In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, President Benigno S. Aquino III re-emphasized that the lack of preparation on the local government level was to blame for the huge number of deaths brought about by storm surges created by Super Typhoon Yolanda.
Tacloban City, which reportedly had made disaster preparations, was overcome and almost completely devastated by the super typhoon which has been described as the strongest in recent history.
A report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer days ago detailed the state of disaster preparations:
In Tacloban City, 177 families from 12 coastal barangays were brought to San Jose Elementary School, Eastern Visayas State University, and Tacloban Convention Center. Mayor Alfred Romualdez designated all 54 pulbic schools in the city as evacuation centers.
In Palo Towan, also in Leyte, dozens of families in coastal or riverside communities congregated at public schools serving as evacuation centers.
In the coastal village of Candahug, a settlement facing the Pacific Ocean, Army soldiers collected mostly children and their mothers or grandmothers and transported them to evacuation centers set up by town officials.
A picture from the Wall Street Journal’s website shows the Tacloban Convention Center in shambles in the aftermath of Yolanda (Haiyan).
In the interview on CNN, President Aquino also unwittingly revealed that his administration had yet to embark upon a study that would identify areas in islands throughout the archipelago that were most vulnerable to storm surges.
Already having admitted that “typhoons are not an unusual occurrence” in the country, Aquino virtually admitted to having failed to prioritize the implementation of geo-hazard mapping focusing on storm surges — the most common threat through out the archipelago with numerous islands facing storm/typhoon paths.
Below is a transcript of Aquino’s interview with Amanpour:
Amanpour: Can I ask you first, you have toured some of the worst hit areas, on a personal note, how has it affected you? How do you manage to reassure your people who have gone through this typhoon after an earth quake, after a typhoon last year?
Aquino: First of all, typhoons are not an unusual occurrence in the Philippines. We get visited by about 20 of them every year. But this year has been an exceptionally bad year with more than 20.
We have been able to demonstrate as a government and as a people collectively that we take care of each other.
And the government’s immediate response has been reassuring to the vast majority of our people.
Our ability to take care of our problems, rather quickly, except in this particular case… the foundation of our efforts rely on the local government units and unfortunately two or three were simply overwhelmed by the degree of this typhoon that affected us
But other than that, in other areas there was preemptive evacuation, cooperation from the citizenry which brought down the casualty figures from the other areas affected. Except for this corridor in Leyte and Samar provinces.
Amanpour: It is obviously a huge emergency to get fresh food, water to the worst hit areas and we have seen some of the local officials, mayors for instance in the tacloban area, has said that, you know, survivors are piling looking up into the heavens and the dead are piling up. He says that there is no local government functioning, those that they depend on, the police, the army, even social workers are the victims themselves, even the police and army are dead… we have heard so many stories from our reporters… the slowness, the bottle neck of trying to get vital aid to the people… how can you open those routes.. that pipeline for disaster relief?
Again, our system says our local government unit has to take care for the initial response. Unfortunately in the case of Tacloban, our police there assigned are about 290 and only 20 of them were available when disaster struck. Employees of the city government have also been affected, have been tending to their own families and there have been very few who have been reporting for work.
Hence, the national government had to not just augment what the local government could do but actually replace a lot of the personnel with personnel from other regions to take care of government’s vital functions.
What hampers the effort is the typhoon wrought havoc on the powerlines and also the communications facilities giving us immense dificulty in identifying needs and thereby dispatching the necessary relief supplies and various equipment.
So today, all the national roads are i understand reopened. We’re already working on the secondary roads. And most of the airports are almost back to normal operating levels.
But still, the sheer number of people that were affected in these three provinces is quite daunting.
We are tasked to provide something like 50,000 family food packs every two days.
Amanpour: Mr. President, we’ve heard catastrophic death toll estimates, some have said maybe 10,000 in the worst hit areas in Tacloban alone. Your initial government estimates are about a couple of thousand dead. Do you expect the death toll to go much higher, what can you tell us about the number of dead?
Aquino: ten thousand I think is too much, perhaps that was brought about by a.. how shall I put it… being in the center of the destruction… being actual… there was emotional trauma involved with that particular estimate… quoting both a police official and a local government official… they were too close to the… they did not have basis for it…
two thousand.. the figure I have right now is about two thousand but this might still get higher…
we are hoping to be able to contact something like 29 municipalities left… wherein we still have to establish their numbers, especially for the missing…
but so far, 2,000 to 2,500 is the figure we are working on as far as deaths are concerned.
Amanpour: And what about the… obviously the people are desperate, they are raiding some stores.. there are obviously some reports of some looting and outbreaks of some violence. What is your assessment of the state of law and order?
Aquino: Well, we have deployed an additional 2,000 personnel to these affected areas to restore order. And again, the problem is, the main government unit, which is the local government unit acting as first responders failed to respond appropriately, then there was that breakdown. People became desparate and that’s why we are trying to fast track the situation where the national government takes over the local government functions so that order is restored and people are gained the confidence that their needs are being addressed and will be addressed fully.
Amanpour: It just so happens that there is one of those major climate change conferences taking place in Europe in Warsaw, Copanhagan 19 and your Philippine climate negotiator made a really heart felt plea for international help and basically lambasted the failure of the world to deal with climate change. He said he has done a lot of interviews and he has talked to a lot of officials in the US and in the developed world. They say they can’t be held responsible, that they can’t be held morally obliged to do anything. Now the Philippines is the most storm wracked area in the world, we know that it is the third most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. What do you say to those negotiators sitting there in the world capitals while your country is practically submerged?
Aquino: Well, uhm, when… I think it is already an accepted reality for the Filipino community that the global community that climate change is a reality and that soon there will be no debate that it is happening. Areas, uhm, time when it should be raining suddenly become dry, the dry months suddenly become very very wet. For instance, since I’ve assumed office, practically every year, when we are supposed to be in the Christmas spirit, where we never had typhoons, we have very strong and devastating typhoons like what happened last year.
We are again at the tail end, where the wet season is supposed to have been over, and we have this super typhoon.
It wreaks havoc also on our planting season wherein our farmers are getting hard pressed to adjust to this global climate change. And we all live in one planet, either we come up with a solution that everyone adhers to and cooperates with or let us be prepared for ever increasing disasters on a global level.
In one of the international conferences that I attended, there was a south pacific island that was discussing moving their entire because they … I am sorry I don’t remember exactly how much the level of increase but it will completely inundate their country…
and they are actually discussing where to move their people to if that eventuality happens
especially in the most developed countries contributing immensely to global warming, there has to be sense of moral responsibility, that what they wreak is playing havoc on the lives of so many less capable of fending for themselves
Amanpour: Mr. President, you talk about a moral responsibility from the world. Can we ask you about your responsibility as President. Clearly, I don’t know whether you agree, the way you respond in your government responds to this terrible devastation, will probably define your Presidency. Many have talked about how much effor has gone in, reform you have done, how much work you’ve done against corruption But many people might end up judging you on how your government has responded.
Aquino: I think you can ask all of the governors for instance in the areas that have been saying that our making them aware of the dangers that were forthcoming from this typhoone enabled them to move their populations from danger areas and safer areas and thereby minimize casualties. A lot of them, with the exception of Leyte Province, Eastern and Western Samar, have reported that practically 1 or 2 casualties and even practically zero casualties. Wherein normally, when we have a typhoon you will have ships that will be travelling that would have sunk, casualties in the hundreds probably merit too much attention…
So the knowledge, the geohazard mapping, the knowledge imparted to all of them has enabled them to reduce the risk inherent in all these disasters that visit us.
Amanpour: When you look to the future and you know what kind of place your archipelago occupies, storm buffeted over and over again, do you think this is going to get worse in the future? Do you envision worse storms, worse casualties, or do you think there might be the possibility of raising the game, raising the ability to react to this kind of…
Aquino: One would hope it would not be worse than this, at the same time, again when trying to plan a community whereby they are resilient to all of these ravages of nature… there is an ongoing program defining precisely geohazard maps .. some sort of ecological engineering whereby .. items like planting mangroves for instance as a defense against tsunamis …
investments in the sciences particularly our weather bureau… our institute for volcanology… and other entities in government where they will provide us with the necessary knowledge that we can minimize risks inherent in all of these national disasters that unfortunately the Philippines finds itself in not just in typhoons but being in the ring of fire…
Amanpour: Finally, what is your most urgent need to deal with this disaster right now?
Aquino: The challenge for us right now after the relief efforts will be to rebuild the houses of tens of thousands of families affected … quite a major outlay … construction has to be better to withstand the ravages of this climate change
and also later on the mapping out of areas prone to storm surges… that I think is the next phase of studies that we have to do to make our country more resilient to all these natural disasters