The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has called for greater patience and public understanding amid persistent complaints about the slow provision of relief to survivors of Supertyphoon "Yolanda."
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman is also appealing to local governments in Central Luzon, especially rich cities, to continue helping the typhoon survivors who have lost their homes and belongings.
"We recognise that efficiency is hampered due to stressful situations but we are exerting our best efforts to respond to the whole process of addressing the needs of our typhoon-affected countrymen," the DSWD said in a statement.
It said that volunteer efforts, comments and feedback were most welcome, "provided these will facilitate and improve existing disaster efforts."
"I invite all the critics to link arms with us so [the delivery of relief] will be even faster," Soliman said.
"We are focused on delivering the needs of the victims in partnership with local government[s], NGOs (nongovernment organisations) and private-sector groups," she said.
The DSWD cited a post of a male volunteer on his Facebook account detailing his observations after he and his friends helped to repack goods at the relief hub in Tacloban City.
In his post, he said relief supplies were being "stocked for a long period of time" and volunteers were being made to wait for their turn to repack goods. He also observed that typhoon victims were being made to repack relief under a so-called food-for-work programme of the DSWD.
The DSWD said it appreciated that such matters were being brought to its attention and gave assurance that lessons were learned and improvements were made.
Soliman appealed to rich cities to help typhoon survivors who are leaving their devastated hometowns for safer places in Luzon.
She urged local governments to welcome people from typhoon-ravaged towns in Eastern Visayas, saying "they need to move out" to recover from "trauma and losses."
"Their desire to flee from their hometowns is a natural reaction of survival and self-preservation," Soliman said.
Soliman cited Pasay City, which has allowed the DSWD to pitch tents on a property within Villamor Air Base to provide temporary shelters for typhoon evacuees.
The military has accepted 2,000 evacuees and allowed tents for them in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
The town of Rosario in Cavite province has communicated its willingness to accept typhoon evacuees, Soliman said.
She pleaded with local governments for understanding and asked them to accept evacuees as a public service.
"No disaster can dampen the Filipino values of hospitality and strength of character, for which we are internationally known," Soliman said.
As of Saturday, the DSWD said more than 1.2 million family food packs had been distributed to typhoon victims in Eastern Visayas alone since Nov. 8.
"That would translate into approximately 82,000 packs a day distributed in all the 40 towns of Leyte, 15 municipalities of Eastern Samar, including Guiuan, and 138 barangays (villages) of Tacloban City," the department said.
"This means food packs do not stay stacked in the hubs for too long. They get sent out as soon as the vehicles to be used for distribution are ready to be dispatched again," it said.
According to the DSWD, relief items are repacked in shifts in all hubs.
The volunteers, who now number in the thousands, are not allowed to go into the hubs at the same time to maintain order and maximise productivity.
On the complaint that bottles of water are left on the floor and rice spills out from sacks, the DSWD explained that some plastic bags containing relief items were torn as a result of mishandling.
"The bottles of water that were on the floor were being readied for repacking in sacks. These were not packed when they were donated. The goods were piled outside the warehouse for easier loading on trucks and vans," the department said.
The DSWD said the supply of plastic bags had become a problem, as no local supplies were available in places where businesses remained closed.
Only plastic bags that can hold 3 kilos of rice are available but the DSWD needs 6-kg bags, which it has to order from Cebu and Manila, the department said.
Food for work
The DSWD defended its food-for-work programme, saying it is one way of providing food to typhoon victims and helping them recover from trauma.
"Keeping them busy is one way of helping them cope with their traumatic experience and [making them feel their lives are returning to normal] as they are already somehow earning," the DSWD said.
The items that typhoon victims received from the programme were in addition to what they were getting from the regular distribution cycle, the department said.
Soliman said the DSWD had seen early signs of recovery, with survivors asking for seeds to plant and fishnets to use.
She said small variety stores had reopened in some typhoon-hit towns.
Soliman credited those signs of a return to normality to the "resiliency of the people" and the volunteers who supported her department's personnel.
She also acknowledged the assistance of other government agencies in the relief effort, including the Department of Health, Department of Education and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.
Workers from local governments in Mindanao, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Metro Manila were also helping in the relief operations, she said.
"Everyone is linking arms to help," she said.
Meanwhile, the DSWD is appealing for help from groups and companies that can donate or lend hauling equipment (particularly forklifts and pallets) to the relief hubs in Cebu, Iloilo City and Tacloban City for faster operations.