MANILA –Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo on Tuesday denied that her department had made residents of quake-stricken Surigao del Norte wait for relief goods last Sunday, as what netizens and media commentators have reported.
“There was never an order to delay the release of relief goods to the people and to wait for President Rodrigo Duterte’s arrival before the distribution can begin,” Taguiwalo said.
”We have gone on relief operations with President Duterte in several areas hit by calamities, such as Batanes, Tuguegarao, Isabela, Catanduanes, and Pili, Albay and there was never any issue about the distribution. Neither the president nor DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) officials are in the habit of keeping people wait for relief.”
Taguiwalo said the morning after the 6.7-magnitude quake struck Friday night, DSWD-Caraga immediately activated its quick response team to monitor requests for assistance. Its officials and staff also made the rounds of affected communities to determine the extent of the damage.
“From our end at the Central Office, when news came out that the earthquake had damaged the water systems of Surigao City and outlying municipalities, I immediately asked DSWD Field Office OIC Mita Lim to distribute water and to closely coordinate with the LGUs (local government units) regarding the release of DSWD relief goods we had prepositioned with them,” she said.
The social welfare chief however admitted that the department had encountered difficulties in the immediate release of the goods.
“Given that the LGUs are the first responder during times of calamities, in the case of Surigao, we were not immediately able to set up and implement an effective distribution system,” she explained.
“We sought to remedy this as soon as possible when we conducted meetings with DSWD-Caraga officials, the officials of the Surigao LGU, and barangay captains. Since Sunday, we have been distributing relief goods, as well as water.”
She also explained why relief goods were distributed first to beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
“This was the first immediate response of the Field Office because beneficiaries of the 4Ps program affected by the earthquake are easy to verify and validate. There is no truth, however, that we are helping 4Ps beneficiaries only. DSWD’s relief goods and calamity assistance give priority to the poorest and most affected citizens affected by calamities, regardless of whether they are 4Ps beneficiaries or not,” she pointed out.
Taguiwalo meanwhile assured that DSWD officials from the central office remain in Surigao to assist in relief distribution and determine ways to improve the system of distributing and storing relief goods.
“We do not ignore or deny the flaws and weaknesses in our system because to do so would prevent us from putting together steps to correct them. Our goal is to provide relief assistance to Filipinos as soon as possible when they need it,” she said. ”Our call in the DSWD is ‘maagap at mapagkalingang serbisyo’ which translates to ‘prompt and compassionate service’. We strive to live by this as much as we can.”