The Bureau of Customs has been ordered to immediately turn over smuggled rice and other seized food items to the Department of Social Welfare and Development to augment preparations for the onslaught of Typhoon “Ompong” this weekend.
“Please release all seized rice and foodstuff in your possession to the DSWD for possible disaster relief,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III told Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña.
Dominguez’s directive was in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to all government agencies to ensure the highest level of readiness for the powerful typhoon.
Dominguez said government-to-government transfers in emergency situations can be legally facilitated under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
Dominguez was present during a command conference led by the President Thursday afternoon at Camp Aguinaldo to discuss ongoing preparations for Ompong’s arrival.
Ompong was expected to slam into the northern province of Cagayan Saturday morning, bringing heavy rains within its 900-kilometer radius.
Earlier, Dominguez instructed the BOC to coordinate with the DSWD on the distribution of confiscated rice stocks to flood victims and the poorest municipalities in the country, in response to a proposal of Quirino Rep. Dakila Carlo Cua.
Lapeña reported that the BoC seized in July some 100 containers with 50,000 sacks of rice worth P125 million at the Manila International Container Port.
The shipment from Thailand was consigned to the Sta. Rosa Farm Products Corp. without the necessary import permits, Lapeña said.
Cua had earlier proposed that smuggled rice be donated to families affected by the recent typhoons.
The lawmaker said during the hearing that rather than auction off the stocks, which could possibly end up in the hands of smugglers who use dummies to buy these back, it would be better for the BoC to just donate them to flood victims.
Dominguez had also directed the BOC to keep a closer watch on the entry of “hot” stocks of rice and sugar.
Starting Friday, the Metro Manila Development Authority was put on blue alert, with all first responder units at their congregation point and ready for immediate deployment.
Under blue alert status, MMDA personnel are on standby for possible deployment.
“The raising of blue alert aims to ensure the continuous monitoring of the possible effects of the current weather system and ensure prompt coordination with concerned agencies and offices,” said MMDA Chairman Danilo Lim.
As signal number 1 is up over Metro Manila, Lim also advised the 17 local government units in Metro Manila to implement disaster preparedness measures in their respective localities for the safety of the public.
In Central Luzon, the country’s rice granary, disaster officials said preparations were in place for Ompong’s arrival.
The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council said classes were suspended in all levels in all schools until Sept. 15 in the entire region.
Director Mario Salazar, chairperson of the RDRRMC, said four provinces—namely Aurora, Bulacan, Tarlac, and Pampanga—have suspended work effective Friday to assure the safety of government employees and their families.
Local government units in Region 2 were on high alert as the storm approached.
The city information officer of Ilagan reported that Mayor Evelyn Diaz has ordered the emergency purchase of relief packs in anticipation of massive evacuation.
Sacks of Sinandomeng, a locally favored brand of commercial rice, were seen unloaded by trucks owned by City Government of Ilagan.
“In the absence of cheap NFA rice, the city government procured Sinandomeng rice. Anyway, this will be for our constituents,” City Information Officer Paul Bacungan said.
Nueva Vizcaya Gov. Carlos Padilla convened the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council on Thursday and ordered the close monitoring of roads and landslide-prone areas.
Both the Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya provincial governments issued orders suspending classes at all levels, including work in government offices on Friday.
The weather bureau forecast shows that Ompong will likely cross the same path as the 2016 Typhoon “Lawin” did.
The Magat Dam in Ramon, Isabela has issued an advisory to communities along the Cagayan River to take necessary precautions as it released water from its reservoir.
Meanwhile, airlines and airport officials announced the suspension of 33 international and 82 domestic flights scheduled Friday until Monday due to bad weather.
Cebu Pacific Air has the highest number of cancellations with 56 domestic and 24 international flights while Philippine Airlines suspended 18 domestic and six international flights.
PAL also announced that its Middle East flights in Doha, Riyadh, Dubai, and Dammam to Manila Saturday ¨will be re-timed to arrive in the afternoon of Sept. 15 to stay clear of the typhoon.”
¨We ask our passengers to reconsider their travel plans for the coming two days, as we expect there to be more cancellations or delays. PAL will closely monitor the typhoon situation and will provide updates on any further changes in schedules or cancellations,” the airline said.
Also on Friday, some major shopping malls announced they were waiving their overnight parking charges to assist shoppers and nearby residents who will be affected by the typhoon.
In a tweet, SM Supermalls listed the following branches where overnight parking fees are waived. These were SM Megacenter Cabanatuan, SM City Cabanatuan, SM City Tarlac, and SM Center Tuguegarao Downtown.
Aside from also waiving its overnight parking fees, the Ayala Malls made accessible their designated waiting areas and restrooms beyond mall operating hours.
The Robinsons Malls also made the parking spaces of some of its branches free of charge. With Joel E. Zurbano, Romeo Dizon and Abe Almirol
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