MANILA, Philippines - A Roman Catholic priest from Tacloban told churchgoers yesterday that more than 15,000 people died during the onslaught of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan) in November 2013.
The figure is in stark contrast to the official count of government disaster relief agencies, which placed the death toll at 6,340 with over a thousand missing.
The high fatality rate from Yolanda was relayed to Fr. Mario Sobrejuanite by another priest he recently met during the wedding of a celebrity couple.
In a mass held at the SM Megamall chapel yesterday, the first Sunday of 2015, Sobrejuanite said the priest told him that the official death toll was far too little compared with the actual deaths during the super typhoon. He refused to reveal the identity of his fellow priest.
“The priest told me they believe about 15,000 died due to Yolanda, however, many had been buried as soon as the first two days after Yolanda’s onslaught (and they may not have been included in the official count),” Sobrejuanite told mass goers.
He added that the priest told him they offered the government help to account for the deaths and the missing but officials gave no response.
Sobrejuanite said the priest expressed suspicion that the government would only roll out development projects in Yolanda-devastated areas in time for the 2016 elections.
“It is wrong to help when waiting for something in return,” he pointed out.
In one of his visits to Tacloban City, Sobrejuanite recalled he had an encounter with one of the children chosen to personally meet and talk to Pope Francis, who is set to visit the country including Tacloban next week.
“I asked the child what would be his message to Pope Francis and the child said he would ask the Pope to pray for the government to be able to help the victims of Yolanda,” he said.
“The government is giving an impression but it is not the right one. We should be troubled and disturbed,” added Sobrejuanite.
He noted that people in the Yolanda-affected areas believe that the local government and non-government organizations helped them.
Super Typhoon Yolanda struck 171 localities in the Visayas region on Nov. 8, 2013. President Aquino created the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) to coordinate all activities in the affected areas.
OPARR has completed its tasks but Yolanda victims hardly feel the assistance.
Stranded at the airport
Sobrejuanite also revealed he was one of the hundreds of airline passengers who found themselves stranded a day before Christmas, reportedly due to overbooking by a budget airline.
He called on the government to review all the regulations to spare the people from unnecessary aggravation after they paid taxes from their hard earned money.