been dropped off at Homonhon by an Osprey helicopter. They have also sent a C130 plane carrying 16,000 food packs to Guiuan.
An ‘atomic bomb’
But problems persist. There is still no power in Guiuan. Communication signals, including Globe and Smart, are down. All houses and government buildings were destroyed. Without any evacuation centers to retreat to, locals form makeshift roofs over concrete walls still standing.
The 16th-century Immaculate Conception Church, which once proudly wore its historical marker, is in ruins.
Out of the 28 policemen in Guiuan, only 6 reported for work, said Gonzales-Kwan. This allowed widespread looting to take place in groceries and sari-sari stores.
“People would stab or punch security guards who wouldn’t let them in the stores,” she narrated.
Before the military arrived on November 12, it was mob rule.
An 8 pm to 5 am curfew is now being imposed in Guiuan.
Gonzales-Kwan said Yolanda’s arrival was like “an atomic bomb that dropped on us.”
“The sound was unbelievably loud. You could feel pressure in your ears, as if you were in an airplane. The wind was prying the roofs off. All the things inside the house were flying, including the mattress. Cars were flying,” she recalled.
National government to blame
Guiuan is located in the typhoon belt and is used to storms. The PAGASA radar station installed there for that reason warned them of the approaching typhoon two days before.
“The mayor informed all barangay officials to evacuate. Some evacuated, some didn’t. These people didn’t want to leave their homes. For Guiuan, a storm is an ordinary thing. We never had casualties from a storm,” she said.
As of November 13, at least 85 casualties were reported, with 25 missing and 960 injured.
Gonzales-Kwan blames the national government’s slow response. Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin only arrived in Guiuan on November 11, 3 days after Yolanda hit the town. Soldiers arrived the day after, too late to stop the looting and killing.
“The President announced beforehand that there would be a strong storm. They should’ve deployed military days before. Because how can the local government do it alone? We have our own homes, our families are there,” said Gonzales-Kwan with frustration.
If soldiers were present before the storm struck, they could’ve helped secure homes and prevent looting. The local government could have then secured food from the stores for distribution.
On November 13, Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras admitted the government is having a hard time speeding up relief operations. The breakdown of local government has made it more difficult to coordinate. (READ: Palace aware of slow relief: ‘We’re moving’)
“Now, why goods are not reaching some people? That’s really a local issue that we are trying to address now. So [Social Welfare] Sec Dinky [Soliman] is working with local governments, with barangay captains because these are the most powerful channels that we can use to make sure that goods flow to where they are,” he said.
The national government is now doing all it can to take over in areas where local governments are crippled.
“But for us to take over, we need to put resources, so that is what we are trying to do. If there is any delay and us assuming some of those responsibilities is because the national government does not have anybody in that site, in that ground, in that location, with the capacity to do that role,” he said.
He also appealed for understanding since no storm of Yolanda’s intensity has ever confronted the national government.
“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,” he said.
Gonzales-Kwan is thankful for the “outpouring of help” mainly from the private sector. Rice is what Guiuan needs the most right now, she said.
Donations for Guiuan can be dropped off at Eastgate Building along EDSA, Mandaluyong (beside VRP Hospital and on the right side of the southbound lane). – Rappler.com
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