Bohol mayor to Red Cross: We don't need you
MANILA, Philippines - Relief operations will proceed, with or without the Red Cross.
This was Maribojoc, Bohol town Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr.’s message yesterday to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC).
“With or without the Red Cross we have to move on. We have to survive. We don’t have any trouble here (on relief distribution). There are donors who went here and we understood each other. What we are asking from them is just a little respect. Please understand us in our time of distress,” Evasco said.
“The issue here is that we lost our houses, we lost our properties and then they want to strip us of our dignity and pride as a people,” he added.
Evasco figured in a spat with Red Cross volunteers on Tuesday over the distribution of relief goods to the victims of last week’s killer earthquake in Bohol.
In a radio interview, the emotional Evasco defended his actions, saying the PRC distribution of relief goods turned chaotic where only the strong got their share and left the children and elderly empty handed.
Evasco said he has nothing against the Red Cross as an organization but lamented what he described as the arrogant behavior of its representatives when they arrived in town to help his quake-ravaged constituents.
Evasco ordered the distribution of the relief goods stopped. He said that all he wanted was only to have the distribution organized to allow the local disaster risk reduction and management council (MDRRMC) to play a major role.
Evasco rued the Red Cross representatives just came into town without coordinating with the local government.
“If they have rules, we too have rules. But their rules should be subjected to changes depending on the changing realities in the barangays. But they entered the town as if they’re the messiah, as if they’re gods and they all know the problems affecting our people,” Evasco lamented.
He said some Red Cross people think they know better than the local government officials who are on the ground.
“I don’t like some people in the Red Cross to use the misery of people to promote their own political agenda. When they distributed the relief goods, chaos took place as my needy constituents started pushing each other. The elderly and the children did not get their share. That’s what I don’t like to happen. These people are victims and the Red Cross representatives should not treat them that way,” Evasco added.
Evasco particularly vented his ire on Red Cross chairman Richard Gordon who criticized the mayor for stopping the relief distribution in the quake-affected residents of Maribojoc.
Gordon stressed the PRC is apolitical and will not yield to Evasco’s demand to hand over the relief goods to the municipal government.
“Apolitical? Get Gordon out of the Red Cross and I will believe that Red Cross is apolitical,” Evasco said.
He advised Red Cross officials to promote human development instead of turning needy people into mendicants by making them line up to beg for food instead of delivering these individually in their respective communities.
Evasco said his order against the Red Cross entering Maribojoc still stands.
He stressed he did not need enemies in these trying times.
Evasco said he has to protect his own constituents from moral suffering like having them beg for their basic needs where local officials are supposed to uplift their spirits in their time of need.
The Red Cross, for its part, said it would not engage further with Evasco.
“The Philippine Red Cross will no longer entertain any further questions on the issue regarding Mayor Evasco’s actions and statements towards our volunteers and our Chairman,” the Red Cross said in a statement.
The Red Cross said it will just focus its operations on the areas affected by the earthquake.
“What is needed is to focus on the urgent humanitarian concerns of those affected by the earthquake than engage the mayor in a meaningless verbal tussle in the media,” the PRC said.
The Red Cross said it would continue to provide assistance “to the most vulnerable in all affected areas including Buenavista, Sagbayan, Tubigon, Catigbian, Clarin, Calape, Loon, Antequera, and Maribojoc, “in spite of the mayor’s attitude towards our volunteers.”
Get your act together
President Aquino called on local government units and relief organizations to coordinate their efforts to address the needs of the victims of last week’s killer quake.
Aquino said he learned about the incident between Evasco and the Red Cross volunteers but what was reported to him directly was that the Maribojoc mayor was not really forcing the Red Cross to turn over the relief goods to him.
“The essence was just to coordinate. Why do we need to coordinate? Of course, to make sure that you will be able to help everyone, there must be a system,” he said.
Aquino said it was explained to him that Evasco only wanted the aid to be equally distributed.
If there are areas already assisted by one sector, then the local officials can concentrate in other affected villages, he said.
“That is the only thing we are after, let us coordinate with each other so we will know for sure who have received assistance and who have not, isn’t it? So there will be no excesses and shortages,” Aquino said.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, for her part, also called for stronger coordination with the local officials in the distribution of relief goods.
Soliman said local officials know the immediate concerns of their constituents and they should be consulted first.
But the relief goods, she said, should not be surrendered to the local officials.
“In times of crisis, we should help one another and not engage in politics,” Soliman said.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) spokesman Maj. Reynaldo Balido yesterday said residents of Maribojoc would be disadvantaged if the standoff between Evasco and the Red Cross goes on.
“We hope this can be settled,” Balido said.
Balido said the NDRRMC won’t take sides in the dispute, noting both parties have reasons for defending their systems.
He said Evasco had imposed his authority as chairman of the MDRRMC.
“All responders, all donors should be checked in at his established command center to avoid overlaps, to avoid giving more relief goods to this area while the other areas are not given,” Balido said.
“That’s why he (Evasco) wants all donors, including the PRC, (to) be in contact with him and they will be able to rationalize and distribute the goods effectively,” he added.
Maribojoc police chief Senior Inspector Audie Pelayo said the local government has been effectively distributing relief goods to 18,000 constituents in the town’s 22 barangays.
“The real story is that Evasco is leading the distribution to every barangay. Everyday, we receive relief goods. Once the relief goods come in, the municipal employees will then check the records and immediately distribute the relief fairly,” Pelayo said.
Former peace adviser and Mindanao affairs chief Jesus Dureza justified Evasco over his actions.
Citing his experience in handling crisis situations and calamities in Mindanao, Dureza said that while non-government organizations (NGOs) and other humanitarian groups provided timely and much-needed assistance to victims on the onset of calamities, “the local officials and their mechanisms were there to stay, and they knew their areas and people better than anyone else.” – With Aurea Calica, Sheila Crisostomo, Rainier Allan Ronda, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Edith Regalado, Jonathan Carson, Paolo Romero