President Rodrigo Roa Duterte watches an aerial footage showing the extent of the damage caused by Typhoon 'Ompong' in some areas of Cagayan Valley during a situation briefing at the Cagayan Provincial Capitol in Tuguegarao City on September 16, 2018. Joining the President is Secretary Christopher Lawrence 'Bong' Go of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President. KARL NORMAN ALONZO/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO
TUGUEGARAO CITY — President Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Sunday, Sept 16, flew to Cagayan to assess the damage caused by Typhoon ‘Ompong.’ He also coordinated the government thrust in assisting the affected residents. During a situation briefing with cabinet secretaries and local officials at Cagayan Provincial Capitol, the President was relieved that the damages caused by the typhoon were not as dreadful as expected. “[Sa] tingin ko naman — this is not really to minimize or maybe downgrade the damage pero compared to what I have seen in the past, we thank God that ito lang ang inabot natin. It was not so severe as we expected it to be. Because earlier it was touted that malakas rin ito and so it got everybody worried,” the President mentioned. According to Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Secretary Francis Tolentino, who is also the appointed conduit of the President for disaster preparation and response efforts, there were 5.7 million people affected by Typhoon ‘Ompong,’ and in spite of the disaster warning and pre-emptive exertions, there were still some reported casualties due to “selective compliance.” Consequently, President Duterte took time to condole with the families of the typhoon fatalities. “I share the grief of those who have lost their loved ones…those are — what we would call unforeseen events. In insurance, it is termed ‘an act of God.’” He then lauded the people responsible in making sure the disaster preparation and response were on-point such as the government officials, police and military, and civilian volunteers. He further said that he wanted the public to know that the government is hands-on, especially in times of calamity. “One is to assure the people that [the] government is present. And this is what I learned — this is not mine. This is to plagiarize — for the longest time that I was a local official and President Ramos was the president. He’d always emphasize on us…stress that we go back to normalcy as soon as possible,” the President said. Now that Typhoon ‘Ompong’ has already left the country, the government is focused on the relief operation and rehabilitation, particularly in Northern Luzon where the typhoon wreaked havoc. The Chief Executive mandated his officials to give priority to the restoration of power and the repair of bridges. “Para sa akin, the most important one would be the bridges…if there are damages…to maintain the connectivity and itong mga sa ilaw. Iyong public service muna for the general public. Then we would follow the rules of how to spend the remaining money to help the residents,” he said. Furthermore, President Duterte also suggested creating shelters that can be turned into evacuation centers to avoid disruption of classes in public schools. “I want to… maybe ‘yung DPWH to design — just like a gym but it cannot be a place for habitation. It’s only intended to be used during itong evacuation center. Kasi pag ganito tayo nang ganito, especially in places na prone sa baha, ang mga bata napuputol ‘yung edukasyon,” he explained. He also recommended studying this initiative as it will be beneficial to put up a gym-like shelter in every area in the country that is frequently visited by typhoons. NFA New Leadership Meanwhile, during the meeting, President Duterte reinforced that affordable NFA rice must reach the people immediately. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) reported to the President that this would be possible as they have already forged an agreement with small supermarkets to make NFA rice readily available to the people. Meanwhile, the President appointed Army Chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista as the new National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator to ensure a stable supply of rice in the country. “Pwede ka muna sa NFA siguro, to rationalize the idiotic… para maplano, make it structural,” he told Lt. Gen. Bautista. Additionally, he told the soon-to-be retired general that he wanted to impose tariffs on rice instead of the quota system, which can be a source of corruption. “I am decided na tariffication. Walang limit. Well, of course, you have to auction kung sino eh. Hindi naman basta lahat pumasok eh. Kung sino ‘yung…who can bid the highest, doon natin ibigay sa kanila. I-bidding mo, Rol…public. Wala nang istorya-istorya. Kung sino’ng may gusto…may pera…mag-import ka. Import ka, sige,” he said. “That would really stop corruption — ‘yung quota-quota. Sigurado ‘yan. Wala ka nang problema diyan except to know where the stocks are and where to get it at the earliest opportunity if there is a need to reconfigure the stocks, the inventories sa country. That is the historical problem diyan sa… pag may control ang gobyerno, corruption ‘yan,” he added. The NFA promised to send 700 sacks of rice. Also, according to the Department of Social and Welfare and Development (DSWD), its National Resource Operations Center (NROC) in Manila will also send 10,000 food packs to meet the needs of the region. There is a need, however, for the department to replenish its stockpile. Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he coordinated with the Department of National Defense and the provincial government of Cagayan to airlift fish, chicken meat, fruits, and vegetables from Mindanao to Cagayan Valley region for its food requirements after the typhoon. Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also confirmed that there would be enough supply of essential commodities in the region and the prices would remain stable. The trade department is also monitoring prices to prevent unscrupulous traders from unreasonably doubling the prices. Apart from the goods, the DTI will also follow the costs of construction materials. While all key agencies converged in the relief and rebuilding efforts in ‘Ompong’-stricken areas, the President, on the other hand, will continue to visit the affected locations in Northern Luzon. “I may not be able to make the rounds of all the areas to be visited. I intend to do it or continue to do it tomorrow. I still have about a day I can spare to go around,” said President Duterte.