Source Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines--President Rodrigo Duterte has placed six regions battered by Typhoon Odette under a state of calamity, a declaration that puts in place a price freeze and allows the release of emergency funds.

Under Proclamation No. 1267 that Duterte signed on Tuesday, the regions of MIMAROPA, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, Northern Mindanao and Caraga will be under a state of calamity for one year "unless sooner lifted in accordance with law."

"The declaration of state of calamity will hasten the rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts of the government and the private sector, including any international humanitarian assistance," Duterte said in the order.

The declaration, the president added, would effectively control the prices of basic goods and commodities in the affected areas; provide the national government and local government enough leeway to use appropriate funds for rescue, recovery, relief, and rehabilitation measures; and continue basic services to affected populations.  

Duterte ordered concerned agencies to coordinate with and augment the basic services and facilities of affected local governments. Law enforcement agencies were also directed to undertake all necessary measures to ensure peace and order in typhoon-struck areas with the support of the military.

"I will be asking the people, both of the national offices or the local, to hasten the downloading of the funds to you. I said, on or before Friday, I will be downloading the money to you. This is for the people. Everything, up to the last centavo, is for the people," he told victims of the typhoon.

Budget department officer-in-charge (OIC) Tina Rose Canda said there is no commitment to distribute the funds by Friday because agencies are still assessing the total amount of damage caused by the typhoon. Canda, however, noted that frontline agencies have quick response funds (QRF) they can use to assist the affected areas.  

Acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles clarified that the president's instruction was for civil defense administrator Ricardo Jalad to complete the necessary paperwork, including the estimates needed to implement the calamity fund. Available funds would be used until the end of the year to ensure the continuous giving of assistance to typhoon-devastated regions, he added.

"Like what OIC Secretary Canda said, it (would) be continuous from now until (the) end of the year and then we will have a budget in the coming year, 2022. We also have (a) basis for releasing funds — some more funds for the continuing recovery, rehab, repair efforts needed on the ground in areas hit by typhoon Odette," Nograles said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Declaration too late?

Nograles also responded to criticisms that the state of calamity declaration was only done on Tuesday when several areas ravaged by the typhoon had been suffering for days.

He said the national government has informed local governments that they can declare a state of calamity on their own. The government, Nograles added, has a quick response fund that can be used immediately to help affected provinces.

The Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act allows local government units to declare a state of calamity in case of "a condition involving mass casualty and/or major damages to property, disruption of means of livelihoods, roads and normal way of life of people in the affected areas as a result of the occurrence of natural or human-induced hazard."

Nograles said that "a fuller, more complete assessment of the extent of the damage (caused by) typhoon Odette was lay the basis for the declaration of the state of calamity, which the president did and signed yesterday, December 21."

Some sectors have assailed Duterte for saying that the government's funds have been depleted, noting that his administration has secured funding from international lenders.

Nograles assured the public that efforts are underway to ensure law and order in typhoon-struck areas and to prevent unlawful activities like overpricing and looting. He said looting is taking place in only a few areas.

"Our appeal to our countrymen, especially during this Christmas season, please let’s not take advantage of our fellow Filipinos who are suffering right now. Our appeal is to help each other. Do not take advantage of our countrymen, especially those who need help this Christmas," he added.