Palace aware of slow relief: 'We're moving'

MANILA, Philippines – Amid criticisms from international news agencies and organizations that government's relief efforts had been slow and delayed after the world’s biggest typhoon, the Palace cited challenges in distribution and gave assurances it is working toward providing aid the quickest way possible.

On Wednesday, November 13, Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras acknowledged the difficulties the national government was facing – even admitting it needs help – but also defended its efforts.

"We will deny the fact and we will not insist that all places have received [aid] because there are really areas that have not yet received any. What we are saying is we need help in reaching all these that have not yet been reached," he said.

"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."

The national government has repeatedly said the breakdown in local governance has posed a huge challenge to the coordination of relief goods distribution. Local government officials and employees were themselves victims of the storm.

Almendras said the national government had to take over. (READ: Tormented typhoon victims scour for food)

"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.

Not sure when all areas will be reached

But 5 days since the deadly Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) struck the Visayas and neighboring regions, Almendras still could not give a timeline as to when relief would reach all affected areas.

"I would like to give you a date and a time if possible, but that is not within the national government’s control how effectively we can hit the ground. There are places which are very remote, which we need to know also, so that we can reach them," he said.

Defense chief Voltaire Gazmin, however, said Wednesday night – after a closed door meeting of the national disaster management council – that relief goods would reach all of Leyte's 40 towns by Thursday, November 14.  

Almendras also admitted the government was overwhelmed by the severity of the storm.

"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.

Reports of desperate survivors ransacking rice and frustrated cries for help have raised concerns about the lack of organization in relief distribution following Yolanda, leading to criticisms of the national government.

On Friday, November 8, Yolanda battered central Philippines leaving widespread destruction at its wake. As of Wednesday, Aquino said the death toll was somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500. The government has said it can tap up to P28.64 billion worth of funds for relief efforts

Four areas can only be reached by chopper

Almendras said there are "4 more specific areas that need to be reached," areas that could only be accessed via chopper. He didn not specify where these areas were.

"All major roads are now open, so things are flowing already," he also said.

To further speed up relief operations, two more distribution centers in will set up in Ormoc City in Leyte, and in Guiuan in Eastern Samar. Until now, the distribution had been directed only from Tacloban City in Leyte.

Ormoc will support Southern Leyte towns, Guiuan will support towns in Eastern Samar, while Tacloban – the hardest hit city – will support other surrounding towns in the eastern part of Leyte province. All 3 were directly affected by the typhoon.

Almendras said the goods will be transported to these areas through boats, planes, and land vehicles, forwarded from either Manila or Cebu. The local governments will then get supplies from these hubs, with support from the national government.

"Admittedly, we are at a certain level today. We have a target to accelerate significantly, which is what the President’s instruction was last night," he said.

Almendras acknowledged the criticisms but appealed for understanding. Earlier, the government explained it was the coastal areas hit by storm surges that sustained the most deaths and damages.

"There have been some difficult comments also from the international press, but it's okay, that's life. All I can say is we don’t claim to be perfect. We are really trying our very best and so far the things we are doing seem to be effective. It’s just that we have not seen anything at the magnitude that we are seeing now," he said.

"I hope you understand, we are just trying to do our jobs as best we can," he said. – Rappler.com