[PHOTO - TAIPAN AT GROUND ZERO: Tycoon Lucio Tan (3rd from left) surveys the damage in one of the areas hardest hit by massive flooding in Cagayan de Oro City. As chairman of Philippine Airlines, Asia Brewery and the Tan Yan Kee Foundation –three entities leading the Lucio Tan Group’s relief efforts –Tan personally visited and distributed relief goods to flood victims with top officials of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (from left) John Tan, Tan Ching, Willy Limbunhay, Jimmy Tang and Enrique Chua.]

MANILA, DECEMBER 22, 2011 (STAR) Commitments of support from countries and international organizations for the victims of tropical storm “Sendong” are coming in by the hour, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said yesterday.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Del Rosario on Tuesday night to sympathize with the tragedy and offered assistance to the thousands of victims of the tragedy.

The European Union (EU), Japan, Australia, China, Russia, Spain, United States, Canada, Germany, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, World Health Organization (WHO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) also sympathized with the Philippines and offered help.

“As I said, by the hour we are getting assistance,” Del Rosario said.

The UN will mobilize today the UN Humanitarian Action Plan in response to the devastation and loss of life caused by the storm.

Acting UN Humanitarian coordinator and WHO country director Dr. Soe Nyunt-U will lead the launching on behalf of the Philippine Humanitarian Country Team and the international humanitarian community.

Soe will appeal for support to help the government of the Philippines provide life-saving assistance to more than 471,000 people severely affected by the storm.

The priority needs are water, food, sanitation and hygiene services and facilities, temporary shelter and debris clearance.

Soe visited Cagayan de Oro and Iligan cities, hardest hit by the storm, to see firsthand the humanitarian situation in the worst-affected areas.

He also met with government representatives, aid organizations and communities affected by the tragic natural disaster.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also appealed for donations through UNICEF Philippines to help children and families in Mindanao affected by Sendong.

UNICEF is co-leading the water and sanitation response with the government, UN and NGOs to respond to the needs of children and families affected by the tropical storm.

According to UNICEF, lack of safe water and sanitation are the main priorities for those responding to the emergency in Mindanao.

The flooding has affected more than 63,000 families or 338,000 individuals, half of them children, in some 260 barangays.

UNICEF has dispatched supplies to the affected areas, including water kits and water treatment equipment to ensure safe, clean water; hygiene kits containing soap, toothbrushes and personal hygiene items.

UNICEF is also preparing to send tents and tarpaulins for temporary shelter; vitamins for mothers and infants; breastfeeding education materials to reduce the risk of infant mortality; and recreation kits so children can play and begin to have a sense of normalcy.

The European Commission also announced the allocation of 3 million euros to support the emergency response and provide relief to tens of thousands of people affected by the storm.

The funds will be used primarily for debris clean up, food assistance, temporary shelters, medical assistance, water and sanitation and protection. Over 100,000 people in need of urgent assistance will benefit from the funding.

“The funding will bolster the efforts of humanitarian organizations who are working hard to provide immediate assistance,” said Kristalina Georgieva of the European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

“In order to ensure coordinated and effective EU action, we have also activated the Civil Protection Mechanism to advise Member States and participating countries on what is needed,” Georgieva said.

The Spanish embassy in Manila said the Spanish Cooperation Agency for International Development (AECID) will provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of the storm in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan.

Local help

President Aquino led volunteers in distributing relief goods in Iligan on Tuesday.

Members of the Airline Operators Council (AOC) at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) tagged along and donated some 21,000 bottles of mineral water, 250 pairs of slippers and 250 pairs of rubber boots.

The Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association (PMSEA) also initiated an all-out effort to aid the victims of Sendong.

“Our member companies, as well as other partners, have immediately gathered together to help the victims of Sendong under PMSEA’s Safety Networking Action Program (SNAP) as we offer our condolences to our fellow Filipinos who lost members of their families and property,” said PMSEA president Louie Sarmiento.

Sarmiento said the PMSEA has already dispatched its Portable Water Filtration System (PWFS) to supply clean drinking water to Cagayan de Oro residents with the assistance of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).

Private shipping firms and air carriers also pitched in to help in the transport of relief goods.

The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said Fedex International has already started the airlift of relief goods from Manila to Cebu, where they are currently being picked up by ships of Negros Navigation for the quick hop to flood-ravaged Cagayan de Oro.

Sulpicio Tagud, president of Negros Navigation, also said Cebu Ferries opened up daily trips to Cagayan de Oro from Cebu, loaded with rice supplies, clothing, mineral water and other provisions.

AirAsia announced it would start relief goods mobilization and round-trip deliveries from Clark airport to Cagayan de Oro.

Mercy missions are now being readied for deployment from Clark to Cagayan de Oro as well, the DOTC said.

– With Mayen Jaymalin, Edith Regalado, Perseus Echeminada, Rainier Allan Ronda, Paolo Romero, Danny Dangcalan, Jose Rodel Clapano


Malacañang, Aquino sisters defend partying President by Joyce Pangco Pañares and Maricel Cruz


PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III came under heavy fire Monday for partying Sunday night while the nation was reeling from the damage wrought by tropical storm Sendong, which left more than 650 people dead in Mindanao over the weekend.

“It smacks of utter insensitivity on the part of the President to [be merrymaking] while hundreds have been killed and thousands struggle to survive in the wake of ... Sendong,” said Kabataan party-list Rep. Raymond Palatino in a post on the Twitter social network.

Palatino’s post came as word spread that Mr. Aquino was enjoying a party for the Presidential Security Group Sunday night while other government officials were working to bring relief to the storm victims in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and other coastal cities in Mindanao.

“President Aquino, being the head of state, should have made it his priority to be hands-on in alleviating the situation in Mindanao instead of attending a Christmas party in Malacañang,” Palatino said.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the reports on the party made Mr. Aquino appear insensitive.

“At a time when the people are looking to Malacañang for reassurance and leadership in the wake of the terrible tragedy, President Aquino has disappointed many by his silence,” Tinio said.

Word on the Palace party spread online after actress Valerie Concepcion, one of the performers invited to perform during the occasion, posted this tweet: “Done w/ work.. Tnx for having me.. :) It was nice to see Pres. P-Noy laughing at my jokes & enjoying my performance..ü #Malacañang #PSGNight.”

Concepcion deleted the tweet after it drew scathing comments such as this one: “While our kababayan [countrymen] in CDO [Cagayan de Oro] are dying, our good President was laughing at Valerie Concepcion’s jokes!”

The Palace on Monday sought to control the damage, with spokesmen offering differing accounts of how long the President stayed at the party and Mr. Aquino’s sisters defending his actions.

“He just listened to two or three songs ... it was maybe just an hour or two of his time,” Presidential Communications Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a breakfast forum at the Diamond Hotel.

“He did not sing,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“He just sat and watched the party for a few minutes and then he left immediately.”

PSG commander Col. Ramon Dizon said Mr. Aquino stayed for a little over half an hour.

“He did not even go up the stage,” he said.

“There was no speech, and definitely no singing or dancing for the President.”

The President’s sister, Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, defended her brother’s actions, saying life must go on even if hundreds have died and hundreds more remain missing in Mindanao.

“The party was scheduled long before the disaster,” she said in Tagalog in a TV interview.

“Of course, we are saddened by the tragedy but then, life should go on. We cannot stop living and just sulk.”

Another sister, Pinky Aquino-Abellada, defended Mr. Aquino’s decision not to rush to Cagayan de Oro to lead the relief efforts, saying he did not want to disrupt the rescue operations with his presence.

Mr. Aquino’s show-business sister, TV host Kris Aquino, said the public should give her brother a break.

“Of course, he is the President of the Philippines and he loves his countrymen and will do everything for them,” she said in Tagalog.

“We shouldn’t be so quick in criticizing him. It’s just that a President is not like you or me. We can hop on a plane and go there [but he can’t] because there are a lot of national concerns.”

In his own defense, the President said in a statement it would have been unfair to skip the party because the families of his security group flew from the provinces just to celebrate the holidays with him.

“The PSG, by the nature of their job, is on alert 365 days of the year,” said his statement read by Lacierda.

“Christmas Day is not an exception. Separation from their loved ones is part and parcel of the job, and holidays are not exceptions.

“The Christmas celebration is meant most especially for the younger members of their families who refer to this one day where the importance of the family is emphasized. It would be most unfair to deprive them of this singular familial activity.”

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. also tried to defend the President, saying he was probably unaware of the extent or gravity of the storm’s damage.

“If you don’t know what’s happening somewhere, you might not know,” Belmonte told House reporters.

Actress Concepcion (photo) said she did not see anything wrong with the President’s attendance at the party.

“I do not see anything wrong with that since it’s his obligation and responsibility being the head of Malacañang to be present and show his support for his hardworking employees and their respective families,” she said in a tweet.

On Monday, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said the government had released at least P1.297 billion in calamity response funds to help the victims of tropical storm Sendong.

“With the calamity fund, the government is generously equipped to mobilize and support disaster relief efforts in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, and other Sendong-affected areas,” he said.

“We are ensuring the quick release of these funds so that victims will receive swift and proper assistance.”

Abad made the statement as Palatino criticized the President for vetoing a P5-billion fund for disaster preparation in the 2011 budget.

Lacierda called on Palatino not to politicize the issue, saying the government had enough funds to help the residents affected by Sendong. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved