Monday, June 23, 2008

[kgma] PGMA presides over joint Cabinet meeting via remote video conference

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo presided this morning over a joint
Cabinet and National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) meeting via
remote video conference in order to be briefed on the status of
search, rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts being conducted to
help victims and repair infrastructure destroyed by typhoon "Frank"
that battered the Visayas and Luzon regions over the last two days.

The President, who is on a 10-day working visit to the United States
of America, "video-conferenced" with Cabinet and NDCC officials during
her meeting with the Filipino community in Fresno, California.

First to give an update on typhoon Frank's eventual exit from the
Philippine Area of Responsibility was Department of Science and
Technology (DOST) Undersecretary Graciano Yumul Jr. who reported to
the President that there would be a "general improvement of weather
conditions especially in the Visayas and Mindanao" by today (Tuesday,
June 24) when Frank crosses over to the South China Sea.

Next was NDCC chairman M/Gen. Glenn Rabonza who told the President
that SAR (search and rescue) operations were still being conducted by
the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the vicinity where Sulpicio Lines'
M/V Princess of the Stars capsized off the waters of Sibuyan Island.

Rabonza added that SAR operations were also being conducted in the
province of Iloilo, one of the hardest hit provinces by typhoon
"Frank," leaving it submerged in chest-deep flood waters.

Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza told the President that
operations of the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and the Metro Rail Transit
(MRT) that were hampered due to the Metro-wide blackout would be fully
operational by today.

He added that "all airports and flights would be restored today" while
telecommunication facilities that were affected by Frank's strong
winds and rain are being worked on expeditiously.

Mendoza told the President that he had ordered the MARINA (Maritime
Industry Authority) to ground all vessels of Sulpicio Lines and to
check on the sea worthiness of all Sulpicio ships following the
sinking of MV Princess of the Stars yesterday (Monday, June 23). He
added that he will be meeting with the Board of Marine Inquiry (BMI)
to investigate the incident where at least 700 persons are still
missing as of Sunday night.

He pointed out that aside from this, the BMI will review the
guidelines issued by PCG last June 2007, "especially on the saving of

The PCG, represented by Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, assured the
President that all was being done to "really scout the area for

Tamayo said a total of five vessels composed of three Coast Guard
ships and two tug boats were scouring the waters off Sibuyan Island in
the province of Romblon for any possible survivors of the capsized M/V
Princess of the Stars.

He reported to the President that 28 survivors have already been
rescued, to which the President exclaimed, "Oh praise God!"

A representative of Sulpicio Lines, Edgardo Co, who was also present
during the meeting, told the President that the company would shoulder
all expenses of the victims of the sunken ship and their families.

Last to give an update was Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez who gave
the President a general view on the situation of victims from the
province of Iloilo.

Gonzalez, a former congressman of Iloilo, told the President that the
situation in the province was still "critical." He, however, assured
that "thousands of people in evacuation centers" have been dwindling
in number because of the number of evacuees already occupying known
evacuation centers.

"We lack evacuation centers actually because our schools were also
flooded," Gonzalez said.

He added that the affected local governments of Iloilo province talked
to the owners of several malls in the city to allow the evacuees to
temporarily occupy their top floors. Churches were also used as
evacuation centers.

Before adjourning, the President issued several directives that she
wants members of Congress, her Cabinet and the NDCC to carry out
immediately in connection with the destruction wrought by typhoon "Frank."

First, to prevent unscrupulous traders from jacking up prices of basic
goods, particularly rice, during calamities, President Arroyo said she
would ask members of the House of Representatives to file a bill
making rice hoarding and profiteering fall under the crime of economic

If enacted, the punishment for rice hoarding and profiteering could be
upgraded to life imprisonment.

Second, the President said she would ask members of Congress to file a
bill where the declaration of a State of Calamity will include
"imposing a maximum price of rice."

Third, the President assured the victims and families of typhoon
"Frank," especially those of the ill-fated M/V Princess of the Stars,
that the government will provide aid in addition to the aid that will
be extended by the owners of Sulpicio Lines.

Fourth, the President will assign an NDCC official to oversee and
ensure that Sulpicio Lines makes good its commitment to extend any and
all aid to the victims of their ship's sinking.

Fifth, for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to open disaster
relief accounts, websites and text numbers in their various consul
offices in the Middle East, Europe, America and Asia so that Filipinos
in these countries who may wish to help the victims of typhoon "Frank"
in any way will have a venue where to give their donations.

Sixth, for the National Computer Center (NCC) and the Philippine
Information Agency (PIA) to ensure that the NDCC's website remains
operational despite the high volume of internet traffic accessing the

"Because yesterday, we were not able to get in touch with NDCC. Even
now, we are in MalacaƱang, we are still not able to get through," the
President said.

"So these are the things I'd like our NDCC members to do now," she added.

According to the national weather bureau, as of 2:00 a.m. today,
"Frank" was located by radar, satellite and surface data to be 200
kilometers west-northwest of Dagupan City (16.3°N 118.4°E), with
maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers per hour, and gustiness of
up to 150 kph. Typhoon Frank is forecast to move west-northwest at 17
kph towards the general direction of the South China Sea.

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