MALACANANG, December 30, 2003
(STAR) Three boys toured Malacañang yesterday, and their official guide was no less than President Arroyo, who also treated them and their families to a merienda at Kalayaan Hall.

Mrs. Arroyo did not have any appointment yesterday.

Jason, Jomar and Erwin, who first met Mrs. Arroyo in June 2001, before she presented them at her State-of-the-Nation Address before Congress, used to live at the Payatas dumpsite in Quezon City.

"Study well! Kayo ang inspirasyon ko sa aking trabaho," Mrs. Arroyo told them while accompanying them on a tour of the Palace.

Jason, Jomar and Erwin had gown up since they were last seen publicly with Mrs. Arroyo at the House of Representatives almost three years ago.

Having come from Payatas, the boys were presented by Mrs. Arroyo to the people to dramatize her vow to provide food, jobs and shelter for Filipinos living in poverty. — Marichu Villanueva

GMA elated over Zigzag’s zero casualty rate By Marichu Villanueva The Philippine Star 12/30/2003

President Arroyo thanked the media and the public yesterday for helping the government warn people and achieve its "zero casualty" goal when tropical storm "Zigzag" threatened to wreak havoc in the country over the weekend.

"I thank the media. You really helped in the bulletins on the details on who should evacuate and where, and the people responded. They heard the news and they responded and, therefore, we achieved zero casualty," Mrs. Arroyo told a press conference.

Disaster officials led by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita briefed Mrs. Arroyo yesterday on the progress of relief operations for hundreds of mudslide victims in Leyte and Surigao del Sur.

Last Saturday, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the forced evacuation of thousands living in landslide-prone areas in Samar and Leyte as well other provinces in Mindanao that were in Zigzag’s path.

She set up a command center at Malacañang to supervise the evacuation and other emergency preparations.

The storm had threatened to engulf areas in Leyte and Surigao del Sur that were earlier hit by mudslides that struck several towns and killed over 200 people. Zigzag, however, veered away at the last minute.

Mrs. Arroyo said the emergency preparations served as a drill for future disasters. The command center, however, would be based at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City where the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) holds office.

In her meeting with disaster officials yesterday, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the NDCC to "sharpen" its disaster preparedness measures.

The NDCC is concurrently headed by Defense Secretary Eduardo Ermita. It is in charge of rescue and relief operations during disasters.

To avoid disasters similar to the ones in Leyte and Surigao del Sur, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to identify areas that may be prone to mudslides and other disasters.

The "environmental mapping" is expected to cost the government P100 million, Mrs. Arroyo said.

Torrential rains triggered by seasonal northeasterly winds caused floods and landslides in Leyte and Mindanao, with entire villages buried under mud. Officials also blamed illegal logging for the tragedy.

The DENR was ordered to undertake a tree-planting program. Much of the Philippines’ vast forests have been destroyed by decades of illegal logging.

Mrs. Arroyo also put the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council in charge of relocating mudslide victims and provide housing to be built by military engineers.

The Philippines is hit by 17 to 20 typhoons every year. The most destructive was "Thelma," which struck Leyte in November 1991 and unleashed floods and landslides that killed about 4,000 people in Ormoc City.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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