How Tacloban is preparing for Pope Francis

Posted at 08/22/14 9:44 PM

TACLOBAN CITY - In just a few months from now, the Philippines will welcome the leader of the Catholic Church.

Pope Francis will visit Tacloban City and the victims of super typhoon "Yolanda."

But with all the complexities in welcoming Pope Francis, is Tacloban prepared?

According to Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, the city is 80 percent prepared for the milestone event.

The mayor said the Pope will spend most or all of his time at the Tacloban airport on January 17 to 18 next year.

Pope Francis is said to be staying in the city for about six to seven hours.

Romualdez said the Holy Father will also try to visit other places.

"We are fast-tracking the airport kasi sa tarmac gagawin ang misa. Ang gusto ng Pope ay mismo sa ground zero at gusto niya open air. So the most convenient ay sa tarmac area. By that time it should be able to accommodate 700,000 to 750,000 people," he said in an ambush interview.

"We are also careful in security. Pero flexible pa yan dahil pagdating ng January tag-ulan talaga sa Tacloban. So we are careful and we are praying that we have a window na magandang weather during the visit," he said.

Aside from the airport, the Tacloban local government unit is also busy preparing the sites around it.

"Nagwa-widen ng road, tumutulong ang DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) -- they are widening the road. That's one. Pangalawa, sige ang linis namin ng mga debris. Pinapaspasan din namin ang mga debris na makakasagabal sa daan at tao. We are trying our best. We are doing it as fast as we can," the mayor said.

Romualdez admitted that there is only so much that they could do.

He added he is not at all worried if Tacloban will not be in tip-top shape by the time Pope Francis arrives.

"Ang pagkakaalam ko the Pope is very down to earth. He is mainly there to give hope and to uplift spirits of people... Ayaw niya magarbo. He really wants to be with the victims and with the poor."


One good thing about the papal visit is more people are visiting Tacloban now.

The mayor said hotels are already fully booked months before the scheduled arrival of the Pope.

This means people will have to find other means of accommodation when the Holy Father arrives.

"As of today, puno na ang mga hotels and di pa nga dumadating ang Pope eh. Yung regular days lang puno na ang hotel sa dami ng bumibisita. So by the time the pope comes in, it will be much more. And I will not be surprised kung may magpi-pitch ng tent," he said.

The mayor said Tacloban residents are looking forward to Pope Francis' visit.

"Very enthusiastic sila because of course the spiritual uplifting that they are looking forward to...and sa mga na-experience nila. Siyempre marami sa kanila ang nawalan ng mahal sa buhay... It's a very big thing for them."

He also said it is possible that the Pope will not grant an audience to rich and influential families but will instead spend time with the poor.

"I think kailangan naman maintidihan natin... His main focus really are to the victims, the ones who really need him most," Romualdez said.

"I think we have to understand that. Not only political leaders, government officials and other families na pagbigyan na po natin ang mga mahihirap kasi alam niyo walang wala na sila and they really cling to hope. And they want something tangible na makikita nila. And seeing the pope I think is a very big step," he added.


With the first anniversary of Yolanda looming, Romualdez said Tacloban is still reeling from the super typhoon's effects.

"With all resources fino-focus natin, I believe mapapabilis naman ang pagbangon ng Tacloban. And right now we are more or less hitting 40 percent, and I can see medyo nagpi-pick up naman at ang pinakamaganda dito, people are determined to stay."

While help is still flowing in, the biggest challenge is still providing shelter to residents.

"May mga tulong naman sa livelihood, may ilang ahensyang tumutulong naman doon. Pagdating sa DPWH, mga infrastructure tumutulong naman doon. Ang malaking kulang lang talaga ay sa shelter. When it comes to DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) and helping us to build shelters because we have to relocate at least 14,500 families, ang ginagawa ng siyudad ay lahat ng mga resources namin tinatayuan namin ng temporary shelters, at pinapaliwanag namin sa mga tao na di pwedeng tumira sa mga coastal areas. That is really a no-no."

But the Tacloban mayor admitted there are still some who reside on danger zones.

"'Pag nakita naman na may malilipatan. Siyempre, di naman pwede ipilit na umalis sila doon kung wala naman silang paglilipatan," he said.

Romualdez feels the national government should institute reforms right away, such as creating a new agency similar to the one in the United States.

"Medyo ineffective na ang NDRRMC (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council). Nakikita natin na ina-activate lang three days before a storm. That should be activated 24/7. When we do this, marami tayong makukuhang mga data galing sa mga scientist."

"Dapat may bago tayong ahensya tulad ng Federal Emergency Management Agency ng US, and fino-focus talaga nila ay mga natural disasters. Ako naman, parang nahihirapan ako dahil di naman magtatagal ay magkakaroon ng eleksyon, maraming pulitika. Pero kailan pa natin haharapin ang mga isyung ito... Kailangan na po natin i-prepare ang next generation," he said.