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Defensor: Yolanda refugees ‘top concern’

Iloilo Capitol 02 January 13

ILOILO Province top agenda for 2014 is still the “immedite rehabilitation” of victims of typhoon Yolanda, Gov. Arthur D. Defensor Sr. declares this morning, his first official press briefing for the year with members of the Iloilo Press Corps.

Northern Iloilo, particularly the towns of Carles, Estancia, Batad, San Dionisio and Concepcion sustained the heaviest losses in lives and properties in the province – some 170,000 families displaced, 90,000 houses totally destroyed, 80,000 partially, 215 dead and one missing, according to Jerry Bionat, secretary-general of the Iloilo Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Yolanda left a vast swath of destruction in the central Philippines group of islands Visayas 08 November 13.

Northern Iloilo residents though prefer to receive fishing boats instead of houses saying they can build their own shelters once they have their livelihood back which is fishing.

Bionat, also head of the provincial disaster risk reduction and management office (PDRRMO), puts the number of municipal fishing boats destroyed by the supertyphoon at 15,000.

Defensor told reporters that cash donations and pledges assured Iloilo funds to construct “5,100 units of fishing boats.” A municipal fishing boat with an engine (with gross maximum tonnage together with gears at 3,000 MT) costs P15,000 to build. Defensor has launched a program “adopt-a-fisher” and “adopt-a-community” to invite donors to provide cash for the construction of fishing boats.

No deal with PSALM and Yuan Kyu Global.

Defensor, however, vows he will no longer accept donations from either Yuan Yu and PSALM. The former, Kuan Yu Global Technologies, Inc. is the contractor awarded the P87,000 job to clean-up the oil spill off Estancia, after storm surges at the height of Yolanda slammed the government-owned Napocor Power Barge 103 to the rocky shore of Estancia.

The barge plowed through nine houses killing three, and spilled 1,300,000 liters of bunker fuel that, due to the delay in the clean up, contaminated not just the immediate environs of Brgy. Botongon, Estancia but also the shores off neighboring Batad, San Dionisio and Boncepcion towns.

“I will no longer accept donations from PSALM and Kuan Yu,” declares Defensor. “I will be filing charges for the damages caused by their delay.”

PSALM refers to “Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management”, which takes charge in privatizing government assets in power generation and distribution.

“Barangay Botongon is still unprepared, the shore has not been cleaned up, the collected banker fuel and sludge are still undisposed and the site still smells badly,” Defensor tells reporters.

PSALM’s management of the public bidding is fraught with questions. I awarded the P87 M contract to a company that has no adequate cash and equipment resources and without track record in oil spill clean-up and salvaging.

PSALM awarded Kuan Yu the contract 20 November. Defensor ordered the forced evacuation that took effect 22 November. Kuan Yu started working only on 08 December siphoning off the remaining bunker fuel from the tank of the ill-fated power barge using a dilapidated pump – not its own but borrowed from the Philippine Coast Guard.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares bewailed that Kuan Yu “has only P62,000 paid up capital and it has no equipment whatsoever to do the job. Worse, it does not have any track record to carry out the contract of oil spill clean-up and salvaging (refloating a grounded or sunken vessel)”.

Kuan Yu’s business experience focuses on water extraction, purifying and distribution.

UN Higher Commissioner on Refugees.

Earlier, the Department of Health declared that the toxic fumes from benzene along the contaminated shores have dissipated down to a “safe level” and recommended the return of the evacuees that the provincial government and international donors clustered at the campus of the Northern Iloilo Polytechnique State College, Estancia.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Higher Commissioner on refugees has delivered boxes of medicines to the Estancia evacuees and has coordinated with the governor when its delegation visits Estancia in an undisclosed date.

Defensor ordered the return of the 1,200 families to Brgy. Botongon but could not implement it

Lately, however, Defensor admits before reporters he has second thought. “The families are still hesitant and the DOH informed me that the environment within the 20-meter radius is still unsafe,” he says.

The provincial government spends for the food and electricity at the evacuation site, at P30 per person.

“Had not for the criminal delay by PSALM and Kuan Yu, the damages we sustained could not have gone this far,” he fumes. ###


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