The Philippine National Police yesterday said it would fly in more policemen to areas devastated by Supertyphoon "Yolanda" amid reports of unbridled looting of commercial establishments by desperate residents searching for food and water.
In a news briefing at Camp Crame, PNP Director General Alan Purisima said 883 police personnel had been sent to Western and Eastern Visayas to guard against looters, some of them reportedly armed.
In Tacloban City alone, he said 639 additional PNP personnel were deployed after television crews caught on camera typhoon victims ransacking groceries, warehouses, stores, fast-food restaurants and even jewellery shops.
"We will flood Tacloban with policemen to restore law and order," Purisima said.
"We are checking the city inch by inch. We assure the people that the government will have full control. The policemen we deployed there should make their presence felt," he added.
Purisima, however, said he saw no reason for President Aquino to place Tacloban under martial law to prevent attacks on commercial establishments as suggested by local businessmen and politicians.
"In my opinion, there's no need to declare martial law because what the people need there is food. The government should be able to provide all the things that they need," he said.
He noted the President had directed concerned government agencies to do everything to ensure the continuous delivery of relief supplies in ruined villages.
Cabinet officials and heads of government agencies joined
Aquino in visiting the areas ravaged by Yolanda over the weekend to "show that we are united in bringing solution to their problems."
As to reports that armed groups had been taking relief goods from volunteer organisations at gunpoint, Purisima said he had yet to receive an official report on the matter.
While policemen were ordered to stop looting, Purisima admitted that arresting looters was not a priority of the PNP as of the moment since policemen were also tasked to lead search-and-rescue operations, and relief distribution.
"If we arrest them, where are we going to detain them?" he said. "We don't even know if we can file charges against them immediately since the prosecutor's office in Tacloban was also damaged. We might be accused of illegal detention."
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima on Monday rejected calls for the government to declare martial law in Tacloban, saying the Constitution allowed this only in cases of invasion or rebellion.
She said President Aquino has enough powers to deal with the situation in the typhoon-ravaged regions.
"What is needed, more than martial law, is a humanitarian attitude and people that victims can talk to, or at least people that they can look to for reassurance that aid is coming," she said in a text message to reporters. "A strong option is declaration of both a state of emergency and a state of calamity in the affected areas."
During his visit to Tacloban City on Sunday, the President brushed aside a suggestion by a businessman that he declare martial law.
Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras on Monday told reporters the government focused on establishing "command and control in a disaster scenario immediately."
"The minute you let go of it, the tendency is it catches all. So that is what is being, that is what has been reestablished in Tacloban," he said.-With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Christian V. Esguerra