Cagayan residents keep cool amid hot North Korea rocket talkBy Melvin Gascon
Inquirer Northern Luzon
BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—While national government officials worry about North Korea’s launching a rocket this week, residents of Cagayan are taking the matter in stride.
Provincial officials on Tuesday said they believed there was no reason for any major preparation, as there was little likelihood that debris from the rocket launch would fall in the province and injure people.
“The truth is we cannot really do anything about it,” said Chief Superintendent Rodrigo de Gracia, Cagayan Valley police director. “If [North Korea] wants to launch, they will launch.”
De Gracia said, however, that provincial officials would still comply with a directive from the national government to prepare for the launch.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Center (NDRRMC) on Tuesday urged local officials in northeastern Luzon to prepare evacuation plans.
Up to local gov’t
After earlier saying there was no need for evacuations, NDRRMC Executive Director Benito Ramos said Tuesday that these were necessary because the rocket could veer off the projected flight path and shower debris on land if it broke into parts.
Ramos said, however, that it was up to local governments to decide whether to order preemptive evacuations ahead of the missile launch, expected any day between April 12 and 16.
“We are looking at [evacuation] as a possibility,” Ramos told reporters. “You have to consider all possibilities. That’s one of the things we’re considering.”
Ramos said the NDRRMC was “practically talking of the entire Luzon.”
The worst that could happen, he said, is having numerous casualties caused by a large piece of rocket debris falling on a populated area.
So local governments should consider preemptive evacuations, Ramos said. Even Metro Manila must prepare an evacuation plan, he added.
The NDRRMC has declared a no-fly zone and ordered ships and fishing boats to stay away from waters in northeastern Luzon from April 12 to 16. The area extends 190 nautical miles northeast of Santa Ana, Cagayan, up to 150 nautical miles directly east of Polilio island in Quezon.
On Monday, Ramos urged residents of Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora, Quezon, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur to stay indoors from April 12 to 16.
Better ‘OA’ than no ‘A’
On Tuesday, he shrugged off criticisms that he was going overboard by recommending evacuations.
“It’s better to be OA”—overacting—“than No A”—no acting, he said.
Even Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, he said, had ordered all governors and mayors in northern and eastern Luzon, including the Bicol provinces, to prepare contingency plans for aid and medical assistance.
He admitted, however, that the order to stay indoors would be difficult to enforce.
Still, the government is pressing preparations for the rocket launch. Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda told a press briefing in Malacañang Tuesday that the government had contingency measures that would ensure public safety if North Korea went ahead with the rocket launch.
Among the measures are a notice to airlines to avoid air corridors in northeastern Luzon and to all ships to stay clear of waters in that area, and evacuations to be conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Commenting on Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile’s statement on Monday that the government should leave the rocket launch to the big powers to deal with, Lacierda said the government still supported the six-party talks for the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
The United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea are trying to bring North Korea back to the negotiations in exchange for easing UN-imposed sanctions over its nuclear-weapons program.
“We have always maintained that the six-party talks are the most effective means of addressing the North Korea issue,” Lacierda said. “So we agree with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.”
Also on Tuesday, left-leaning critics said the Aquino administration was going overboard in the controversy involving the rocket launch.
Pray, remember Skylab
Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes said the government was only using the hoopla to justify the continued presence of US troops in the Philippines.
Catholic bishops advised the public not to panic and pray instead.
“Remember Skylab many years ago?” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes, referring to the fall of a US space station in 1973. “Nothing happened [here].” With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Leila B. Salaverria and Dona Z. Pazzibugan