Red Cross, Bohol mayor in standoff

The Philippine Star

Noy returns to Bohol

MANILA, Philippines - A standoff between a mayor and the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) over the distribution of relief goods has brought to a standstill relief work in a quake-ravaged Bohol town.

Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco yesterday continued to bar Red Cross volunteers from distributing relief goods in the town and demanded that the goods be turned over to him.

The PRC, for its part, stood firmly against giving the goods to Evasco.

Related story: Gordon: Bohol mayor wants to photos taken first in relief efforts

Amid the bickering over relief goods, President Aquino returned to Bohol yesterday for an overnight visit to assure residents of government efforts to help them rebuild their lives and their province.

“We won’t give the relief goods to him. We are going to give non-food items. If he does not like it, let him be the one to explain to his constituents,” PRC chairman Richard Gordon said in an interview over dzRH.

Evasco was unperturbed even as quake survivors in Maribojoc were desperate for help. “They can do their worst, I’ll do my best,” he said when sought for comment. “We do not need enemies. We need friends to help us in this disaster that befell us,” the mayor said.

Last Thursday, PRC volunteers were distributing relief goods to quake victims in Poblacion in Maribojoc when Evasco suddenly arrived and demanded that the items be handed to him. The volunteers refused, prompting the mayor to drive them away.

In a statement, PRC said that based on its policy, “relief assistance should be given directly to beneficiaries of a disaster by our staff and volunteers and not through other organizations and entities such as the local government.”

It said that following such procedure is “consistent with our guiding principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality.”

The PRC said it has always been guided in its actions “by the humanitarian imperative and our reputation will always rest with the communities we serve.”

“Over many years of experience in the field of disaster response we have developed tried and tested systems for distributing humanitarian aid in an equitable and efficient way,” it added.

The PRC said that efficient and effective relief activities depend on many factors including coordination with agencies like the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Committee, as well as with local and international non-governmental organizations “so that resources are maximized and duplication is minimized.”

The PRC added that its “auxiliary status with the government extends to supporting, sharing information and coordinating closely with government agencies at a national and local level.”

Credibility vital

The PRC stressed that its “ability to act independently is critical to maintaining our credibility and our accountability to the communities we work with and those who support us.”

The PRC, in its statement, said it has a set of criteria for identifying the “most vulnerable” families needing attention. It said it is developing a relief and recovery plan to support at least 10,000 families in Bohol.

“Our commitment to the survivors of this terrible tragedy will go way beyond the next few weeks. We will be with them through the months ahead,” PRC said.

On Tuesday, Evasco accused the PRC volunteers of arrogance for failing to coordinate their relief activities with him. He said that while he has no quarrel with the PRC as an institution, he is against “people in the Red Cross who are arrogant who think they are the messiah and they have the solution to the problem at hand.” Evasco had served as chief-of-staff of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

“They came in without coordinating with us. We already have a system in place. They should have respected it and coordinated with us,” Evasco explained.

“We want that the goods will be distributed fairly and equitably among the residents in Maribojoc. That was why we asked any organization, including the Red Cross to coordinate with us so that the distribution would not be chaotic,” Evasco said.

He said he had convened barangay officials in Maribojoc – including those he considered his political enemies – to tell them to cooperate with one another in addressing the needs of their constituents. He also made clear he is not running for reelection.

With relief efforts likely to drag on for weeks and with the coming barangay polls just around the corner, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for its part is set to issue a resolution clarifying the tasks of the PRC and local government units in the relief operations in Bohol and other quake-ravaged provinces.

“We are now giving the Red Cross participation in the relief efforts. We want to implement provisions in the Omnibus Election Code,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, Brillantes said the PRC has the authority to administer and disburse funds for the relief efforts during calamities or disasters.

He said the law prohibits a candidate or his or her spouse or members of his or her family from participating, directly or indirectly, in the distribution of any relief or other goods to victims of disasters.

Brillantes, however, stressed that the Comelec would not prohibit local officials from helping in relief operations.

“The resolution will define the participation of Red Cross against local officials so we can reconcile the conflict. We will not prevent the local officials because it will only disrupt the ongoing relief operations,” Brillantes explained.

Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca stressed that restrictions would only apply to candidates.

“We just want to make sure that relief operations will not be disrupted and that election laws will be enforced,” she said.

The Comelec also announced it is giving those wishing to run for barangay positions in Bohol until tomorrow to file their certificates of candidacy. The barangay elections in Bohol have been reset to Nov. 25.

PNP checking hoarding

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police has sent intelligence operatives to Bohol to check on reports that some mayors were hoarding relief goods.

“I have instructed them to validate the complaint and once they verified the information and gathered enough and concrete evidence, the PNP will file criminal charges against them,” Chief Superintendent Danilo Constantino, head of the Central Visayas Police (Region 7), told The STAR.

It was Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II who ordered the PNP to investigate the alleged hoarding.

Roxas also ordered Constantino to help ensure that all relief goods delivered to municipal officials reach affected residents.

“It’s not right to keep relief goods from the national and provincial government at the office of the mayors or barangay officials. If these incidents happened, we will hold the mayors accountable for hoarding relief,” Roxas said.

The DILG chief issued the order after the Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that some residents displaced by the earthquake in Bohol had not been receiving relief goods allegedly due to hoarding by some officials. Some officials had complained earlier of difficulty in distributing relief goods due to damaged roads and bridges.

Public works officials said they were working round the clock to rehabilitate damaged roads and other infrastructure. Roxas said all the towns in Bohol – including Loon, Maribojoc and Antiquera – are now reachable in two hours from Tagbilaran. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin Aurea Calica










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