• Melo Acuna

Catholic church responds to "Rolly's" wrath

International community expected to respond to Philippine typhoon victims

MANILA – The Catholic church in the Philippines have long prepared for natural and man-made catastrophes, including the most recent one, the super howler “Rolly” which brought destruction to private homes, churches, government buildings and other infrastructure across the Bicol and Southern Tagalog regions.

In a virtual interview with Fr. Antonio E. Labiao, Jr., newly-appointed Executive Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’ National Secretariat of Social Action, Justice and Peace (CBCP-NASSA), he said the Dioceses of Virac and Legazpu took the brunt of “Rolly’s” wrath.

Having assumed his post last August 1 this year, “Rolly” struck three months after which he considers his ‘baptism of fire,” he looks forward to traveling to Bicol, particularly Virac to find out what the residents need.

“Last Saturday evening, I talked with our Social Action Center director in Virac and he informed me of their preparations for ‘Rolly’s’ landfall. He also updated me on their preemptive steps to keep the people safe,” he said. However, by Sunday morning, they have failed to contact their counterparts in Catanduanes.

Malawak ang damage na iniwan ni ‘Rolly,’” he said. He added 65% of homes made of light materials and 20% of homes made of concrete were destroyed with about 15,000 persons in temporary shelters or with their immediate relatives,” Fr. Labiao said. He added the data they got came from relatives of their staff at NASSA-CBCP.

He said 200 homes remain buried in lahar in two villages in Guinobatan, in Albay province which falls under the Diocese of Legazpi. He further said the Tabaco City and its immediate environs were severely affected too.

His office has received updates from the Social Action Centers in the Dioceses of Legazpi, Virac, Sorsogon, Daet, Limbanan and the Archdiocese of Caceres, all in Bicol while the SAC directors from the Dioceses of Gumaca, Lucena, Imus, Boac, the Apostolic Vicariates of Calapan and San Jose de Occidental Mindoro, the Prelature of Infanta and the Archdiocese of Lipa in Southern Tagalog.

“We have already issued our appeal to other ecclesial provinces (dioceses and archdioceses) through the CBCP Secretariat,” Fr. Labiao said. He added he has already met with the different church leaders in Metro Manila to appeal for their support in the name of the 14 affected ecclesial areas.

The church-based Catholic Relief Services is also preparing its assistance to the typhoon victims. Fr. Labiao said he has already talked with the CRS representatives in Manila.

He also expressed hope Caritas Internationalis which is currently chaired by Filipino and former Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Gokim Cardinal Tagle would help. He said even during Typhoon Haiyan, Caritas Internationalis has extended its support through their member organizations worldwide.

Natural calamities of this magnitude would require rebuilding of severely-affected communities as Fr. Labiao expressed optimism they would be able to rebuild homes in safer places and provide the beneficiaries with livelihood.

“We may partner with the government to find a possible relocation side,” he added. It will be recalled the Prelature of Marawi under Bishop Edwin Angot dela Peña had its shelter program for affected Marawi City residents during the violent five-month armed conflict.

He said efforts to rebuild homes in unsafe environs would be useless and least beneficial to affected residents.

Asked how the Catholic church would respond to the typhoon victims’ needs these days, Fr. Labiao said they can only rely on reserve funds of different dioceses and archdioceses as second collections are discouraged due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He added there are no funds for the Lenten program Alay Kapwa but he relies on the goodness of the Catholic faithful and even the private sector to attend to the people’s needs.

He added the theme for the 500th year of the Arrival of Christianity in the Philippines is timely. “Gifted to Give,” he said is an appropriate theme to remind everyone of the need for solidarity with the victims of the most recent natural calamity. (Melo M. Acuña)

Fr. Antonio E. Labiao, Jr., Executive Secretary, CBCP-National Secretariat of Social Action, Justice and Peace. (Screen grab from Zoom Interview/Melo M. Acuna)

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