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Opposition senators scrutinize govt response to Yolanda

President Benigno S. Aquino III leads the turnover of the food packs and matts to Basey Mayor Junji Ponferrada, and the local officials on Tuesday (November 19) during his  visit to Basey in Western Samar. (MNS photo)

President Benigno S. Aquino III leads the turnover of the food packs and matts to Basey Mayor Junji Ponferrada, and the local officials on Tuesday (November 19) during his visit to Basey in Western Samar. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Members of the Senate minority on Wednesday used the deliberations on the proposed Department of National Defense (DND) budget for next year to scrutinize the government’s response to Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile particularly questioned why soldiers deployed in Tacloban City in Leyte – one of the areas severely hit by Yolanda—were not able to immediately respond to looting incidents that happened during the aftermath of the super typhoon.

“Why was it that the troops were not able to stop the looting? I was wondering why there were reports that there is no communication. I know that the Secretary of Defense can communicate with any unit of the military anywhere in the country anytime, including the commander-in-chief,” Enrile said during the budget debates.

Enrile, a veteran politician who served as defense minister from 1972 to 1986, said the military should be “the one in command in calamity operations” and should always be “the first ones at the scene.”

“Previously, once we get a signal from the weather bureau that there is a typhoon passing through an area, we alert the military immediately and make them prepare all their resources to assist the population when the typhoon passes including delivering equipment to secure the people,” he said.

After the hearing, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin explained that a military platoon was deployed in Tacloban City, but only for disaster response.

Ang sagot diyan, yung military sa Tacloban ay isang platoon lamang to respond to calamities. Way before, Tacloban was declared insurgency-free. Hawak na ng pulis. Since this is a police matter, pulis dapat. Meron kaming sundalo pero kakaunti,” Gazmin told reporters.

Enrile, however, was not satisfied with the DND’s explanation, saying the military should have immediately assisted the police in keeping peace and order in typhoon-hit areas.

“You cannot expect the police to operate in a calamity condition because their families are also affected. That is why we have the military manpower,” he said.

A total of 4,011 individuals have been confirmed dead as of Wednesday morning after Yolanda ripped through the Visayas and parts of Luzon over a week ago.

Incidents of looting were reported in the typhoon’s aftermath, but were eventually contained after more police and military officers were deployed in Tacloban City.

Enough equipment?

Senator Nancy Binay, another member of the opposition, meanwhile questioned the military’s capability to respond to disasters in terms of equipment.

Binay asked how many C-130 aircraft the military currently has, and if it has plans to procure some more next year.

Senator Loren Legarda, who was defending the DND’s budget, said all three of the military’s C-130 aircraft were used in Yolanda relief efforts. She added that the Armed Forces will acquire two similar aircraft before year-end.

Binay also questioned if the DND possessed enough satellite phones, and later found out that the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) did not have its own satellite phones.

“Apparently, we got too dependent on communication provided by telcos (telecommunications companies). We need more satellite phones,” Binay said.

The opposition senator also proposed that the NDRRMC be given a bigger budget so that it can procure more equipment for disaster risk reduction.

Legarda, for her part, said it may be time to review the mandate of the NDRRMC.

“We should have a paradigm shift. Maybe we should review the NDRRMC law so we can have a stronger council. A review of our protocols is in order,” she said.

Senator Grace Poe had earlier proposed in a resolution that the NDRRMC be separated from the DND for better disaster response. (MNS)

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