MANILA, MARCH 17, 2011
 (TRIBUNE) By Aytch S. de la Cruz and Michaela P. del Callar - President Aquino bragged to reporters that his government was among the first that immediately offfered humanitarian aid of some $14 million to Japan, but he now refuses to order the evacuation of some 300,000 Filipinos in Japan, and unconscionably tells its citizens in Japan not to expect his government to pay for their airfare to the Philippines.

The government relies on the OFWs’ remittances to prop up the economy, but when it comes to aiding the OFWs in their hour of need, these workers are told they can’t rely on government to help them return to the country to get them out of harm’s way.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) funds are usually used for such emergencies. Aquino also has a huge pork barrel fund that runs into billions that could be utilized but, apparently, Aquino does not want to part with his pork barrel.

The Aquino government yesterday said it is not planning to evacuate its more than 300,000 citizens in Japan amid the deepening nuclear crisis there. Neither will the Aquino government shoulder the airfare of Filipinos in Japan who want to come home.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said those who were concerned about possible radiation exposure would need to leave using their own means.

“There’s no mandatory repatriation,” Del Rosario told reporters.

Explosions and fire at a Japanese nuclear plant, crippled by a quake and tsunami last Friday, unleashed dangerous levels of radiation this week.

The threat of radiation poisoning triggered moves by foreign governments, including China and Europe, to start evacuating their citizens.

Instead, the Aquino government said it will wait

for the Japanese government to tell them when it is time to evacuate the Filipinos.

The Japanese government has already urged Filipinos living within the nuclear plant area to evacuate, yet the Aquino government claims there is still no word from the Japanese government.

Filipinos in Sendai are reportedly cursing the government for not attending to their needs.

Malacañang just a few days ago boasted about its $14 million donation to Japan, yet it was reduced to admitting that the government has limited resources when confronted with the disappointment a Filipino family that was reportedly made to endure when they sought help from the Philippine embassy officials in Tokyo.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at a news conference that any monetary assistance being asked by calamity-stricken Filipino families in Japan would have to be discussed first between the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

“I understand that’s a difficult situation for Filipinos right now. Of course, they were affected by the disaster there. We will ask the DFA and also the DBM what we can do for our countrymen in Japan whose properties and assets were destroyed to help them go back home,” Lacierda said, in reaction to TV reports of a Filipino family that traveled four hours just to reach the Philippine embassy in Tokyo, hoping it could help them purchase plane tickets back to the country since all their resources had been washed away by the killer tsunami, only to be rejected because government has not allocated funds for such purposes.

“Our resources are limited. So the primary concern (in that situation is the) accountability procedures, auditing procedures, (that we have to observe)… As much as we’d like to, we have to get clearance first and there has to be a go-signal from Manila. It’s important that we get all these clearances… (to make sure that every disbursement is) legal,” Lacierda explained.

Ambassador Manuel Lopez reportedly said his agency has no money to fund the repatriation of OFWs who would like to leave Japan but Lacierda clarified that a standby fund amounting to P13 billion is available courtesy of the OWWA.

Lacierda explained that while some of these funds have already been expended for the repatriation of Filipinos in war-torn Middle Eastern and North African countries recently, the President can always direct the DBM to look for other sources of funds to cover the expenses of all the Filipinos who prefer to leave Japan.

The Palace official added that the government would also be looking into the plight of some Filipino immigrants who are married to Japanese citizens if they would seek the assistance of the Philippine embassy there.

“We will look into any Filipino citizen who will be looking for assistance from our embassy. That is a primary responsibility of this government. Some of them I understand have chosen to remain, some of them I’ve seen on TV have chosen to come home,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda claimed the government has already sent search and rescue teams to Japan to help locate some 42 Filipinos that were confirmed missing following the magnitude-8.9 quake and the deadly tsunamis that hit the country last Friday. The team, however, has not left the country.

Lacierda also claimed that the government has already deployed C-130 planes to transport relief goods such as bottled water and noodles to Filipinos affected by the calamity which would also be used to bring home those who want to leave Japan.

Lacierda said the plane will land at Narita International Airport and will wait for Filipinos who would want to return to the country but there is no information as yet as to the schedule of departure of the C-130s.

The Palace official noted that Japan is still in alert level 2, which means that the government can only implement voluntary repatriation. He stressed that the primary concern of the Philippine embassy in Tokyo is to make sure that the Filipinos affected by the earthquake are properly accounted for.

Lacierda added that in the absence of any monetary capability of the Philippine embassy, “it is common sense that they will provide shelter for those in need” even as the resources of the government are limited.

There are 2,366 Filipinos in Fukushima, 1,039 in Minami, 906 in Iwati and 551 in Aomori which are among the areas gravely devastated by the earthquake, tsunami, and hydrogen explosions that struck Japan all at once just recently.

The foreign ministry also issued a statement saying that it would follow Japanese government advice in determining if there was a need to organize a mass evacuation of Filipinos.

“If, as determined by Japanese officials, relocation and repatriation become necessary, the Philippine government will defray the cost to undertake the required measures,” the statement said.

Del Rosario also said Filipino quake and tsunami survivors who may have lost everything would have to get back home on their own, with the government unable to pay for their flights.

“Well, that’s unfortunate. We sympathize with them,” he said, when asked about their plight. “The (DFA ) does not have its own funds.”

About nine million Filipinos work around the world, earning more money abroad than they could do in their impoverished homeland.

Del Rosario also yesterday defended Ambassador Lopez even after the envoy reportedly issued a unilateral order to evacuate the chancery’s non-essential staff and their dependents ahead of the hundreds of Filipinos directly hit by Friday’s deadly quake in Northeastern Japan.

Del Rosario belied reports that Lopez issued such instruction without approval from the Home Office in Manila. “He’s doing a great job and we’re coordinating with him by the hour,” Del Rosario, who just returned from a meeting in India, told reporters at the DFA in a chance interview.

Del Rosario clarified that Lopez’s recommendation only applies to the families of the embassy staff. He said embassy personnel are free to send their dependents back to the Philippines, but they would have to pay for their travel cost if they do so.

The DFA chief also stressed that no member of the embassy will leave Japan especially after the disaster that claimed the lives of at least 3,000 people and left hundreds more missing.

“We’re there to help people so we must remain there,” Del Rosario said. “The instruction applying to dependents, we encourage them to use their own means to be safe.”

He said the government’s primary goal is to move to safe grounds the more than 4,500 Filipinos in Northeastern Japan, the region hardest hit by the 9.0 quake and killer waves that washed away communities in the area.

“Maybe relocation is the first move followed by repatriation. We’re not in a (full) repatriation level at all,” Del Rosario said.

An embassy consular team in Sendai began evacuating Filipinos to Tokyo after receiving clearance from Japanese authorities to use the Tohoku Highway and proceed to Fukushima prefecture to pick up Philippine nationals.

“They are gathering the Filipinos who would like to join the trip, and are expected to be in Tokyo late this afternoon,” Lopez said in a report to the DFA.

The team will use the bus which brought relief goods to the area last Tuesday.

In a briefing for the diplomatic corps, Japanese authorities said that although some radioactivity levels have been detected in Tokyo, the level is “very low” to affect the health of people.

Manila on Tuesday issued alert level 2 to Filipinos living in Japan, which calls for the restriction of their movements and voluntary repatriation—the cost of which to be shouldered by the evacuees.

“We’re encouraging everyone to leave using their own means,” Del Rosario said.

A travel advisory was also issued by the Philippines to Filipinos, urging them to defer non-essential travel, including trips for tourism purposes.

“There is no travel ban to Japan. We just want to discourage them from going there at this point where there are still aftershocks and a looming threat of nuclear meltdown,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said in an interview.

Seguis said those who have already booked their holidays in Japan for the summer should contact their local tour agents to postpone their trips.

“They can leave if they want. We will not stop them but what we don’t want to happen is for them to be trapped in Japan given the current circumstances,” Seguis said.

Japanese authorities urged the foreign communities in Japan, through their embassies, to stay calm in order to cope with the situation and without causing unnecessary worry and fear among the people.

Philippine consular teams visited evacuation centers to check on the conditions of Filipinos and to distribute relief goods. The message board of the evacuation centers also contained the embassy’s contact details.

No Filipino was reported hurt or among those who have died, but the embassy in Tokyo listed names of 42 Filipinos whose whereabouts remain unknown five days after the quake.

Lopez said Philippine embassy officers and staff in Tokyo, as well as those in the Consulate General in Osaka headed by Consul General Maria Lourdes Ramiro-Lopez and the Honorary Consulates in Sapporo, Morioka, Nagoya and Naha, continue to reach out to Filipino community members, as well to quickly respond to requests for assistance or information. These are on a 24-hour operation to immediately respond to the calls of Filipino nationals, he said.

In line with the advisories issued by the Japanese government, the DFA asked Filipinos who are within the 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power to evacuate immediately, if they have not done so, and those within the 21-to 30-kilometer radius of the plant to stay indoors.

Those within or near the Fukushima Daiini nuclear power plant should also observe the 10-kilometer exclusion zone imposed by Japanese authorities.

Japanese authorities said that people residing outside the exclusion zones can remain and continue with their normal activities. However, those who are concerned about ongoing developments may wish to voluntarily relocate to areas further away or to voluntarily depart the country for the time being.

Filipino nationals who cannot get in touch with the Fukushima prefectural government may contact the embassy so it can inform Japanese authorities of their location.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) yesterday sent a two-man advance party to Tokyo to conduct ground assessment for the possible deployment of the 40-man search and rescue team to Japan where a magnitude 9 earthquake struck last Friday, triggering a massive tsunami.

NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said that Col. Danilo Estropia, who served as defense and military attaché to Japan, and Ranny Magno, head of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), flew to Tokyo at around 2 p.m. yesterday.

“The advance party has already left…to know what is the real situation…the smallest detail of where to land in Tokyo. There are four airports there and we still don’t know the area of operations,” said Ramos, adding that Estropia and Magno will initially be briefed by the embassy Japan regarding the present situation.

“They will not go directly to the Japanese government. They are not authorized so they will go the embassy. We sent technical people to assess what capability is needed with the present situation in Japan,” said Ramos.

Latest reports showed worsening radiation levels are now being experienced in tsunami-stricken areas in northeastern Japan where explosions from Daichi nuclear power plants were recorded during the past days.

The NDRRMC has organized a 46-man search and rescue team, composed of members of the SBMA Rescue, the Makati and Pasig Rescue Teams, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), for possible deployment to Japan as the government’s assistance to the earthquake-stricken country.

The team, dubbed as “Bayanihan Team”, on Tuesday showed off its capability in search and rescue operations, using modern equipment like ultra phone and ultra scope used in locating trapped victims, among others. With Mario J. Mallari and AFP


OUT OF CONTROL?  By REUTERS, AP, and ROY C. MABASA March 16, 2011, 7:35pm 

[PHOTO - CHANGING FACE : The face of Japan has changed almost beyond recognition as the impact of the devastating earthquake and tsunami is felt across the country. Here, firefighting ships try to extinguish a fire at burning oil refinery tanks in Chihara, Chiba prefecture after the earthquake and tsunami hit last Friday. (EPA Photo)]

TOKYO, Japan – Workers were ordered to withdraw briefly from a stricken Japanese nuclear power plant on Wednesday after radiation levels surged, Kyodo news reported, a development that suggested the crisis was spiraling out of control.

Just hours earlier another fire broke out at the earthquake-crippled plant, which has sent low levels of radiation wafting into Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering both fear in the capital and international alarm.

France urged its nationals either to leave Japan or head to the south and asked Air France to provide planes for evacuation. In a statement, the French embassy in Tokyo said two planes were already on their way to the capital.

Academics and nuclear experts said the solutions being proposed to quell radiation leaks at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima were last-ditch efforts to stem what could well be remembered as one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

“This is a slow-moving nightmare,” said Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at the Center for International Studies, which is part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Workers were trying to build a road so fire trucks could reach the stricken reactor No. 4 which was on fire on Wednesday.

Public broadcaster NHK said flames were no longer visible at the building housing the reactor, but TV pictures showed smoke or steam rising from the facility around 9 p.m. ET.

US assistance Eight experts from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission were to arrive Wednesday to advise on managing the situation, the foreign ministry said. It was not immediately known if they would go to Fukushima plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

Concern had earlier been mounting that the skeleton crews dealing with the crisis might not be big enough, or were possibly exhausted after working for days since last Friday's massive earthquake damaged the facility. Authorities withdrew 750 workers on Tuesday, leaving only 50.

Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano reported a sudden and brief rise in radiation levels at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant.

This prompted authorities to pull out all those remaining for almost an hour.

Japan’s nuclear safety agency said the level around the plant peaked at 6.4 millisieverts at around 10:45 a.m. (9:45 a.m. in Manila). Within 10 minutes it had fallen to 2.9 millisieverts.

A spike in radiation levels near the reactors on Tuesday ranged from 30 to 400 millisieverts. A single dose of 1,000 millisieverts – or one sievert – causes temporary radiation sickness such as nausea and vomiting.

The surge in radiation was apparently the result of a Tuesday fire in the outer housing of the containment vessel at Unit 4 reactor, said Hajimi Motujuku, a spokesman for the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. That blast is thought to have damaged the reactor's suppression chamber, a water-filled pipe outside the nuclear core that is part of the emergency cooling system.

Officials had originally planned to use helicopters and fire trucks to spray water in a desperate effort to prevent further radiation leaks and to cool down the reactors.

“It's not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,” Edano said.

“We are actually supplying water from the ground, but supplying water from above involves pumping lots of water and that involves risk. We also have to consider the safety of the helicopters above,” he said.

Worst feared A US nuclear expert said he feared the worst.

“It's more of a surrender,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer who now heads the nuclear safety program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, an activist group. "It's not like you wait 10 days and the radiation goes away. In that 10 days things are going to get worse.”

“It's basically a sign that there's nothing left to do but throw in the towel,” Lochbaum said.

The plight of hundreds of thousands left homeless by the quake and devastating tsunami that followed worsened overnight following a cold snap that brought snow to some of the worst-affected areas.

While the official death toll stands at 3,570 more than 7,000 are listed as missing and the figure is expected to rise.

In the first hint of international frustration at the pace of updates from Japan, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he wanted more timely and detailed information.

“We do not have all the details of the information so what we can do is limited,” Amano told a news conference in Vienna. “I am trying to further improve the communication.”

Several experts said the Japanese authorities were underplaying the severity of the incident, particularly on a scale called INES used to rank nuclear incidents. The Japanese have so far rated the accident a four on a one-to-seven scale, but that rating was issued on Saturday and since then the situation has worsened dramatically.

France's nuclear safety authority ASN said on Tuesday it should be classed as a level-six incident.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Tuesday urged people within 30 km (18 miles) of the facility – a population of 140,000 – to remain indoors, as authorities grappled with the world's most serious nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Officials in Tokyo said radiation in the capital was 10 times normal at one point but not a threat to human health in the sprawling high-tech city of 13 million people.

Levels dropped to minimal on Wednesday, but nerves were shaken by a 6.0 earthquake which shook buildings.

But residents nevertheless reacted to the crisis by staying indoors. Public transport and the streets were as deserted as they would be on a public holiday, and many shops and offices were closed.

Winds over the plant were forecast to blow from the northwest during Wednesday, which would take radiation toward the Pacific Ocean.

Fears of transpacific nuclear fallout sent consumers scrambling for radiation antidotes in the US Pacific Northwest and Canada. Authorities warned that people would expose themselves to other medical problems by needlessly taking potassium iodide in the hope of protection from cancer.

‘What the hell is going on?’ Japanese media became more critical of Kan's handling of the disaster and criticized the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. for their failure to provide enough information on the incident.

“This government is useless,” Masako Kitajima, a Tokyo office worker in her 50s, said as radiation levels ticked up in the city.

Kan himself lambasted the operator for taking so long to inform his office about one of the blasts on Tuesday. A Kyodo news agency reporter quoted the prime minister demanding the power company executives: “What the hell is going on?”

Nuclear radiation is an especially sensitive issue for Japanese following the country's worst human catastrophe – the US atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The full extent of the destruction from Friday's earthquake and tsunami was becoming clear as rescuers combed through the region north of Tokyo where officials say at least 10,000 people were killed.

Whole villages wiped out Whole villages and towns have been wiped off the map by the wall of water, triggering an international humanitarian effort of epic proportions.

There have been hundreds of aftershocks and more than two dozen were greater than magnitude 6, the size of the earthquake that severely damaged Christchurch, New Zealand, last month.

About 850,000 households in the north were still without electricity in near-freezing weather, Tohuku Electric Power Co. said, and the government said at least 1.5 million households lack running water. Tens of thousands of people were missing.

NHK offered tips on how to stay warm, for instance by wrapping your abdomen in newspaper and clingfilm, and how to boil water using empty aluminum cans and candles.

Most economists now believe that the Japanese economy, which had been starting to recover when the earthquake struck, will contract in the second quarter of 2011.

A few economists also flagged the risk of a prolonged disruption to consumers and companies and a decline in economic output through 2011 should power outages persist until December.

Prices for key tech components such as computer memory chips have spiked due to factory outages at companies including electronics giant Sony Corp, silicon wafter maker Shin-Etsu Chemical and Toshiba, a major supplier of NAND flash memory chips used in mobile devices.

ASEAN aid The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) vowed to provide more support, assistance, and contributions to those affected by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan.

“This is a region coming together to help its neighbor and a key dialogue partner in dire need,” ASEAN Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan said in a statement issued yesterday.

He said assistance from member countries of ASEAN has been offered in various forms, including cash, medical assistance, food, rescue efforts, and more.

Cambodia and Laos each contributed $100,000 for the relief of the victims. Laos also agreed to set up a national committee to raise more funds and to be ready to dispatch personnel.

Indonesia’s Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana is going to deploy 64 trained Quick Response Teams, equipped with medical supplies. The team includes the Indonesian Armed Forces, search and rescue contingent, and medical team.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines is also ready to deploy search and rescue contingents and may send more, if required.

The Singapore Civil Defense Force Operation Lion Heart contingent has likewise been activated. The contingent consists of five search specialists and five search dogs.

Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, has approved 15,000 tons of rice and over $6.5 million assistance.

Vietnam will provide Japan with $200,000 and is ready to send a medical team upon request.

Meanwhile, 20 Filipino seamen rescued after the tsunami hit Japan last Friday finally arrived home last Wednesday night after getting stranded at the Narita airport in Japan.

OWWA Administrator Carmelita Dimzon said that the 20 Filipino seamen were identified as Rodolfo Ador Lanutan, Nelson Victoria, Robert Pastoriza, Mark Guiritan, Arnulfo Alcantara, Alan Delanta, Rafael Macalindog, Hope Benedicto, Niceta Matalines, Dennis Chan, Efren Nervida, Gilbert Maramag, Dennis Biscocho, Michael Aspa, Roberto Ochia, Joemel Dasmarinas, Cesar Lili, Paulino Tinoy Jr., Alexander Coronel, and Nemie Simera.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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