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VILLAFUERTE WELCOMES LUZON REHAB TASK FORCE

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has welcomed Malacañang’s creation of an expanded, special inter-agency task force to take charge of rehabilitating Bicol and other places across Luzon affected by the three devastating typhoons that struck Luzon in barely two weeks’ time.

“We welcome the apparent expansion of the special task force that President Duterte created over the weekend to include Camarines Sur and the rest of Bicol, Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon), Cagayan Valley and the other places devastated not only by typhoon Ulysses but also by tropical depressions Rolly, Quinta and Siony that hit the country over the last two weeks or so,” Villafuerte said.

“Camarines Sur, for one, and other Bicol provinces have suffered the fourfold blow by the lingering COVID-19 outbreak, super typhoons Quinta and Rolly two weeks ago, and, just last week, storm Ulysses that pummeled the province and other places in Luzon, including Metro Manila.”

Based on a Malacañang announcement this week, Villafuerte said: “It is my understanding that the task force that Mr. Duterte created last weekend will now take charge not only of providing immediate relief and rehabilitation in the places worst hit by typhoon Ulysses but also in provinces affected by the three other cyclones that struck  the Philippines one after the other in barely a couple of weeks.” 

Media reports had quoted President Duterte as saying in a televised address last weekend that” “Kaya sa madalian, gumawa ako ng hakbang, creation of a task force. Ito naman, I directed them to streamline para madali ang rehabilitation efforts affected by the typhoon,” apparently referring to storm Ulysses. 

Villafuerte had also called on the two chambers of the Congress to set aside a bigger calamity fund in the proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2021, with  “a lion’s share of his proposed  bigger calamity budget in next year’s GAA going to relief and rehabilitation work in Camarines Sur and the rest of Bicol along with the other places devastated by three successive typhoons in barely two weeks’ time and the economic fallout from the prolonged pandemic.”

The House resumed session this week following the month-long congressional break. 

The Senate reopened earlier a week ago so it could start working on the House-transmitted GAA bill for 2021, but it had to suspend session anew amid typhoon Ulysses, which inundated many places and caused widespread power blackouts and water supply disruptions all over the metropolis.

Villafuerte said that even before the onslaught of the latest tropical depressions, the calamity funds of the LGUs in badly-hit places were probably depleted already, having been used for their respective localities’ COVID-19 efforts.

“Camarines Sur, for one, and other Bicol provinces have suffered the fourfold blow by the lingering COVID-19 outbreak, super typhoons Quinta and Rolly two weeks ago, and, just last week, storm Ulysses that pummelled the province and other places in Luzon, including Metro Manila,” Villafuerte said.

“The affected LGUs are in dire need of calamity fund augmentation so they could attend to the immediate food and shelter needs of their respective constituents, especially those who have lost their homes partially or completely, and who now remain stuck in evacuation centers with nowhere else to go,” he said. 

Ulysses battered the National Capital Region (NCR) along with Bicol, Calabarzon, Cagayan and Isabela in the North last week, leading to massive floods in Metro Manila, especially in Marikina City, similar to those that happened during the onslaught of storm Ondoy in 2009.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) recently reported that typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses had caused combined losses of P12.8 billion in the farm sector.

‘A considerable amount of time and effort is needed from the national government to get the devastated provinces back on their feet soon enough following the magnitude of destruction wrought by four storms to hit the country in succession in barely two weeks’ time.”

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported that super typhoon Rolly alone had damaged P11 billion-worth of infrastructure while the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) bared that typhoon Ulysses had damaged P6.378 billion-worth of infrastructure, with P3.3 billion of the damages in Bicol. 

Before typhoon Ulysses wrought havoc on Metro Manila and Cagayan Valley last week, Villafuerte had proposed the creation of a special task force to be in-charge of rehabilitating Camarines Sur and the other provinces of Bicol and the Calabarzon corridor that were hit the hardest by typhoons Quinta and Rolly.

A former Camarines Sur governor, Villafuerte had said then that his proposed special body could be akin to Task Force Bangon Marawi, which Malacañang created three years ago to work on the rehabilitation of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, in the wake of its five-month siege by an alliance of Islamic State (IS)-aligned terrorists. 

Villafuerte and his son, Gov. Migz Villafuerte,  have thanked President Duterte for ordering budget officials to fast-track the release of additional calamity assistance to the  province that was  devastated recently  by three powerful typhoons. 

Rep. Villafuerte also thanked the President for approving the Bicol river dredging project, which he had proposed to the Chief Executive along with his request to augment the depleted calamity funds of LGUs in the disaster-prone Bicol region and other provinces pummeled by the three strong cyclones.

The President ordered the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to expedite the release of the additional calamity assistance to typhoon-hit provinces during a situation briefing   with local executives  and several Cabinet officials in Camarines Sur last weekend.

“Our request was approved because of the support of Senator Bong (Christopher Lawrence) Go who always sends whatever assistance  he can give to Camarines Sur,” Rep. Villafuerte said. 

Prior to  typhoon Ulysses, Villafuerte had filed a House resolution strongly urging the President to “come up with a comprehensive Bicol rehabilitation program, in response to the heavy devastation by super typhoon Rolly,” to include the provision of “immediate relief, recovery and reconstruction for rebuilding a better Bicol,” in the aftermath of what was dubbed the world’s strongest typhoon in 2020.

In the House resolution, Villafuerte said the cyclone had made its weekend landfall in Bicol, toppling the transmission lines of 10 electric cooperatives resulting to province-wide power outages; displacing 390,000 of some 1 million evacuees; and damaging billions of pesos worth of standing crops and infrastructure in hundreds of thousands of farmlands across the region.

In Camarines Sur, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan recently passed Resolution No. 235 declaring a state of calamity for the province, to enable the provincial government to use available public funds for relief and other forms of assistance to typhoon-battered families.

‘A considerable amount of time and effort is needed from the national government to get the devastated provinces back on their feet soon enough following the magnitude of destruction wrought by four storms to hit the country in succession in barely two weeks’ time,” Villafuerte said.

During the briefing in Camarines Sur, the President gave the go-signal for the  dredging of the heavily silted Bicol River to spare Camarines Sur and its surrounding areas from massive flooding during the typhoon season. 

But the President thumbed down a proposal for a committee to oversee the project and said he prefers only one person to lead it to ensure the project’s swift implementation.

Gov. Villafuerte informed the President about  a 2013 World Bank study that underscored the importance of dredging the Bicol river, which can be implemented in phases starting next year. 

“We would be glad to accommodate you, whatever it is. If the World Bank doing the project study.  Sige kung may pera (go ahead if there’s money),” Mr. Duterte told the Camarines Sur governor.

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