Over the past two months, several typhoons had ravaged many parts of our country. As of this writing, various government agencies are still mobilized to continue providing rescue, relief, recovery and assistance to those who are affected by these natural calamities.
The entirety of government continues to work — nonstop — to provide much needed help to our fellow Filipinos amid their hardships. High-ranking officials and field workers alike are putting in valuable hours and risking their lives sans publicity and fanfare.
And the person on top of all these is President Rodrigo Duterte, who — days ahead of the typhoons — had already given instructions to the various arms of government. Calls for the President to direct government agencies during the typhoon are, therefore, no longer necessary, as he already did so beforehand. As the President rightly puts it: “Do not plan and give orders on the day of the battle.”
Also, calls asking about the President’s whereabouts and telling the President to visibly lead the response efforts in the middle of the typhoon are — to put it bluntly — absurd and reveal a rather shallow understanding of what it takes to be a truly effective leader. It is akin to asking the President to personally direct traffic in the middle of a downpour.
When it was safe enough to travel, the President and I conducted aerial surveys over Cagayan Valley and Camarines Sur, as well as attended situation briefings in Tuguegarao and Naga, to assess which areas need additional assistance on top of the relief efforts already done by the government.
In the wake of these typhoons, it has been reported that dozens have died, including some of our brave frontliners and volunteers. We grieve together with those they left behind. However, compared to similarly strong typhoons that wreaked havoc in our land in the past, the number of casualties during the recent typhoons this year is considerably lower.
This is a good sign that we are learning and that we are getting there in terms of disaster preparedness and response.
However, one death is still too many, and we, in government, will continue to strive harder each day to improve our efforts, ensure zero casualties and provide better and more effective services to our fellow Filipinos.
The events that transpired during these calamities will always serve as a lesson that we, in government, will strive to learn. As such, it is imperative that we apply more holistic approaches that will enable us to deliver services immediately, in accordance with the law.
We must also ensure that, in providing various forms of assistance, the vulnerable and poor sectors will be prioritized.
I am, therefore, glad that our government agencies responded positively to my call to have a streamlined mechanism for our government agencies that will improve the delivery of aid in times of calamities and crisis situations.
In fact, over the past week, several government agencies were with me when I personally visited the City of Marikina and the Provinces of Rizal and Bulacan to provide assistance to thousands of families affected by the recent typhoons. While observing strict health protocols, we distributed meals, food packs, masks, face shields, medicines and other assistance to families that were temporarily staying in various shelters.
Several members of my staff actually remained to continue providing assistance to the affected people in these areas and make sure that we help as many people as possible.
We also helped private school teachers belonging to the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA), including some informal sector workers who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside from these, we also ensured that these beneficiaries would receive financial assistance through the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DoLE) COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act. DoLE also provided similar aid to displaced informal sector workers through the Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers program.
We also opened the 92nd Malasakit Center in Benguet General Hospital in La Trinidad, Benguet to help serve those needing medical and financial assistance in the province.
As we recover from the aftermath of these typhoons, let us remember that we are still in the middle of our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I call on our fellow Filipinos to religiously wear masks, follow health protocols and observe physical distancing. This will go a long way in helping the government contain the spread of the virus.
On a related note, your government has already revealed a roadmap for the COVID-19 vaccine that covers its evaluation, acquisition and distribution. We have a proactive plan in acquiring and using these resources as soon as safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines become available.
When President Duterte came into office, he promised a meaningful and comfortable life for every Filipino. Today, more than four years later, we remain committed to realizing this vision, and I believe that we are also on the right track to achieve this vision for all.
My fellow Filipinos, we are now at a critical juncture of a very difficult year.
We are facing the consequences of a global pandemic while confronting the wrath of Mother Nature. But whatever crisis that may come our way — whether fire, pandemic, typhoon, or earthquake — your government is ready.
I only ask that you cooperate with the government and help one another.
We will always be here, ever ready to risk our lives for you. We will leave no Filipino behind. We will build back better. We will rise together.
Kapit lang po, aking mga kababayan! Magbayanihan po tayo!