DECEMBER 14, 2006 (STAR) By Paolo Romero And Aurea Calica - President Arroyo sent off to Bicol yesterday a massive relief convoy that swelled to 270 assorted vehicles and trucks loaded with food, medicine and other supplies for typhoon-ravaged areas in the region.

Presidential Security Group chief Col. Romeo Prestoza said from an original 200 vehicles, the mercy mission convoy — dubbed the "Caring and Sharing Caravan" by Mrs. Arroyo — is expected to lengthen to nearly 300 vehicles as more volunteers and goods join the 400-kilometer trek to Albay.

The President said she gave this name to the caravan as a "tribute" to the theme of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit, "A Caring and Sharing Community." Officials said the summit was reset to January due to typhoon "Seniang," though critics said Mrs. Arroyo postponed the event for fear of massive street demonstrations that would greet visiting heads of state.

"I came here to check on the schedules and destinations of these trucks to make sure we reach the most needy communities in the most expeditious way," Mrs. Arroyo told officials and volunteers who gathered at the Central Business Park near the Diosdado Macapagal Highway in Pasay City where the vehicles were parked before they were sent off at 10:30 a.m.

"I want every Filipino family to know that their government is ready to serve them in times of extreme distress when food, clean water, warm clothing and shelter cannot normally be availed of," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she "and the entire Cabinet feel your pain and we will do all we can to gather the energies and resources of the nation to help you."

During the sendoff, the President announced that the government will allocate P10 billion for the relief and rehabilitation of calamity-stricken areas, particularly provinces hard-hit by the four strong typhoons that battered the country recently.

She said the special fund will be taken from the allocation for non-priority government projects under the proposed 2007 national budget.

Mrs. Arroyo said Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. will ask Congress to realign the amount for the relief and rehabilitation of disaster areas, particularly in the Bicol region, from the proposed 2007 general appropriations.

In 1993, then President Fidel Ramos also allocated P10 billion for the rehabilitation of Central Luzon provinces affected by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

Spontaneous gesture

Mrs. Arroyo said the caravan was spontaneously organized by civic-minded groups that want to stand up and be counted for the relief operations in the Bicol region, which was devastated by recent typhoons.

Mrs. Arroyo commended all government officials as well as private sector leaders who joined the caravan.

"As this humanitarian effort traverses the disaster areas, giving aid and comfort to our distressed brethren, we symbolize a nation of one heart and one mind, a nation that derives its strength from unity and compassion, from the spirit of bayanihan and damayan," she said.

The President said she joins the nation in praying for the comfort of the distressed, the healing of families and communities that have lost brethren and loved ones in the wake of misfortunes.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said some 44 government agencies and 16 non-government organizations (NGOs), including business and religious groups, foreign governments and private individuals have joined efforts to bring aid and comfort to the disaster victims.

National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) executive director Glen Rabonza said the caravan is expected to arrive in Pili, Camarines Sur and Legaspi City in Albay by noon today.

Andaya, who was among the Cabinet officials who accompanied the convoy, said there will be a stopover in Naga City, where some of the relief goods will be unloaded.

Among other officials present during the sendoff were Vice President Noli de Castro, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, Science Secretary Estrella Alabastro, Social Welfare Secretary Esperanza Cabral, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza, Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano, Trade Secretary Peter Favila, Labor Secretary Arturo Brion, and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye.

Ermita said police and military personnel will escort the caravan.

The next stops would be at the sports complex in Pili town, Camarines Sur and in Camp Simeon Ola in Legaspi City, Albay.

Aside from food and used clothing, the caravan is also bringing construction materials and other supplies for road clearing and the restoration of electricity to affected areas.

Linemen of the Manila Electric Co., Metro Manila Development Authority personnel, and medical teams are with the caravan, Ermita said.

Since Dec. 2, C-130 planes of the Armed Forces have flown 11 mercy flights to Bicol to bring relief goods to calamity victims.

Malaysia and Indonesia have also sent one planeload each of relief items to stricken areas.

Ermita said United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney said her government will also send a medical mission to Bicol.

"So just about everybody is participating. We can say that this is not just a Christmas gift of President Arroyo but of concerned Filipinos from the government and private sector for the typhoon victims," he said.

Relief caravan stranded as Albay bridge collapses By Cet Dematera The Philippine Star 12/14/2006

LEGASPI CITY — A convoy carrying relief supplies for typhoon victims in Bicol was stranded in Guinobatan, Albay after a bridge, already weakened by recent flooding, finally collapsed yesterday.

About half of the 270 vehicles comprising the "sharing and caring caravan" had crossed the Travesia Bridge, which has a three-ton capacity, when it gave way.

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr., Metro Manila Development Authority Chairman Bayani Fernando, Camarines Sur Gov. L-Ray Villafuerte and Albay Gov. Fernando Gonzales were waiting for the convoy at Camp General Simeon Ola in Legaspi City when told of the incident by Arnold Matamorosa, head of the Albay second engineering district. Belmonte donated P2 million to the victims of super typhoon "Reming."

Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. who joined the mercy mission, said the caravan finally reached Albay late yesterday afternoon with some vehicles branching out to other devastated areas.

President Arroyo ordered Andaya and NDCC deputy administrator Antonio Golez to proceed to Catanduanes, one of the worst hit by typhoons Reming and "Seniang" to help hasten the rehabilitation efforts there.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda directed Public Works regional director Orlando Roces to immediately put up a new steel bridge in two days to speed up the delivery of relief goods to the affected areas.

"We need to immediately restore the bridge due to the urgency of the mission to bring the relief items to the typhoon-hit provinces in Bicol," Salceda said.

Public Works officials here said that the stranded convoy may take a 12-kilometer alternate route via the Goodfound Cement Factory between Mauraro in Guinobatan and Palanog in Camalig.

Arnel Capili, director of the Office of Civil Defense in Bicol, said that he would mobilize members of the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council to extend security and other assistance to the stranded vehicles.

Capili said that 40 percent of the relief items would go to Albay, 30 percent to Camarines Sur, 20 percent to Catanduanes, and 10 percent to Sorsogon.

At Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Philippines has received over P370 million worth of donations and pledges in cash and kind from foreign and local donors, including governments and private organizations, for the relief and rehabilitation of typhoon-ravaged areas.

The donors included AusAID, which granted Australian $1 million to support the rehabilitation projects of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Development Program projects in the calamity-hit areas.

Canada donated a huge water treatment plant with a 144,000 liter per day capacity to Legaspi City in Albay, an inflatable hospital and P1.4-million worth of water purification tablets.

China gave a check worth $200,000 that was turned over to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Indonesia airlifted 25 tons of medicines, infant food, canned goods, clothing and other relief items worth P6.3 million.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency donated tents, blankets, generators and water tanks worth Y20 million.

Malaysia and its Malaysia Medical and Humanitarian Response Mission to the Philippines gave a planeload of emergency supplies and sent medical missions to typhoon-hit communities.

OXFAM of Great Britain donated P29.13 million for livelihood programs and provided 30,000 bottles of water and hygiene kits in Albay.

South Korea turned over a cash donation to the DFA worth $100,000 while Singapore sent relief supplies worth S$50,000.

Spain also sent a planeload of supplies worth $250,000 while the US Agency for International Development gave out immediate cash assistance of $250,000.

Other donors and agencies that gave pledges and assistance were the Telecoms Sans Frontier, UNICEF, World Vision, Canada-based Global Medic, Plan International, Israel, UN, the Filipino community in Saipan, Vietnam, Philippine Airlines, San Miguel Corp., Purefoods, Jollibee Foundation, Globe Telecoms, GMA Kapuso Foundation, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, CARE Philippines, Aboitiz 2GO, Ramon Aboitiz Foundation, ABS-CBN Foundation, Cebu Pacific, Atlas Consolidated Mining Corp., Benguet Mining Corp. La Fayette Mining Corp., Philippine Medical Association, Philippine Mining and Safety and Environment Association, Mirant Foundation, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Atzu Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Batangas Crown Lions Club, Coca-Cola Foundation and employees, Couples for Christ, McDonald’s, Petron, Operation Blessing, Peace Equity Access for Community Empowerment Foundation, Private Sector Disaster Management Network, Shelmed, Smart Communications, Tan Yan Kee Foundation, and Zuellig Foundation. - With Celso Amo, Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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