Yano, Gordon assail critics of US military aid for typhoon victims

Posted at 06/26/08 4:13 PM

The military's highest-ranking official and a senator on Thursday defended the entry of the United States' largest aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, both saying the country should welcome the assistance brought by the ship instead of criticizing its presence.

The USS Ronald Reagan is a US aircraft carrier strike group, which consists of a carrier, a cruiser, three destroyers and a frigate.

It was directed by US President George W. Bush to help in the search for possible survivors and remains of victims in the ill-fated ferry, which sank off the coast of Romblon last Saturday during the height of typhoon Frank. It will also help in disaster relief operations in typhoon-hit areas in the Visayas.

Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) Chair and Sen. Richard Gordon defended the presence of the USS Ronald Reagan, amid doubts whether it was equipped and capable of performing its desired function of helping in the rescue and relief from typhoon Frank’s devastation.

Gordon, who had sought US assistance in his capacity as PNRC chair, was reacting to Sen. Rodolfo Biazon’s comment that the US should have sent salvage ships instead of the aircraft carrier, which basically carries fighter planes and other military aircraft.

"We should be thankful," said Gordon. "Pagka may nalunod, kunin na natin lahat ng tulong."

He noted that even fighter planes and helicopters are useful in the rescue, retrieval or relief operations because they can fly over the area or ferry relief goods to the typhoon-hit areas.

Yano: We should welcome US assistance

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief-of-Staff Gen. Alexander Yano said the country should "welcome" the assistance of the United States in the search for possible survivors and remains of victims in the capsized M/V Princess of the Stars, during a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) held Thursday at a hotel in Makati City.

Yano, who was the guest speaker of the FOCAP forum, discussed several issues concerning the AFP, from the operations regarding the M/V Princess of the Stars tragedy to the pursuit operations by the military against the kidnappers of ABS-CBN news anchor Ces Drilon and her group after their release last week.

Yano said the AFP welcomes the assistance extended by the US, saying the temporary presence of the USS Ronald Reagan won't violate the country's Constitution. He said the US has long been a "partner" and an "ally" of the country.

Biazon on Wednesday also questioned the US government's deployment of the USS Ronald Reagan since the vessel is believed to be carrying nuclear weapons. He said the Constitution bars the entry of ships carrying nuclear weapons in the country's territory.

But according to the AFP Chief of Staff, the ships sent by the US are not nuclear-armed but nuclear-powered.

He said that instead of criticizing the motives of the US, people should welcome their help.

Yano also said that several hundred Filipino soldiers have been tasked to help in disaster relief and search and rescue operations.

He said nine helicopters of the Philippine Air Force, four ships of the Philippine Navy and hundreds of soldiers are helping out in the search and rescue operations of the missing passengers of ill-fated ship.

USS Ronald Reagan

In a press statement Wednesday, the US embassy said the USS Ronald Reagan has on-board aircraft that can "assist with transportation of cargo, aerial damage assessment, and support search-and-rescue operations."

"Under the direction of Philippine disaster relief authorities, USS Ronald Reagan personnel may provide assistance including aircraft support, production and delivery of potable water, medical assistance activities, and machinery repair," the US embassy said.

"The USS Ronald Reagan’s carrier group includes the cruiser USS Chancellorsville, the destroyers USS Decatur, USS Gridley, and USS Howard, the frigate USS Thach, and other supporting vessels," the embassy said. - With reports from Jay Ruiz and Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News