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(Updated 3:25 p.m.) For the first time since super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the country four months ago, President Benigno Aquino III apologized to those affected because the government was not able to come to their aid sooner.
"I apologize if we couldn't act even faster," Aquino said during an open forum at the Hope Christian High School in Manila.
Aquino's remark, a rare apology for his administration's performance, came after a student named Zar Agustin Yu, originally from Sacred Heart High School in Tacloban City, asked him why the government took three days to reach them.
Yu is one of the almost 200 students from Tacloban now studying at Hope Christian High School. Aquino visited the school after he received letters from some students expressing their concern for victims of calamities.
The President explained it shouldn't have taken them days to respond but that the extent of the damage caused by Yolanda was unprecedented, with four million families and 44 out of 81 provinces affected.
"[The] magnitude is I think is unprecedented in our history and if I am not mistaken, this is the biggest storm to make landfall anywhere in the world," he said.
He said Interior Sec. Mar Roxas and Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin were already in Tacloban to prepare for the landfall but that they lost touch with them immediately after the typhoon struck.
"Everything was down... cellphones, et cetera.... Even the equipment whether it's heavy equipment, whether it's trucks, whether it was police vehicles, what have you, were also hit," he said.
Aquino also said the airport, terminal, and runway were all hit hard by Yolanda.
"Leyte is an island. We will have to either get to the sea ports or the airport and the airport is the fastest. The airport itself was heavily damaged. So you had to clear that before we could bring in the aircraft," he said.
Another mistake, he said, was that they thought they would be able to rely on the local government units from the start.
"We have to rely on the local government unit to provide the backbone. They will tell us who is in need, where, what is needed and 'di ba parang even just knowing who the people we will have to work with. [But] that was not existent Sunday, Saturday," he said.
"Two hundred ninety policemen were supposed to be in Tacloban City alone. They actually had 20 on duty. Everybody else attended to something else. They are all being investigated. We [had] to bring in soldiers and policemen from other areas," he added.
While visiting Leyte in November, Aquino said LGUs have to admit that "there was a breakdown in terms of government and there was a cascading effect."
He said that if Tacloban is compared to towns like Palo, there appears to be a big difference in how it dealt with Yolanda.
Tacloban's current mayor, Alfred Romualdez, is a scion of the Romualdez-Marcos political family. His aunt, Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos, is the widow of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, a political rival of Aquino's father, slain senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
But Malacañang had already denied that they were blaming anyone for the extent of the damage caused by Yolanda.
Weeks later, however, Aquino ordered an investigation into the “extraordinarily high” number of casualties in certain Yolanda-hit areas in the Visayas.
The President, meanwhile, defended his decision to go back to Manila even though he said he would not leave Tacloban until the situation there is "okay."
"Before I left Tacloban, I really believe that everything that could be done was done or was being done already," he said, adding there were certain things he could not manage from there.
Despite this, Aquino said he believes that the government "did everything that could be done."
"We were given assurances that later on we are not correct, that things were already moving. So if I had known that it would not happen then perhaps I would have waited until they started constructing the first bunkhouse amongst other things or pati na rin iyong cadaver recovery and so many other things," he said.
Casualties, damage from Yolanda
The NDRRMC said the death toll due to Yolanda has reached 6,245 as of March 6.
On the other hand, 28,626 were injured and 1,039 are still missing.
It also said 890,895 families or 4,095,280 persons were displaced and served inside and outside evacuation centers.
The NDRRMC said a total of P1.26 billion worth of relief assistance has so far been provided to affected families. It likewise said a total of 35,489 personnel, 1,351 vehicles, 118 sea crafts, 163 aircrafts, and 28,361 other assets and equipment were deployed to affected areas.
The total cost of damages from Yolanda is estimated to be almost P40 billion, including infrastructure and agriculture. — RSJ/KG, GMA News