10 mayors under probe over Ompong absence
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is validating reports that at least 10 municipal mayors in Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) were absent during the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong.
Andy Zapata Jr.

10 mayors under probe over Ompong absence

Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - September 19, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — At the height of a powerful typhoon, were the local executives missing in action?

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is validating reports that at least 10 municipal mayors in Cagayan Valley and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) were absent during the onslaught of Typhoon Ompong.

DILG Undersecretary for peace and order Bernardo Florece Jr. said local chief executives or LCEs found liable for absenteeism and negligence of duty may be sanctioned with administrative cases.

Earlier yesterday, Florece said LCEs could be suspended in connection with cases filed before the DILG. But for cases filed with the ombudsman, “erring mayors could face dismissal,” Florece told a press conference at the DILG central office in Quezon City.

“We were surprised with the reports received at the central office of absentee mayors whose local government units are part of the critical areas in the Typhoon Ompong track,” Florece said.

Based on the DILG’s Operation Listo protocols, LCEs  whose local government units (LGUs) fall under the alpha (low-risk), bravo (medium-risk) and charlie (high-risk) areas during typhoons are mandated to undertake necessary critical preparedness actions as part of disaster preparations.

DILG spokesman Jonathan Malaya said the actual names of the municipal/city mayors could not be divulged at the moment as the department is still reviewing their performances vis-à-vis the Operation Listo protocols.

“The department doesn’t want trial by publicity so the actual names of erring mayors will be released after the investigation is complete,” he said.

Mayors who will be proven negligent or remiss of doing their duty, especially as chairpersons of their respective local disaster risk reduction and management council, need to explain or justify in writing within the prescribed period why no disciplinary action shall be taken against them, according to Malaya.

“As mandated by the Local Government Code, the presence and support of mayors in their respective areas of jurisdictions are imperative for them to carry out measures to protect their constituents from the harmful effects of disasters and calamities,” he said.

Malaya added that being the agency mandated to exercise general supervision over the LGUs, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año enjoined the LCEs days ahead to be physically present in their respective LGUs before, during and after the onslaught of Ompong.

He explained that according to the doctrine of qualified political agency, the DILG as the alter ego of President Duterte has the power to sanction erring LCEs.

“I emphasize that we do not necessarily aim to look for bad performance but we also hope to find best practices,” he said.

DILG Central Office Disaster Information Coordinating Center (CODIX) chief Edgar Allan Tabell said that in the absence of a national law on forced evacuation, it is up to the LGUs to undertake forced evacuations in their LGUs.

“There is enough authority for mayors to conduct forced evacuation under the general welfare clause of the Local Government Code. So, even in the absence of a specific law, there is legal authority for the mayor to implement forced evacuation if the conditions so warrant,” he said.

In the case of Barangay Ucab in Itogon, Benguet, where missing miners and their families were reported buried underneath a collapsed bunkhouse, the agency did not receive any report that the LGU conducted the forced evacuation.

“We received a report that the LGU conducted preemptive evacuation prior to the onslaught of Ompong. Unfortunately, the miners evacuated to another area which happened to be landslide-prone,” Tabell said.

He added that the DILG, as lead agency of the Management of the Dead and Missing cluster, has activated the MDM-Benguet to extract these missing persons in coordination with other national government agencies in the cluster.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Senior Superintendent Benigno Durana said the DILG would investigate the liability of those who failed to implement the forced evacuation of people in danger zones.

“For now, the DILG is investigating if concerned authorities have liability on why it happened. What I know is that according to the DILG, it is a hazard area and if we have situations like this, preemptive evacuation is necessary, if it was done,” he said in mixed Filipino and English.

“The DILG is looking into local officials, if they have ample reaction in preparing for Typhoon Ompong,” he added.

Durana noted that the PNP is ready to help in the investigation in the event that the DILG needs its support.

“As of now, we have not yet received any order regarding that but if the DILG wants us to be involved, definitely, (we will) because the PNP is also under the DILG,” he added.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has reported that there were about 74 casualties — 60 in the CAR, 10 in Cagayan, two in Central Luzon and one each in the National Capital Region and Ilocos region.

Timely action

While the mayors are now under investigation, the DILG lauded some LCEs and the PNP for their timely action which saved 591,762 persons or 147,540 families in seven regions across the country.

Florece said the preemptive evacuation, pre-positioning of supplies and equipment, and establishment of critical preparedness actions by LGUs based on Operation Listo protocols significantly contributed to successful Ompong operations.

“I commend our governors, mayors and barangay captains for being on top of Typhoon Ompong activities in their respective areas of jurisdictions, which saved the lives of thousands of Filipinos, especially those who are living in vulnerable areas,” he said.

Florece was designated as OIC while Año is on official travel abroad.

The NDRRMC reported that Ompong affected 2,738 barangays, 433 cities and municipalities, and 31 provinces across the NCR; Regions I, II and III; CAR; Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon) and Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan).

Of the figures, a total of 219,508 people or 57,196 families were served inside and outside evacuation centers.

Florece said the department activated its 24/7 Disaster Monitoring and Reporting Systems led by its CODIX as early as Sept. 11 or five days before Ompong was expected to hit the country.

He likewise commended the PNP for its round-the-clock monitoring to ensure continuous operations of communication system, repacking of family food packs at the Department of Social Welfare and Development field offices and the deployment of search and rescue (SAR) personnel across Ompong-affected areas.

“Our police officers set aside their personal safety and braved strong winds and rains just to fulfill their avowed duties and save the lives of our people,” he said.

With Ompong now out of the Philippine area of responsibility, Malaya said LGUs should continue with the post- disaster activities such as relief pack distributions and mass feeding.

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