MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte said Sunday government would provide food and water to the people of Cagayan amid the heavy flooding in the province as his Cabinet members proposed tree planting and dredging.
Typhoon Ulysses, the country's 21st storm this year, left at least 67 dead and displaced hundreds of thousands as of Sunday after inundating large swaths of Luzon from Wednesday night to Thursday. Nine deaths are reported in Cagayan.
Duterte said government would "do everything to return to normalcy" the soonest possible time. The President earlier said he has ordered the creation of a new inter-agency task force to streamline the government’s response and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Ulysses (international name: Vamco).
"Ang atin ngayong gawin (What we will do right now), we will do everything to return to normalcy. In the meantime, ang problema talaga sa sunog o baha is clean water, potable water. Kung wala, we will send them to you, even if we have to travel overnight. Ang una actually is food, yun ang pag-aralan ko, ng local officials," he said in a televised briefing from Cagayan.
Duterte said the country suffers from climate change even if it has only "a few factories running here."
"Ang problema ko talaga ngayon (my problem right now), whether we accept it or not, itong climate change...Tayong Philippines, we only have a few factories running here. We do not have that kind of…we spewed a little but not that much and pag yung bumagsak na, talagang babagsak. It does not only rain cats and dogs," he said.
"Itong ulan na ganito o bagyo (This kind of rainfall or storm) either with winds or just water pouring from the heavens, we always talk about illegal logging and mining, but actually nothing has been done about it."
Duterte ordered Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu to look into halting illegal mining in the area.
"If the possibility is not there for them to stop, at least Cimatu should devise a way so they can place mga bahay nila (their houses) above the rolling stones," he said.
Duterte also urged Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba to convince residents "to move to a place that is not prone to flooding." Housing Secretary Eduardo del Rosario said the agency has yet to assess damage as houses remain submerged in floodwaters.
"That’s the only way we can erase agony every time there is a typhoon over here," Duterte said.
"We have prepared for it. May pera yan sila lahat ng departamento."
Cimatu, citing a JICA study, said government can improve the volume of water that Cagayan River can handle by widening the "bottleneck" in the Magapit Bridge.
Cimatu also said he has approved a 30-kilometer dredging project from the "mouth of (Cagayan) river to upstream."
"Whether we like it or not, the flooding will again come. 'Yan ang nakikita kong engineering intervention we can do," he said.
The environment department will coordinate with the Interior department in urging citizens to plant trees in lowland areas, Cimatu said.
"We are 110 million Filipinos. If we can plant for every 6 months, that's 200 million a year," said Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, who said the agency aims to start it in January.
Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade, who comes from Claveria town in Cagayan, said one of his employees recommended to require transport operators to plant trees every time they are given a franchise.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said fruit trees should be mixed with forest trees when planting.
"'Wag lang lahat kahoy kasi mas aaalagan po ng mamamayan kung mixture of forest trees and fruit trees," he said.
(People will take more care if it's a mixture of fruits and trees.)
Since the devastation of Typhoon Quinta in late October, the agricultural department has incurred P2 billion damage, Dar said.
The agency is set to distribute some P846 million aid to Cagayan, P986 million to Isabela due to Quinta and Rolly's destruction, P148 million to Nueva Vizcaya, and P96 million to Quirino, according to Dar.
Tugade said he and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, a native of Ilagan City in Isabela, would donate fiber glass boats that can be used for fishing and rescue operations.
The President said he was scheduled to visit Legazpi City in Albay next, which was among areas hit hard by Super Typhoon Rolly (international name: Goni).
Duterte said he and his staff should pay a courtesy call to Vice President Leni Robredo while in Legazpi City. Robredo arrived in Cagayan hours earlier.