By Argyll Cyrus Geducos, Christina Hermoso, Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz and Hannah Torregoza
Rescue and relief operations are underway in Batanes following the earthquakes that rocked the island early Saturday morning, killing at least 8 people and injuring 63 with one person missing.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) recorded 194 aftershocks, 11 of which were felt on the island.
Earthquakes, with magnitude 5.4 and 6.4, hit the province early Saturday. The epicenter was located at 19 kilometers northwest of Itbayat.
President Duterte and his team of Cabinet officials flew to Batanes on Sunday to personally oversee the rescue and relief operations.
Malacañang said the President was satisfied with the government’s action in aiding the affected residents.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) said the twin earthquakes affected 911 families equivalent to 2,963 persons residing in five barangays in Itbayat town
The affected individuals are now staying at the Itbayat Public Market, NDRRMC executive director Ricardo Jalad said.
Jalad said all injured persons were taken to the Itbayat District Hospital for treatment.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development said it has relief good stockpiles and funds amounting to P1,973,907,180 in its central and field offices which can be used for responding to the calamity.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has deployed two search-and-rescue teams and one medical team via EADS CASE C-295 medium transport aircraft at Itbayat, Batanes.
Search-and-rescue teams of the 525th Engineering Combat Battalion are on stand-by for possible deployment.
A total of 15 houses, two schools, and two health facilities were reported damaged in the quakes.
The Department of Public Works and Highways said initial damages to national roads, school buildings, other public buildings, church and private old stone houses were estimated at P79.5 million.
Wilzon Valdez, regional information officer of DPWH Region 2, said that there were 10 DPWH engineers who took banca trips to the island to conduct rapid damage assessment on both public and private damaged infrastructure.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Office of the Civil Defense (OCD) and other government departments were continuously coordinating with distressed local government units, including the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in Batanes.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has assured the local government unit (LGU) of Itbayat of immediate assistance to help address the needs of families and individuals affected by the earthquake.
In its field office in Cagayan Valley, the DSWD has 200 family food packs ready for immediate distribution to the affected families.
These are on top of the food supplies equating to 3,600 family food packs that are in Basco, Batanes which can be transported to Itbayat.
The field office also has P700,000 protective services funds for requirements other than relief supplies.
Likewise, the field office has available stockpiles of 29,132 family food packs and food and non-foods items worth P349,602 that can be used as additional resources.
As of Saturday evening, additional family food packs were ready for airlifting to Itbayat using C290 planes in coordination with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
Financial assistance to bereaved families is also being facilitated by the DSWD team in Batanes.
The DSWD field office will also deploy six social workers to Batanes to provide psychosocial intervention to the affected families.
DSWD-National Logistics and Resources Management Bureau, which operates the main disaster hub of the Department, has 1,000 tents and sleeping kits ready for distribution to the affected families.
The Department of Health (DOH) has started distributing medicine and hygiene kits to the affected families.
Prayers for Batanes
Prelature of Batanes Bishop Danilo Ulep has asked the faithful for prayers following the twin earthquakes that struck the island early Saturday.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in Itbayat, the farthest and the biggest among the three inhabited islands of Batanes. Let us pray for the casualties, the survivors, all those who were affected by the earthquakes,” Ulep said over Church-run Radio Veritas.
“We are trying to find a way including my priest on how to get to Itbayat to monitor the situation,” said Ulep who is based in Basco. The tremor was also felt in Basco at intensity 4.
“Hopefully, the government and the military will be able to send some rescue mission in Itbayat because the problem now is how to get there,” the bishop said.
Malacañang has offered its deep condolences to the families of those who lost their loved ones during the earthquakes.
“We send our sincerest prayers for the fast and speedy recovery of those who were injured,” Panelo said.
“The national government has ordered all concerned departments to mobilize and render immediate assistance to those affected,” Panelo said.
Department of Disaster Resilience
The earthquake that struck Itbayat town in Batanes highlights the need for the immediate creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience, Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara said on Sunday.
Angara said the Saturday earthquake that hit the province of Batanes presents three challenges that ought to be discussed when senators debate on the bill creating the proposed DDR, which he filed as Senate Bill No. 331.
“One is the creation of our national fleet of disaster response ships. It is a must in an archipelagic country like ours,” Angara said in a statement.
The senator pointed out that when airports are damaged and roads are blocked, the only way to bring help to earthquake victims is by sea.
He also said ships can carry more relief goods and rescue personnel than airplanes or trucks.
“They can even carry vehicles and they can serve as floating clinics, rescue command centers and public kitchens,” he said.
The absence of a localized emergency text system is another matter that needs to be addressed, Angara said, noting that while there is already a law mandating disaster text alerts, the system seems to be applicable only in Metro Manila.
Angara said that while Section 4 of Republic Act 10639, the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act, mandates mobile phone service providers to send out alerts at regular intervals during impending tropical storm, typhoon, tsunami, or other calamities.
The alerts should also include contact information of local government units (LGUs) and other agencies required to respond to the situation.
If passed into law, the DDR will serve as the lead agency that would craft and implement plans and programs on disaster risk reduction, preparedness and response.
It would also be given broad powers, including taking over private utilities or businesses temporarily when there is imminent danger of loss of lives and damage to property.
The proposed DDR would also have the power to enforce forced compulsory evacuations if the local government units (LGUs) concerned fail to act during emergency situations.
Angara also expressed hope that the national government would immediately dispatch financial aid from this year’s P20-billion National Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Fund or calamity Fund in the national budget to the people and province of Batanes.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte has ordered the city’s building officials to inspect the buildings in the locality to ensure their structural safety following the series of tremors that Belmonte also declared the city’s readiness to deal with any natural disasters but emphasized the need to beef up the city’s resources even if it has enough equipment and capability to deal with natural disasters stressing “not to leave anything to chance’’.
Belmonte thanked her predecessor, former Mayor Herbert Bautista, for his valuable role in modernizing the city’s disaster response capabilities.
Belmonte also lauded the private sector for their valuable contribution to the success of the earthquake drill even as she expressed readiness to help businesses craft their own disaster plan so they will be prepared for any eventuality. (With Liezle Basa-Inigo, Chito Chavez, Freddie G. Lazaro, and PNA)