tropical cyclones in PH

Malacañang official links Odette aid delay to underreporting by media

Inday Espina-Varona
Malacañang official links Odette aid delay to underreporting by media

Army Captain Ryan Layug, 8ID, Division Public Affairs Chief said that they provided manpower and transportation in bringing the relief assistance to the survivors and also for road clearing operation.

Jazmin Bonifacio/Rappler

Local government officials cite damaged roads and persistent bad weather as causes for aid delay, while President Duterte blames legal constraints

“What are the badly-hit areas of Typhoon Odette that are not well-covered by the media?”

The official Facebook page of the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) Michael Dino posed this question on Sunday, January 2.

Only after listing a number of underreported areas did the OPAV cite the “immediate needs of typhoon victims,” which included ready-to-eat food, potable water, temporary shelter, medicine and medical supplies, repair kits, and hygiene kits.

The OPAV did not state what aid it had sent to or coordinated for these badly hit areas. 

It has been 18 days since Typhoon Odette slammed into the southern Philippines on December 16, devastating a wide swathe of Mindanao and the Visayas.

As of Saturday, January 1, a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) update on deaths said Odette killed 407 persons, with 220 reported in the Central Visayas, 71 in Caraga, and 54 in Western Visayas.

In reply to a query from Rappler, on whether the OPAV had visited the areas, the office said it talked to the following:

  • Bohol Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council head Dr. Anthon Damalerio
  • Negros Occidental Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office head Zephard Caelian
  • Negros Oriental PDRRMC executive director Adrian Sedillo
  • Heddy Carbonilla of the Southern Leyte PDRRMO

The OPAV did not reply to Rappler’s query about what help it has sent to these provinces.

While its header focused on the media’s lack of reporting, the OPAV quoted Sedillo of Negros Oriental and Carbonilla of Southern Leyte as saying disaster relief teams have a hard time reaching hinterland barangays.

Even OPAV Executive Assistant Lessandro Maraon had to cancel his Southern Leyte assessment trip on December 30 when a “huge landslide” at the Agas-Agas Bridge blocked his way and a rear tire of his vehicle burst while on an alternate route to Limasawa town.

Although friendly locals repaired the tire, “exhausted, hungry, wet, and stressed, I just then decided to eat and drive home and make the necessary reports for coordination,” the OPAV official said.

Bad weather

Relief teams across the Visayas have been struggling due to days of bad weather. Weather agency Pagasa issued red rainfall warnings for several provinces on January 2.

Rappler reported on Sunday that the Department of Public Works and Highways for Eastern Visayas said the Agas-Agas Bridge was not passable due to continuous heavy rains. 

The Southern Leyte public works office also announced the temporary closure of the Maasin-Macrohon-Sogod road.

While OPAV’s report on devastated communities matches what local governments have released to media, some of those online pointed out factual errors.

The OPAV, for instance, described Trinidad in Bohol as a coastal third-class municipality.

Journalist Lina Sagaral Reyes asked, “What map are you using”? 

Trinidad is a landlocked municipality, half an hour from the coast via the Bohol Circumferential Road or the Ubay – Talibon Road. The town’s official Facebook page notes, “the municipality has no coastline. Marine transport is by means of the Ipil River.”

The OPAV said Odette damaged 8,700 or 95% of houses in the town, affecting 9,200 families and displacing 33,000 individuals.

The LGU last posted on Christmas Eve showing a video on devastated communities.

“We cannot reply to your inquiries and comments anymore,” the LGU said, saying it had problems with communications.

Bohol Governor Arthur Yap has been calling on the national government to send road-clearing equipment so that power, a requirement for telecommunications, is restored to the province’s devastated towns. The bulk of aid, sent by power firms, arrived on Saturday, January 1, although two vehicles from Meralco arrived earlier.

In Negros Oriental, teams from electric cooperatives in the Tarlac and Zambales provinces arrived on January two after a five-day trip.

Minimal aid’

In many areas, aid has come late. Aside from bad weather and blocked roads, President Rodrigo Duterte also cited legal constraints that have delayed the release of funds for affected areas.

In his remarks to evacuees in Bais City on December 30, Duterte apologized for the delay in government’s relief operations, blaming it on a “bullshit” law regulating the release of calamity funds. 

Governor Yap on December 29 also said power firms in Bohol could not tap into alternative sources because of delayed paperwork at the Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy.

The Southern Leyte provincial government on December 31 shared a post detailing aid packages it was sending to families in San Francisco, which the OPAV said was the worst-hit in the province.

The OPAV said “relief operations are very limited” in Ilog, a southern municipality of Negros Occidental.

“Some locals say that only two relief operations were able to visit their area,” it said.

Rappler on December 24 reported that more than 56,000 Negros Occidental families were spending Christmas homeless.

The report said: “Ilog town lost 10,637 homes. It is host to Hilabangan River, the longest in Negros Island, which overflowed its banks like many other waterways in the province’s southern flank. Clearing operations in Ilog and neighboring Cauayan town, which lost 4,476 homes, were still ongoing as of December 23.”

The OPAV said, “all towns in Southern Leyte were badly hit by typhoon Odette, especially Panaon Island (Pintuyan, San Juan, San Ricardo, Liloan), Pacific Towns (St. Bernard to Silago), Padre Burgos, Tomas Oppus, and Limasawa.”

It said all 5,000 families or 14,600 persons needed help in all 22 barangays of San Francisco, which it described as the worst-devastated municipality. In San Ricardo town, it said 90% of relatives lost their homes.

Rappler on December 21 also reported results of an initial assessment by the Leyte Center for Development, the first non-government group that visited the towns of Silago, San Juan, Saint Bernard, and Libagon.

“The devastation to livelihood and property was gargantuan: storm surges up to 12 feet high in barangays Hindag-an and Lepanto of Saint Bernard; barangays Tigbao and Oticon of Libagon town; and two barangays of San Juan,” its executive director ​​Jazmin Aguisanda-Jerusalem told Rappler.

OPAV said southern Cebu areas of Carcar City, and the towns Sibonga, Argao, Aloguinsan, Consolacion, Malabuyoc, also need aid.

Lorraine Ecarma, Rappler’s multimedia reporter in Cebu, reported on the aftermath of Odette in the south of Cebu on December 17 and December 30.

Online reactions

The OPAV post, which has been shared more than 1,000 times, received over 50 comments, with some comments suggesting OPAV visit areas that have received little aid. 

One commenter said, “Pagkatapos alamin ang calamity status ng bawat lugar, ano ginawa ng gobyerno? Nagpadala ba agad ng inisyal na ayuda? Pantawid-gutom at temporary shelters at serbisyong gamutan? Huwag sanang tinulugan ang mga problema!”

(After the government learned of the calamity status in each area, what did it do? Did it send over an initial stipend for support? Did it send food aid and temporary shelters and medical services? I hope they didn’t sleep on the problems!)

Others noted that government and non-government organizations have been trying their best, but are struggling with damaged roads.

Photojournalist Ezra Acayan, who stayed for days in Bohol, shared a front page story in the New York Times that extensively tackled the province’s woes.

Another commenter quipped, “not well covered by the media dahil wala na ang regional TV stations ng ABS (because the regional TV stations of ABS-CBN are gone),” referring to the broadcast giant which went off the airwaves after the government denied its franchise extension.

The network’s regional bureaus and national disaster teams were known to preposition teams in areas on the direct paths of typhoons. – Rappler.com