By: InterAksyon.com November 21, 2013 9:15 AM
MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE 2 - 2:04 p.m.) Operations to assist survivors of super typhoon "Yolanda" flown into Metro Manila will be transferred from Villamor Airbase in Pasay City to Camp Aguindalo, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City.
The transfer of operations was announced Wednesday night, catching most of the volunteers who have flocked the airbase, offering everything from hot meals to free rides to their chosen destinations, by surprise and triggering complaints that they were being "shut down."
However, in an interview with radio station dzIQ Thursday morning, Dir. Alicia Bonoan, director for the National Capital Region of the Department of Social Welfare ands Development, explained: "Walang nag-shut down na operations, walang nag-shut down na processing center (No operatins have been shut down, no processing center has shut down)."
Carlos Miguel Lasa, a volunteer who was working to be a bridge between government and volunteers' grups, said retired colonel Jerry Ilagan of the MMDA Emergency Volunteer Corps has spoken with Imee Ona of the Philippine Air Force Officers' Ladies Club and that it had been agreed that volunteer operations at Villamor could continue on Thursday until the government can send enough buses to transport evacuees to Camp Aguinaldo.
Bonoan said that the transfer to Aguinaldo was prompted by the increasing number of arrivals for areas devastated by Yolanda, which the airbase was no longer capable of handling.
"Ang nangyayari ngayon ay (What is happening is a) movement from Villamor Airbase to Camp Aguinaldo," she said. "Volunteers can continue their work at Camp Aguinaldo," which she likened to a "one-stop shop" where "all government services" will be located.
"Kailangan lang na ma-address ang dami ng dumarating (There is a need to address the increasing number of arrivals)," she explained.
Philippine Air Force public affairs chief Colonel Miguel Okol confirmed to InterAksyon that the operations were being transferred to Aguinaldo because "it's bigger there."
At the same time, Bonoan said the volunteers transferring to Aguinaldo “will need to register again, so we will be able to manage all our volunteers.”
The first reports that the Villamor operations were ending were made over social media late Wednesday night.
“As of 12 p.m. tomorrow, we are being kicked out of Villamor. Yes, all of us. We’re being shut down. Not just Oplan Hatid, but the entire relief effort, I’m told. I’m too upset to get into details, but in a nutshell, as of 12 p.m. tomorrow, ALL evacuees will be transferred by government bus to Aguinaldo. What they plan for them there, I do not know. Nobody does. All I know is that they don’t need our help. The government, that is, not the survivors,” said James Deakin in his Facebook account.
Deakin and several of his friends set up Oplan Hatid, which offers free rides to Yolanda survivors.
“So to my good friends that donated tents, sound systems, food, drinks, tables, chairs, and the like, Villamor require you to be out by noon. I wish I could have called you each individually, but there’s just too many of you that have been so selfless here that I just wanted to make sure you get all your stuff back,” he said.
“To the angels who committed food and support, please cancel your orders. You’re welcome to send it to Aguinaldo but I have no idea who to talk to there. Bahala na si Batman. To those delivering the tarps and other supplies, let’s talk privately. People still need that. Let’s not let politics get in the way,” he added.
An Oplan Hatid volunteer confirmed that by Saturday afternoon, the growing number of arriving evacuees as well as volunteers flocking to Villamor to help had "alarmed" the Philippine Air Force "so they had started restricting access to the airport area where all volunteer efforts were taking place."
"I was probably the last Oplan Hatid volunteer that day who managed to get his car inside. After I got in, volunteer drivers had to park their cars near the entrances outside -- quite a distance from the landing area for the evacuees from Tacloban," he said. "The drivers and their passengers had to wait for their base shuttles to ferry them to their vehicles. It was quite a hassle for everyone involved."
Military transports, both those of the Philippines and foreign militaries deployed to help rescue and relief efforts in Yolanda's wake, have been ferrying hundreds of survivors daily on their return flights to Villamor since they began delivering relief goods to the reopened Tacloban City airport.
In a subsequent interview with InterAksyon.com, Deakin said they remain willing to talk about and help with the operations at Camp Aguinaldo, especially since the road to recovery is long.
However, he stressed that they should be given respect and be properly informed about changes.
“Some people wait nine to ten hours sitting under the sun,” he said. “We have the supply of volunteers. Tell us the demand.”
“We don’t care who gets the credit as long as the efforts go to the survivors,” he said. But again, he wished the authorities would work with them and not keep them in the dark.
“We are a group of people willing to mobilize other volunteers. Just make sure not a drop is wasted,” he said. (with reports from Likha Cuevas-Miel and Tricia Aquino, InterAksyon.com)