FAQs: Government’s immediate response to Typhoon Yolanda

From the Presidential Management Staff and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office

1. How did government prepare for Yolanda?

Thanks to the improvements made in weather forecasting system under the present administration, the national government knew, even before Typhoon Yolanda made landfall, that it would be one of the strongest, if not the strongest typhoon, that would ever affect such a large portion of our country. The national government acted accordingly.

Preparations began three days before Yolanda hit:

  • Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo warned the public of the danger posed by Yolanda.
  • On November 5, the Department of Health also issued an alert weather memorandum to all its Regional Health Offices, with close coordination on preparations undertaken with Regions IV-B, V, VI, VII, and VIII.

Two days before landfall, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) held a meeting to discuss the preparations that had been made and further actions to ensure that everyone knew of the situation.

The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), through emails and text messages, informed all mayors and governors in the Bicol Region, Eastern and Western Visayas, and the MIMAROPA area to activate their Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils (LDRRMCs) and 24-hour disaster monitoring systems. LDRRMC units are led by the heads of local government, and are responsible for alerting their people and communities. Regional and provincial DILG directors also announced warnings and alerts over local radio stations in their respective areas. The Official Gazette published warnings on storm surges, as well as other advisories from national agencies.

Field offices of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) identified possible evacuation centers. Local government units (LGUs) in Iloilo City, Miag-ao, Oton, Sta. Barbara, Ajuy, and Concepcion conducted pre-emptive evacuations. The same kinds of evacuations were done in Catbalogan, Samar; and Salcedo, Guiuan, Oras, and all of Eastern Samar; Tacloban City and Tolosa in Leyte; Gigaquit, Surigao del Norte; and Gingoog in Misamis Oriental.

The Department of Health (DOH) and DSWD were two critical national agencies that made sure to preposition necessary goods near areas that would be in the storm’s path ahead of time. The DOH prepositioned assorted medicines, medical supplies, cot beds, and other essential materials worth P328.7 million. The DSWD prepositioned 89,260 family food packs, or P178.383 million worth of goods—and also started repacking operations even before Yolanda made landfall.

One day before the storm—the day Yolanda entered the Philippine Area of Responsibility:

  • The AFP troops in Eastern Visayas (4,500 troops and essential personnel) were placed on red alert, with eight choppers on standby at Mactan Air Base.
  • More than 6,450 policemen and support units in Region VIII were likewise placed on red alert, with five trucks and six watercraft made available for use.
  • Across all the provinces preparing for Yolanda’s arrival, more than 1,000 fire trucks from the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and local government units were put on heightened alert.
  • By this time, Secretaries of National Defense and the Interior and Local Government Voltaire Gazmin and Mar Roxas, respectively, were already in Tacloban City, where they briefed local government officials.

Efforts to ensure that the Filipino people were well aware of Yolanda did not stop. In the evening of November 7, the President himself made an emergency televised statement to advise the public of strength and severity of the storm, and to inform the public of preparations that the government was undertaking. He also urged the public to do their part by staying calm as they prepared for the storm, and by cooperating with authorities (for instance, in the case of pre-emptive evacuation).

The preparations that government made were three-fold:

  • Maximizing every opportunity and every avenue to warn the public of the coming typhoon and its effects—from utilizing official channels, to media.
  • Anticipating immediate needs, and prepositioning the necessary goods to meet these needs—from relief packs, to medicine and other health supplies.
  • Mobilizing personnel and equipment to ensure that soldiers, policemen, and other essential personnel in affected areas, and nearby provinces, can readily respond to the disaster.

Preparations for Yolanda were indeed extensive, ensuring that all levels of government—from national government down to LGUs—were undertaking operations to minimize loss of life and enable an immediate response in the aftermath of the typhoon.

2. Why did government take so long to bring assistance to affected communities in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda?

On November 8 (Day 0 in the timeline): Typhoon Yolandaravaged a large part of the Visayan region, affecting 44 out of 81 provinces, and leaving behind an estimated 571.1 billion pesos worth of damage and losses.

While government had been able to preposition goods, equipment, and personnel to respond immediately once Yolanda had passed, the typhoon left behind a wide swathe of destruction: roads and bridges were damaged, or blocked by fallen trees and posts. Some major infrastructure sustained heavy damage. There was no clean water supply, no food, no electricity, and no way of communicating; communities were completely cut off, especially those in isolated areas. Prepositioned goods and equipment in Region VIII were washed away, and a number of the personnel that had been placed on alert were from local communities; they themselves were affected by Yolanda. It was a truly a difficult situation from which to begin rescue and relief operations.

Immediately after Yolanda (November 9, or Day 1), aircrafts could not fly into Leyte per the assessment of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), because of prevailing wind speeds. Despite these concerns, the Air Force immediately flies personnel to Tacloban from Cebu, to assess the situation. The airport runway in Tacloban is cleared to allow larger aircraft to enter. Three C130 aircraft were able to land there on the first day, bringing personnel, relief goods, and, most importantly, a communications van.

After all, establishing communications is of paramount importance during calamities and national disasters: so that needs can be communicated to the outside world, and consequently, addressed. First priorities were set: clear the airports and roads, which would ensure that goods, resources, and relief personnel reach affected communities, and establish communications. By the third day, all airports and seaports, except for the Estancia port, were operational. By the fourth day, 3,426 km of national roads were passable, allowing transport to affected areas.

After those first few days, resources and personnel were able to enter affected areas in a consistent manner. The complete timeline of efforts within the first two weeks immediately after Yolanda can be viewed [here].

3. What is the role of the national government in disasters? What about LGUs?

By law (Local Government Code of 1991), LGUs are supposed to be at the frontlines of government response calamities. Since LGUs are closest to the ground, they are well aware of the specific issues and needs of their communities and constituents. National government is meant to be the “enabler:” to provide LGUs with the resources and funds they need to respond effectively. As LGUs relate their needs, the national government must give them the wherewithal to meet those needs.

This is also seen in Republic Act No. 10121, Section 15, which states that: “The LDRRMCs shall take the lead in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the effects of any disaster…” Under the same section, it also states that, “The NDRRMC and intermediary LDRRMCs shall always act as support to LGUs which have the primary responsibility as first disaster responders.”

However, in the case of Typhoon Yolanda, the LGUs and their officials were victims themselves, so many of their personnel were not able to respond immediately to the needs of their communities.

4. What were the priorities of government in its immediate response to Typhoon Yolanda?

In the aftermath of Yolanda, the first directives were: clear the airports and roads, and establish communications; ensure that goods and resources can be delivered and made available to affected populace at the earliest possible time, responders with medical capability are deployed, and that services by vital facilities like hospitals and other services such as temporary shelters are provided. These were part of a series of daily strategic thrusts of government operations in affected areas, as presented below:

Levels of priority for Days 1 to 5 (November 9-13):

  1. Accessing supply routes
  2. Food and relief distribution
  3. Law and order
  4. Cadaver recovery

Levels of priority for Days 6 to 8 (November 14-16):

  1. Food and relief distribution
  2. Cadaver recovery
  3. Law and order
  4. Accessing supply routes

Levels of priority for Day 9 onwards (November 17-onwards):

  1. Food and relief distribution
  2. Cadaver recovery
  3. Establishing normalcy
  4. Accessing supply routes
  5. Law and order

On Day 6 (November 14), a “Conveyor Belt System” for the distribution of goods in affected areas was implemented, enabling personnel on the ground to reach more communities. Once a delivery truck loads its goods in the distribution hubs, it would travel to particular towns, and there unload the goods to the local government officials, who were in charge of distributing to their barangay captains and kagawads. They would then distribute the goods to affected residents in their communities. However, the Tacloban City LGU did not have the capacity to deliver relief to barangays; thus, in this case, the DSWD directly handed over relief to barangay captains.

Day 7 (November 15) saw power fully restored in the four provinces of Romblon, Negros Oriental, Oriental Mindoro, and Siquijor. Power had also been partially restored in some affected areas in Aklan, Cebu, Caticlan, and Boracay Island. The power restoration helped accelerate relief efforts.

By Day 11 (November 19), a government task force for the reconstruction of Yolanda-affected communities had been activated. The objective: Ensure that, as relief items are distributed and as more communities are reached, other important concerns, such as shelter, utilities, livelihood, and basic infrastructure are also addressed.

5. Given the scale of devastation and the need to reach all communities, how did we determine hubs for relief distribution in Leyte and other areas?

There were three major distribution hubs of relief goods: One each in Tacloban, Ormoc, and Guiuan. Each had its own area of responsibility, which was determined by access routes to affected towns in their respective vicinities. This followed the Conveyor Belt System mentioned in the previous section.

6. Where did the foreign aid go?

The Philippines was at the receiving end of a true outpouring of assistance and aid from international and multilateral organizations, foreign governments, our OFWs, and even from persons of goodwill who found need to reach out to the Filipino people.

Foreign assistance—whether pledges or cash and non-cash assistance given—by countries and intergovernmental organizations, as communicated to the government, is recorded in the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH V1.0), which can be accessed at: http://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/faith.

However, not all this assistance was coursed through government. It is the donors that determine where they give the aid: it is up to the country, organization, or individual if they will give it to the DSWD or to a non-government organization like the Red Cross. Also, not all assistance communicated to the Philippine government were given as ready cash, or non-cash items: a good part of this assistance came in the form of pledges. To date, not all pledges have also been converted into cash or non-cash assistance.

FAiTH V 2.0 will be launched on April 25, 2014. In this enhanced version, foreign embassies will be given access to the back-end of the portal—which means they will be able to input or update the amount or kind of assistance given by their countries. They will also be able to indicate whether this is still a pledge, in the form of cash or non-cash, and to which organization they have given this.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) will give each embassy a specific username. Version 2.0 will also track aid and assistance that is coursed through the national government. As of 07 April 2014, 64 partner countries and seven multilateral organizations were given access to the content management system of the FAiTH website. This will enable embassies and organizations to directly input cash and non-cash pledges and export entries in PDF file format, which can be attached as annex to their respective Note Verbale to the DFA.