MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – As fear and uncertainty continue to grip victims of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit Central Visayas, President Benigno Aquino III himself visited disaster-stricken Bohol to assure residents their pleas were heard.
To prove that Bohol wasn't in "immediate danger," Aquino and national officials will spend the night in Loon.
"Dinesisyon po namin na ipakita sa inyo kung paano paniniwala, ‘di siyempre wala pong mas magandang pruweba ‘yan kung hindi ‘yung makiisa kami sa inyo ngayon, dumamay ngayong gabi," he said. (We decided that the best way to show our belief is to stay here for the night.)
Aftershocks continue to rock the province. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology had recorded 3,000 aftershocks a week after the quake, and said these would last for two to 3 weeks more.
The president took the opportunity to dispel misconceptions about the quake. A newspaper had allegedly reported that Bohol was being sucked into a sink hole.
"Huwag po nating takutin ang sarili natin dahil lalo lang magpapasama sa kondisyon natin," he said. (Let's not scare ourselves even more. It will only worsen the situation.)
Experts from Phivolcs and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau assured him that there was no immediate danger in Bohol, adding that studies were underway to map faults in Bohol. Aquino also led the distribution of 163,000 food packs enough to sustain a family of 5 for two days.
Aquino left for Bohol on Tuesday afternoon, October 23, to visit the hardest-hit towns of Loon, Tubigon, and Sagbayan, as well as the provincial capital Tagbilaran City.
"Tulad ng anumang dadatnan natin sa buhay, kung paano natin dadalhin, ano, paano tayo mag-iisip ang siyang na magpapagaan o magpapahirap sa ating sarili," he added. (The way we deal with, think about challenges in life determine how the situation will affect us.)
On October 16, a day after the earthquake, the President presided a command conference in Tagbilaran, but left on the same day. He flew to South Korea for a state visit the following day.
Aquino said P20 billion from government savings would be used to fund rehabilitation and relief efforts in Bohol. He earlier made the same assurance even if the national government's calamity fund is running dry.
The President's first stop was the Loon South Central School, one of the evacuation centers in Loon where he distributed relief goods to families. Loon tallied the most deaths in the province of Bohol.
He dropped by the Church of Our Lady of Light, which was reduced to rubble by the strong quake. Loon residents, mostly from the coastal Barangay Napo, now live in makeshift tents in open spaces surrounding the church.
Also part of the President's itinerary in Loon was the town's public market, the Congressman Natalio P. Castillo Sr. Memorial Hospital, and the municipal hall, where he was briefed by national and local officials on the province's relief and rehabilitation plans.
The meeting, which included Defense Secretary and National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council Chair Voltaire Gazmin, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman, and Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson Jr, among others, lasted until 7:41 pm.
The President ordered officials to restore living conditions in the province's hardest-hit towns. Loon officials earlier told Rappler they need structural engineers to inspect the integrity of houses in the town.
Access to Loon became difficult following damage to major bridges that connect it to the rest of Bohol. Aquino said government would work hard to restore old routes to the town, and that the town's main buildings will be restored by December.
Mualong and Abatan bridges, meanwhile, will be repaired by November 20, around 6 weeks after the quake struck.