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MANILA, Philippines – Are local executives hoarding relief goods for earthquake victims?
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas wants a probe on the matter. On Tuesday, October 22, a week after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit Central Visayas, Roxas ordered the Philippine National Police (PNP) to look into reports of hoarding following complaints goods delivered to local officers were not being distributed.
The quake left at least 190 people dead, while the cost of damage to infrastructure is now pegged at more than P900 million.
Around 111,000 Bohol residents are staying in government-run centers, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said. Many others are camped out in tents outside their homes amid frequent aftershocks.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) told Roxas they received report from displaced residents in Bohol, they have yet to receive relief goods because municipal and barangay officials were guilty of hoarding them.
Mayor vs Red Cross
The aid controversy is centered on Maribojoc, a town of 20,000 people about 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of the quake’s epicenter.
Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco said he asked the Red Cross to leave the town Thursday, October 17, saying the organization had disrupted Maribojoc’s aid distribution system.
The Red Cross said the local authorities had asked them to hand over aid to them, and that they had refused.
Hundreds of Maribojoc residents were left hungry and disappointed after lining up for Red Cross food packs, Philippine Red Cross secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang told Agence France-Presse.
“They (local officials) wanted our people to surrender the goods to them. We can’t do that,” she added. “It is one of worst-affected areas…. We see a lot of people suffering.”
Local media have accused Evasco and other Bohol officials of wanting to take control of the aid for political gain, so that residents feel beholden to them, something that Evasco has denied.
“The whole town is an evacuation centre,” Evasco told Agence France-Presse.
He said that under his system all outside aid must go through the municipal government for “fair and equal” distribution among the town’s districts and villages.
He rejected suggestions that the system was designed to benefit him politically, saying he is banned by law from standing for the same post in 2016.
“It isn’t right to keep the relief goods given by the national and provincial government in offices. If this is really happening, those responsible for relief hoarding should face the law,” he said.
On Saturday, Roxas warned officials not to politicize the relief efforts.
“Wag ho nating haluan ng politika ito. [The] DILG [and the] national government will exercise lead supervisory powers kung mapatunayan na pinipili po ninyo kung sino ang tutulungan ninyo,” he said in Bohol.
(Let’s not mix politics into this issue. The DILG and the national government will exercise lead supervisory powers if there’s proof local officials choose who they help.)
Roxas also gave assurances there was no need to hoard goods, since the DSWD is preparing to deliver 30,000 family food packs a day, for at least another week.
“There’s no need to hide relief goods in fear that they will run out immediately. The DSWD has enough supply to feed earthquake victims daily,” he said Tuesday.
He said he has also ordered police officials and directed Chief Supt Danilo Constantino, PNP Region 7 director, to ensure the delivery of relief goods to all affected communities.
Just one day earlier, President Benigno Aquino III himself vowed there was no shortage in supply and said he would tap into savings to meet the needs of the quake victims.
Roxas also said there are no longer any excuses for the failure to distribute goods after the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Provincial Engineering Office have been working nonstop to ensure roads are repaired, and communities stay connected.
“All towns are fully accessible. The previously isolated towns of Loon, Maribojoc and Antiquera are now reachable in two hours from Tagbilaran,” he said.
Roxas, along with DSWD Sec Dinky Soliman, Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto and local officials, had themselves traveled in a convoy to see to it roads were open and communities were reachable by land.
“There is absolutely no reason why relief goods cannot reach those who were affected by the earthquake. The government is ensuring the supply of relief goods are sufficient and that there is a way to get these to the people.”
Soliman also told dzMM radio in Manila that it was best to coordinate aid distribution through local officials because they know their area and residents’ needs.
However, this did not mean the aid must be surrendered to the mayor, she said. – With reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com