DUMAGUETE CITY—President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday distributed more than P10 million under the government’s cash-for-work program to victims of the 6.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Negros on Monday.
The President spent his 52nd birthday with his sisters Ballsy Cruz and Pinky Abellada, and members of his Cabinet, visiting the affected families and inspecting damage to infrastructure, particularly in Guihulngan City and La Libertad town.
“We saw the real impact of the natural disaster,” he told reporters following a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council at the city’s airport.
He cited one road crack that was quite huge and aftershocks that continue to be felt and were widening the cracks. The lack of clean water was also felt in the communities he visited, he said.
“Perhaps, more than anything, we saw earlier the problem that hurts, especially for those who lost their loved ones,” Mr. Aquino said. “On the other hand, the government now has a greater capability to bring them back as much as possible to a normal situation.”
The President said employees of the national and local governments, and those from nongovernment organizations were helping ease the suffering of the survivors.
He gave P3.3 million for the cash-for-work program in Guihulngan, P1.3 million for La Libertad, and P5.7 million for the rest of the affected local government units in the province.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said that having work would help rehabilitate people from their trauma.
Mr. Aquino ordered all concerned government agencies, particularly the Department of Public Works and Highways, to “expedite” their tasks of bringing rehabilitation and relief to the more than 12,000 families affected by the earthquake.
In particular, he directed the DPWH to hasten the repair of a bridge so that La Libertad could be reached.
The President expressed concern over the “unnecessary tension” suffered by residents in Guihulngan and La Libertad over erroneous reports of an expected huge earthquake and tsunami.
He ordered the arrest and prosecution of those who were behind the disinformation, causing residents to sleep outside their homes anticipating another high-magnitude earthquake. “The next thing we know, our problem could be pneumonia,” he said.
In a meeting of the Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council at the Sibulan-Dumaguete airport, the President noted that the mass evacuations that turned many towns in northern Negros Oriental into virtual ghost towns, would not have happened had the public been informed by the Department of Science and Technology about the science behind earthquakes and tsunamis.
He asked the local government units to help the DOST in disseminating information to the public.
Governor Roel Degamo reported to the President that there were 26 dead and more than 50 still missing as a result of the earthquake. He placed the damage at P655 million.
Social Welfare Secretary Soliman said some 6,000 food packs had been sent to Guihulngan and La Libertad, aside from provisions for bottled water, mats, mosquito nets, laundry soap and kitchenware.
Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said 13 bridges on national roads were damaged.
Three must be replaced, he said, adding that temporary bridges would be installed during construction.
The earthquake damaged P64 million worth of irrigation facilities, as well as hectares of rice and corn, the Department of Agriculture reported in Manila.
A total of 17 facilities in Central Visayas worth P60.3 million and five facilities in Western Visayas worth P2.72 million must be repaired, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said.
Most of the damaged facilities were communal irrigation systems.
Initial reports showed that 800 hectares of rice land and 1,500 hectares of corn land in Negros Oriental were affected.
The agriculture department said it would be providing seeds to the affected farmers. It has prepared 1,000 bags of certified palay seeds, 100 bags of open pollinated corn seeds and 2,000 packets of assorted vegetable seeds for distribution once the damage reports are validated.
Mr. Aquino also ordered the relocation of residents from geo-hazard areas before the onset of the rainy season.
During his visit to the affected communities, he told the residents that there was no need to live in constant fear and panic while anticipating earthquakes and tsunami.
The President told reporters that he asked his staff in Malacañang to prepare snacks for themselves and members of the Presidential Security Group to mark his birthday.
“I will just wait for the kindness of my Cabinet secretaries. They might treat me to food later. But perhaps that would no longer happen as they would rest instead. They have many assignments,” he said. With reports from Alex V. Pal, Inquirer Visayas, and Leila B. Salaverria in Manila.
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