Philippine president to camp in Tacloban

TACLOBAN, Philippines — President Benigno Aquino III said Sunday that he will stay in typhoon-battered Leyte province until he sees more progress in the aid effort following complaints from survivors that they have yet to receive proper help.

Aquino is expected to set up camp in Tacloban, the capital of hardest-hit Leyte province, but it is not clear where he will find suitable accommodations amid the ruins. Virtually every building in the city was damaged or destroyed by the Nov. 8 Typhoon Haiyan, which killed 3,974 people, according to the latest official count released Sunday. The storm left about 1,200 people missing.

Electricity is available only in small pockets through diesel generators. There is no running water, and people must manage with water supplied by tankers. Many don’t even have that.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Tacloban, Aquino said that while there has been some progress in the aid effort, it is not enough. A massive effort by the international community, which has donated aid and cash worth more than $248 million, is beginning to show improvements on the ground.

“We really want to ease the burden of everybody as soon as possible. As long as I don’t see any more improvements, we’ll stay here,” Aquino said, referring to his official team.

     Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said Aquino wanted to ensure that the distribution of relief goods goes on smoothly and power is restored soon in this city of 220,000 people.

This is not the first time Aquino has taken a hands-on approach to a crisis. When Muslim rebels occupied fishing villages outside Zamboanga in the south in September, he set up a camp in the regional military headquarters in the city to oversee the offensive against the insurgents. The move won him wide praise.

Last month, the 53-year-old bachelor president slept overnight in an army tent to reassure jittery residents of a central town that was devastated by a magnitude-7.3 earthquake.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Filipinos, many homeless and grieving, flocked to dozens of churches across the region for their first Sunday Mass since the typhoon. More than 80 percent of the 90 million people in the Philippines are Roman Catholic, a legacy of its history of Spanish colonial rule.

Some came to give thanks for surviving. Others came to pray for the souls of the departed.

“Coming to Mass gives people hope that things will eventually get better,” said Marino Caintic.

One such service was held by the Rev. Amadero Alvero at his half-destroyed Santo Nino church, a landmark of Tacloban.

“Despite what happened, we still believe in God,” he said. “The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact, as believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed.”

Sun shone for the first service, but by the second, rain was falling through a gaping hole crisscrossed by wooden beams in the roof of the downtown church and landmark. Its windows were blown out, and winds snapped at a silver cross on top of its steeple, which hangs upside down.

“We are being tested by God, to see how strong our faith is, to see if our faith is true,” he said. “He wants to know that we have faith in him in good times, as well as in bad.”

Santo Nino and other churches have also been helping care for those who survived.

About 30 families are living in the church, and there are boxes of water and canned goods and food piled up on the promises. The seawater flooded much of the first floor of the compound.

Filipinos elsewhere in Asia also remembered their homeland in their prayers Sunday.

In Hong Kong, home to 133,000 Filipinos, volunteers outside one church were collecting food, medicine, blankets and clothing to send to the affected region. Most of Filipinos working in the city are low-paid domestic workers.

“We can’t really afford to give much money, but we can help them by praying,” said Jovie Tamayo, 32, who is from central Iloilo province. The roof of her family’s house was ripped off in the storm, but her family members were uninjured.

Chelly Ogania said she had been unable to contact her mother and brothers on Samar Island, where the storm made landfall, though she had heard from friends that the village was safe.

“We pray that they are really safe, we pray always,” said the 35-year-old. “That’s all the things I can do, just pray and trust the Lord, because I’m very far from them. No communications, just praying, praying.”

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