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Reinforced security fails to stop looting

By Joyce Pangco Panares | Nov. 13, 2013 at 12:03am

DESPITE the deployment 733 policemen to reinforce the Tacloban City police force, desperate residents continued to roam the streets in search of whatever food and water they can find in the devastated city.

“We sent additional police personnel to the affected areas to ensure peace and order. That’s why the President issued such an order, to send more police personnel,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Desperation. From top clockwise: Looters take out sacks of NFA rice from the MV Ligaya, which was brought to a rice field in Tacloban City by Super Typhoon “Yolanda”; other looters likewise carry off waterlogged rice from a warehouse in the same city, while still others hijack a convoy of trucks of the Philippine Red Cross loaded with relief goods at the national road in Tanauan, Leyte. Ver S. Noveno and AFP

Lacierda said the presence of the Philippine National Police will be enough to deter looters in areas affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda.

Lacierda made the remark after reports that Tacloban residents looted a ship carrying sacks of rice that was grounded in Barangay Diit. Some residents also removed tires from taxis that were swept away by the flood near the San Juanico Bridge.

Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado said he also received reports that some residents also looted ATM machines.

In the city itself, a curfew was enforced as armoured vehicles and elite security forces patrolled streets where famished survivors had raided stores and ransacked other aid convoys.

Hundreds of soldiers and police were in evidence around the city, the capital of the provincial island of Leyte, which bore the brunt of Haiyan, one of the strongest storms on record.

Tacloban -- a city of 220,000 residents -- has been the scene of the worst pillaging. Survivors reported gangs stealing consumer goods including televisions and washing machines from small businesses.

Chief Superintendent Carmelo Valmoria told AFP that 500 of his Special Action Forces troops were in place.

“When we arrived here, there was looting everywhere in the city. We have come to restore order and ensure the public safety,” Valmoria said.

“We have been conducting checkpoints around the city everywhere and every night to prevent those who have no business (here) from coming in.”

Valmoria said his troops had been confiscating knives and were urgently looking for guns that had been stolen from a firearms store.

Earlier Tuesday, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said four Simba armoured personnel carriers had been dispatched to Tacloban.

“We are circulating them in the city to show the people, especially those with bad intentions, that the authorities have returned,” Roxas told DZMM radio, adding checkpoints were being used to prevent people mobbing relief trucks.

Super Typhoon Haiyan flattened buildings and knocked out electricity and water supplies as tsunami-like waves and brutal winds tore across large swathes of the of the archipelago, leaving desperate survivors with virtually nothing.

Some have resorted to theft, with a charity saying that in one case a man with a machete tried to rob aid workers who were receiving a delivery of medicine.

“The presence of policemen, military and government forces will definitely improve things (but) it will not be overnight,” Roxas said, confirming reports that the Tacloban city government had imposed a curfew from 10:00 pm (1400 GMT) to 6:00 am.

“It is a tool that we are using to minimise the looting and break-ins. We know some people cannot return home (during curfew) because their homes were washed away, but it is more effective against roving gangs who are looking for targets of opportunity,” he said.

It is not clear where newly homeless residents are meant to go during this period.

AFP journalists in Tacloban described the city as a “ghost town”, with bodies still lying on the streets four days after the typhoon hit and those shops that were not destroyed boarded up.

Piles of debris, including wrecked homes and toppled trees, meant little food and medicine got through to survivors in the early days.

“That is why they were desperate and hungry”, hotel owner Kenneth Uy said, describing the immediate aftermath of the storm as “a descent into chaos”.

Police have said that some local councillors led the looting of shops to provide food to constituents.

Roxas added that the public works department had cleared at least one lane of a highway entering the city, which would speed up entry of supplies.

He said the government’s three main priorities were to restore peace and order, bring in relief goods and start collecting dead bodies.

“Now that we have achieved number one and two, the priority is the recovery of the cadavers,” he said.

Besides, Lacierda said communication facilities are being restored in Leyte and roads are being cleared to allow the entry of relief goods.

He also reassured those affected by Yolanda that the government will not leave them even if their areas are inaccessible. “We are not going to leave one living person behind. We’ll help them no matter how difficult, no matter how inaccessible,” he said.

The collapse of law and order prompted Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to say looters should be shot in the foot, but Lacierda declined to comment on Duterte’s suggestion.

“We have already augmented our police force to ensure that the peace and order situation in Tacloban City be restored,” Lacierda said..

The looting prompted the deployment of more policemen and military in the area, and the imposition of an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez said the people resorted to looting because they were shocked and traumatized at the destruction wreaked by Yolanda.

“Considering that most people survived the strongest ever recorded typhoon/hurricane/cyclone in the world, how can they be prepared for that?” he said. With AFP

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