June 24, 2008 (STAR) By Paolo Romero — President Arroyo sought international aid yesterday to help victims of typhoon “Frank” even as she chided Coast Guard officials for ignorance of maritime safety rules that allowed the ill-fated ferry Princess of the Stars to sail despite the incoming storm.

In a related development, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said disaster officials are closely coordinating with their American counterparts to determine the nature and extent of assistance that the US may be requested to provide.

“I have talked on the phone with (US) Ambassador Kristie Kenney on this and she confirmed that our Armed Forces and disaster officials are adequately addressing the present needs,” Dureza said.

During another videoconference from the Fresno Convention Center around 12:30 p.m. (4:30 a.m. Manila time) with Cabinet officials led by Vice President Noli de Castro in Malacańang, Mrs. Arroyo ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to open disaster relief donation accounts for international and local assistance for the relief and rehabilitation of devastated communities.

The videoconference was held in front of nearly 1,000 Filipino-Americans and members of the Filipino community from central California minutes after she attended Mass with them and briefly addressed them.

It was the second such conference since she arrived in the US. A teleconference was held on Saturday evening shortly after she arrived in San Francisco.

“Embassies in the US, Europe, Middle East and Asia should open disaster relief donation accounts plus the NDCC (National Disaster Coordinating Council) donation account, website and text number,” the President said.

She said the NDCC and the Philippine Information Agency should make sure that the NDCC website works.

She pointed out that she was not able to get in touch with the NDCC because its site was not available.

“Now we have urgent needs again. A storm hit the Philippines and we are banking on the help of those willing to help, especially Filipinos,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Mrs. Arroyo assured the people that the government would give aid to the ferry disaster victims and their families aside from what the ship owner, Sulpicio Lines, will be giving.

“And I hope that our congressmen will also partly give this especially those whose constituents were passengers or crew members of that boat,” she said.

She directed NDCC executive officer Glenn Rabonza to coordinate with Sulpicio Lines to obtain information on the victims of the tragedy.

During the videoconference, Mrs. Arroyo also chided Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officials for their apparent ignorance of maritime safety rules.

During the earlier teleconference, she was questioning Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Wilfred Tamayo why the M/V Princess of the Stars was allowed to sail despite the typhoon.

Tamayo said the ship was not covered by regulations in such a situation since the vessel was a big ship. He said at that time the typhoon was not strong enough.

He, however, said a warning was issued to all vessels on Saturday, ordering them to immediately seek a safe port.

Mrs. Arroyo, however, yesterday said she found out that existing maritime regulations could stop any vessel from setting sail during bad weather.

“I’m just looking at the guidelines and policy genera. If any vessel is scheduled to depart and the operator of the vessel should study carefully the typhoon movement to ensure that the vessel will not be within the area directly affected by the typhoon signals 1, 2, 3 and 4 within the danger sector until they reach their destination. So what you’re (Tamayo) saying that there is no prohibition is not true. It’s here in your guidelines,” she said.

Also present during the videoconference was Ed Go, owner of Sulpicio Lines, who assured the President that the shipping firm would give assistance to the victims.

“Our company is committed to compensate the victims and bring them to their hometowns. Whatever the expenses, our company will take care of all expenses,” Go said.

He admitted the ill-fated vessel was 24 years old but maintained that it was sea-worthy when it set sail last week.

Assistance from US

The United States has joined the massive search and rescue operations for survivors of the Princess of the Stars.

Dureza said US Ambassador Kenney, who is in Washington, informed him that a US Navy ship is now proceeding to the Philippines to help in the rescue operations.

“(Kenney) just informed me that a US Navy ship is now steaming towards the general area where the vessel capsized, to assist in the search and rescue operations,” Dureza said.

He said the US vessel is expected to reach the site in 15 hours.

Deputy Presidential Spokesman Anthony Golez said the ship came from the US military base in Okinawa, Japan.

The US embassy said in a statement that the supply ship, the USNS Stockham, with search and rescue helicopters aboard, was ordered to proceed to Sibuyan Island to assist with rescue and recovery efforts.

A US Navy P-3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft was also ordered to proceed to the former US Air Force base at Clark Field to help in the search for survivors.

Reports said President Arroyo, who is on a 10-day trip in the US, sought the help of the US government in the rescue. Dureza could not confirm this.

He said Armed Forces officials are closely coordinating with their American counterparts on the rescue operation.

Dureza said Mrs. Arroyo would call for another videoconference with Cabinet and disaster officials in Manila when she arrives in Washington today. — With Marvin Sy, Pia-Lee Brago

China to hand over $100,000 donation for relief efforts tomorrow

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 06:05 PM China will turn over to the Philippine government tomorrow a $100,000 emergency cash assistance for disaster relief efforts and reconstruction.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said today that Chinese Ambassador Song Tao will hand over the donation for typhoon “Frank” relief efforts to acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Francisco Benedicto tomorrow mornning.

In a statement, the embassy said China’s assistance is to help the Philippines after the country was hit by typhoon “Frank” over the weekend, which caused large casualties and property losses, and the sinking of MV Princess of the Stars off the coast of Romblon.

“The Chinese government and people wish to express deep condolences and sincere sympathies to the Philippine people and the families of the victims. As close neighbor and good friend to the Philippines, we share the sufferings of the victims and their families,” the embassy said in a statement.

Upon learning the tragedy, the embassy said Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a condolence message to President Arroyo immediately. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechie also sent a letter of condolences to his counterpart Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo. -- Pia Lee-Brago

GMA orders MMDA to help provinces hit hard by ‘Frank’ By Michael Punongbayan

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 President Arroyo ordered the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) yesterday to help affected families in provinces that were hardest hit by typhoon “Frank.”

The agency was tasked to deploy all its men and heavy equipment.

MMDA Chairman Bayani Fernando said they are coordinating with the National Disaster Coordinating Center (NDCC) and local officials of the provinces of Iloilo, Mindoro, Leyte, La Union, Benguet, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Zambales, Batangas and Bulacan to clear the streets, drainage systems and waterways of debris and garbage.

Fernando quoted the President as saying that because Metro Manila – despite widespread flooding – was not badly hit by the storm, it would be better to bring the agency’s manpower resources and logistics to areas where “our countrymen are suffering greatly.”

As of press time yesterday, the MMDA has prepared its rock drillers, backhoes, concrete breakers, compressors, light trucks, generator sets, manlifters and chainsaws for transport to the provinces at a moment’s notice from the NDCC and concerned local chief executives.

As the situation began to normalize in Metro Manila at the aftermath of the storm yesterday morning, MMDA street sweepers, landscape personnel and sidewalk clearing teams moved about removing garbage, broken twigs and debris strewn on major and secondary roads of the metropolis.

Quezon City Mayor Feliciano Belmonte Jr. reported that no infrastructure was damaged during the typhoon, and the only major incident that occurred was a tree falling on a car.

The MMDA reported flooding along Araneta Avenue and some portions of EDSA.

Las Pińas, on the other, reported heavy flooding, particularly in the Alabang-Zapote area. Mayor Vergel Aguilar ordered the declogging of the city’s creeks and waterways.

Public information office chief Jimmy Castillano said since the city is near the coast, flooding is already expected during heavy rains, but the city government “immediately comes up with measures that will address flooding and related problems.” – With Perseus Echeminada, Rhodina Villanueva

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved