Malacañang said the government was focused on rehabilitation efforts in areas hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda last year and that it was determined to hasten programs aimed at improving the lives of the victims regardless of whoever plans to visit these places, including Pope Francis.
In reaction to reports that the highest official of the Catholic Church planned to pay a visit to victims of Yolanda in January next year, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said they are confident that the government will not be ashamed of its rehabilitation program by then.
“We continue to improve, hasten and make all programs more effective in response to the needs of our brothers who were affected by the calamity. This is done daily, hourly and we do not look at whoever wants to visit,” Coloma added.
“It is more important that we give prompt and effective response to the needs of our countrymen,” he stressed.
Pope Francis was reportedly eyeing a visit to Yolanda-hit areas to inspire and give hope to the people there.
Coloma said they are still awaiting official word from the Vatican regarding the prospective visit.
“Let’s keep in mind that the Pope is a head of state and head of government, not just a spiritual leader of faith. So there are protocols and diplomatic processes that will be observed,” the Palace official added.
“Having said that, we are always in a state of preparing and improving our country—visitor or no visitor,” Coloma said, adding that the rehabilitation efforts were not “driven by state visitors.”
Meanwhile, according to him, Presidential Adviser on Rehabilitation and Recovery Secretary Panfilo Lacson will meet with other government officials on Friday to discuss existing government programs in the wake of a deadly fire that killed seven people in a “tent city.”
He said they were deeply saddened by the incident and were prompted to give more importance to safety precautions in temporary shelters.
“From an appreciation of the basic facts, it is saddening. It happened past midnight so there are implications. Number one, safety procedures. What safety precautions must be taken? Second, emergency response in case of fires,” Coloma noted.
According to him, Lacson and his team must put in place a “more responsive” system “to ensure the safety and well-being of all others that are now in the temporary shelters.”
The official said the public must also understand the extent of government response needed to put the victims’ lives back to normal. He added that there are 171 towns and cities in eight provinces that were affected by the storm. These are home to 15 million families.
“Having said that, we must acknowledge the breadth, depth and complexity of the task at hand, and it would not be responsible to simply blame government because this is something that can be empirically determined,” he added.
What is important, Coloma explained, is that there is no civil disorder in the affected areas or even epidemics and hunger.
“Those are the most fundamental indicators of the quality of response we are undertaking.” he said