PGMA presides over joint Cabinet meeting via remote video conference
PGMA presides over joint Cabinet meeting via remote video conference

OPS U.S. Visit 2008

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 vessels."

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

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 sabotage.

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 site.

"Because yesterday, we were not able to get in touch with NDCC. Even now, we are in Malacañang, 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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