2009 (STAR) By Paolo Romero and Christina Mendez - President Arroyo moved out of her Palace apartment yesterday to give way to emergency and relief work in the Malacañang complex that she ordered opened as an emergency and evacuation center for victims of tropical storm “Ondoy.”

Presidential Management Staff chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. will oversee the National Relief Operations Center that would serve as a fourth drop area of the national government for donations as well as an evacuation center for families displaced by the typhoon.

To be prioritized are residents living near Malacañang and Palace employees who were affected by the destructive floods, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

“The general operation will be for us to receive relief goods. We will conduct repacking of these relief goods and distribution – both sending them away to places that are targeted at the same time having actual distribution here in the Malacañang grounds,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told a news briefing.

He said that private, civic organizations that want to donate relief goods can bring them to Malacañang.

Presidential daughter Luli Arroyo-Bernas and other female members of the Arroyo family will help in receiving and distributing donations, Remonde said.

He said apart from the donation drop centers run by the National Coordinating Council, the National Food Authority would also put up outlets to accept donations.

Remonde said the emergency relief center would be located in the grounds between Mabini Hall and Kalayaan Hall, which are just several meters away from the Palace itself. The entrance would be through Kalayaan Gate.

Those who want to donate may call 732-21-92,734-2192 and 0917-524-2217.

“As my own small contribution to the common effort, I have ordered Malacañang Palace to be opened to the general public, effective immediately, as a center for relief and rescue operations, the receipt and distribution of charitable donations, and the temporary relocation of families who were displaced or made homeless by the storm,” Mrs. Arroyo said in a statement.

“Relocated families will be sheltered in all available premises within the Palace buildings as well as tents to be set up on the Palace grounds. Government employees will be asked to make room for our guests,” she said.

The area could accommodate a few hundred persons.

He said tents would be put up to house medical teams from the Department of Health to attend to sick victims and to house some of the evacuees from the flooded barangays around the Palace.

Ermita said some of the offices at Mabini Hall would be vacated to accommodate the displaced families that would include Palace employees.

Remonde said the move was unprecedented and could be a nightmare as Malacañang is also a security complex fully guarded by the Presidential Security Group (PSG).

He said Mrs. Arroyo would be temporarily staying at the Bahay Pangarap within the PSG compound across the Pasig River.

He said there is already an outpouring of pledges and commitments to deliver donations to the Palace emergency relief center from business groups like the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“On the matter of security, don’t worry about not being able to enter the grounds of Malacañang because the PSG has been so advised so they are just around to maintain order but not really to make it difficult or scare anybody. We are going to take the risk because we know what we’re doing is good and I don’t think there would be those who would cause trouble,” Ermita said.

Remonde said the government broadcast networks and government-owned and controlled corporations as well as Philippine embassies and consulates also launched Oplan Sagip Bayan for the purpose of receiving and effectively and efficiently distributing relief goods and assistance.

Covered court turned into a wake site

Meanwhile, a covered court in a Quezon City village was turned into a site for the wake of 29 people who drowned on Saturday afternoon.

Superintendent Constante Agpaoa, commander of the Quezon City Police District-Station 6, said 28 people have been identified and were among some of the 80 residents of the village swept away by rampaging floodwaters and strong currents in the area.

The police official said 27 of them were found late Saturday and on Sunday in different areas in nearby Marikina City.

Another one was found under the San Mateo Bridge yesterday morning while the others was retrieved later in the day.

“The 27 bodies are now at the covered court where the wake will be held,” Agpaoa told reporters in an interview.

He said rescue teams from the police accompanied by Rep. Matias Defensor waded through flooded areas and boarded rubber boats in an effort to locate the residents swept away by flashfloods.

Twenty-five of the dead are residents of Barangay Bagong Silangan, while two are from nearby Vista Real Subdivision. The 29th dead body has not yet been identified.

According to Agpaoa, several residents in Barangay Bagong Silangan left their shanties to seek refuge in a two-storey house in the area at around 2 p.m.

“However, the two-storey house itself was washed away by the floods. Some residents never made it to the house and were dragged by the currents,” Agpaoa said.

The police official said that apart from the identified bodies, there were also 17 more dead bodies found in Barangay Ampit in Marikina that were still undergoing verification yesterday afternoon but were believed to be among those from Barangay Bagong Silangan.

Agpaoa said 35 more people swept away by flashfloods in Barangay Bagong Silangan remain missing.

He added that there are still ongoing retrieval operations with excavations in the eastside of Barangay Bagong Silangan to retrieve more victims.

Meanwhile, the body of a man was found in a river in Barangay Tatalon also in Quezon City yesterday morning.

Case investigator Police Officer 2 Rodel Tumangday said that the body was found at around 6 a.m. floating along Dario River. Tumangday said they have yet to identify the man who apparently died from drowning.

Tumangday described the man to be in his early 30s, between 5’4” and 5’5” in height, medium built, and wearing a pair of jeans and an orange t-shirt.

Marikina residents emerge out of mud

Marikina City residents woke up last Sunday in a city devastated by floods and mud after heavy rains brought by Ondoy flooded several areas, including Provident Village and Riverbanks Mall in the city.

People carrying whatever personal belongings they were able to save were forced to walk and flee towards Cubao, Quezon City as they escaped the storm’s ravages.

A multitude of families coming from as far as Tumana area in San Mateo-Marikina and some areas in Montalban City also walked towards Quezon City to seek higher ground.

Rich and poor alike all showed panic and fear brought about by the storm, said to be the worst to hit the city since 1978.

Some were covered in mud, while others fled without their slippers. Some families were lucky enough to save their belongings, cellular phones and even their pure-breed pet dogs and cats.

Some affluent families rode on their expensive SUVs while others rode passenger jeepneys just to reach higher ground.

Since early morning, traffic was heavy as a big number of vehicles passed by A. Bonifacio Avenue, the main thoroughfare from Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, which leads to Marikina City, a day after the daylong rains and flooding.

Many were rushing back to their homes after being stranded, spending the night somewhere because of the heavy rains and floods.

It was a no-business zone at the Riverbanks Mall after floodwaters entered the establishments, breaking the glass panels of fastfood restaurants Jollibee and Tropical Hut.

Other business establishments including PSBank, RCBC, LBC branches – which were clustered on the other side of the Riverbanks Mall – were in total disarray.

The offices of a call center company were also devastated. The chairs and tables inside the nearby Cordillera Coffee Shop were a total mess, in the same way as the Ice Crèam House, located across the road.

People were unable to withdraw money from ATM machines because they were destroyed by the floodwaters that overflowed from the nearby Marikina River.

The entire mall was closed since Saturday and there was no electricity in the city since Saturday afternoon. Electricity was restored in some areas around 3 a.m. on Monday.

Last Sunday, a long line of vehicles were abandoned along an inside street at the Riverbanks area towards the main A. Bonifacio Road going to Loyola Memorial Park and the city proper. – With Reinir Padua

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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