MANILA - Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Thursday said the national government is already running the show in the Yolanda-battered areas, specifically in Tacloban.
Gazmin denied reports here and abroad that the government has been slow in providing relief for the more than 270,000 families affected.
He explained there have been a slew of factors affecting the distribution of goods and the putting up of feeding centers, but the government is already resolving one problem after another.
"I am the chairman of the [National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council]. Then we have the provincial, city [levels]. [If there is a breakdown below], it goes up to national government. In the case of Tacloban, for example, the national government is running the show there," he said in an ANC interview.
Gazmin said government officials have been on the ground even days before the super typhoon struck, telling people of its impact.
"There was enough warning. Going back to the question of slowness, the relief came in as early as Saturday. It was immediately after the typhoon. You call that slow?” he asked.
Videos and stories shown by the international media have brought to light questions on the capability of the government in managing the situation.
CNN journalists, including veteran disaster journalist Anderson Cooper, said there was disorganization. He said what is happening in Tacloban was a “demolition, not a construction job.”
Gazmin, however, said the accusations were unfair.
He dismissed a report there was no sense of urgency at the Villamor Airbase, where the country’s C130s are housed.
“I don’t think it’s an accurate observation. The C130s have been flying up to the time they’re able to fly.”
He said there are only a few short periods of time that the aircraft take a rest. He said the problem is air traffic, especially since four military assets have also come in from the United States.
He said the C130s are also used to transport the victims who want to get out of the devastated areas. Once the goods are dropped in the areas, the C130s are used to transfer the people to Manila or Cebu.
He said there are at least three hubs in the Visayas where these goods are brought in: Guiuan in Samar and Tacloban and Ormoc.
He said there are logistical problems in the distribution.
“There is double handling. As soon as the relief goods are received in the hub from delivery trucks, they go to the [Department of Social Welfare and Development] for repacking. Then the goods are brought back to the trucks, for distribution to the areas,” he said.
He said they are now trying to remove that error in the system by giving the goods directly to local government leaders for distribution.
Gazmin said there should be no politics anymore in these times of disasters. "Sama-sama tayo," he said.
Feeding centers, shelters
The government was also lambasted for failing to put up temporary shelters and feeding centers for the victims.
Victims are scattered everywhere, looking for safe areas to sleep.
“We’re already addressing that, the DSWD is looking for tents available since most are in Bohol used by the earthquake victims,” he said.
He said people from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) are also looking for spots within the affected areas where the government can put up temporary shelters.
Asked for a timetable, he said “as soon as possible, the DSWD and DPWH are already looking for locally available supplies. Reconstruction materials are coming in from Manila and Cebu.”
He admitted toilet sanitation is also a problem. “They will be put up as soon as we start on the shelters.”
On the issue of water supply, he said: “We have water purifiers, water tanks are also beginning to function…We are only advising the people to boil the water before drinking it.”
Dead bodies, looting
Gazmin also claimed the search for bodies have started.
“Initially, we gave priority to the living…Two days ago, we started operations for the retrieval of cadavers. We have mobilized the Bureau of Fire Protection, the military…We do have problems because of the debris.”
He also insisted peace and order are in place. “We have increased the number of security personnel. We have more or less 2,000 forces in Tacloban, both from military and police, to be able to provide security.”