Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Philippines Defense chief criticized over statement

MANILA, Philippines - Philippines Defense chief Gilberto Teodoro was on Wednesday criticized for the proposed pre-emptive evacuation of residents during a calamity.

“Secretary Gilberto Teodoro seems more concerned with his publicity points than preventing another disaster where children are most vulnerable,” this is the strong reaction of child rights advocates led by SALINLAHI Alliance for Children’s Concerns, in his recent directive regarding the forced evacuation of minors in the face of another typhoon (international name “Parma”).

“The destruction wrought by typhoon (Ketsana) Ondoy is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines. We witnessed the thousands of lives affected by Milenyo, Rosing and Reming, many of whom come from very poor families with little or no resources at all to cope effectively and quickly in the face of such calamities. The government and its disaster arm, the National Disaster Coordinating Council, know that the Philippines is in the typhoon belt, yet it is always caught flat-footed every time,” said Sophia Garduce, spokesperson of SALINLAHI.

She added that the policy of pre-emptive evacuation and stand-by rescue operation should be implemented long before a typhoon hits land.

Garduce also criticized the idea of forcibly evacuating minors who cannot legally decide for themselves. “This directive by Teodoro is downright stupid and contravenes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which affirms that a child’s place is with his or her parents. Taking children away from their parents in times of crisis is as Neanderthal as the response to unaccompanied and separated children during World War II. In fact, if Teodoro might want to take a few minutes of his time to do research, this situation of children being separated from their parents was the impetus for the Declaration on the Rights of the Child."

According to Garduce, children feel most secure when they are within the comforting arms of their parents, particularly their mothers. “To separate them from their parents in the face of disaster is equally traumatic as the disaster experience itself. It is also impractical as young children need to be cared for by an adequate number of trained personnel,” she said.

She also pointed out that this directive implicitly puts the blame for the death toll among children on the parents. “The Arroyo government cannot escape accountability by implying that the parents of the children were to blame for the deaths."

"The fact is that the government has no disaster preparedness program and that the government rescue operations were slow and inadequate to say the least. These children could have been alive and probably helping their parents clean up their mud-soaked houses today had the government been prepared for this eventuality,” Garduce said.

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