Relief efforts continue in the Philippines as the death toll from the super typhoon that struck the Asian country continues to rise. An outpour of donations and messages of solidarity have steadily streamed in from various countries and organizations around the world.
Pope Francis yesterday contributed an initial donation of $150,000 to local Churches in the Philippines that are aiding in humanitarian efforts, particularly in the islands of Leyte and Sumar, which were struck hard by the natural disaster. The Italian government also made a €1 million contribution of money and material goods.
The Philippine Embassy in Rome is assisting the estimated 180,000 Filipinos living in Italy who are trying to reach relatives and friends affected by the tragedy. Rome-based diplomats and ambassadors of various countries have continued to come by, signing a condolence book set up inside the embassy as well as offering assistance to the island country.
Local churches and organizations in Rome have organized prayer services and donation drives to assist relief efforts. Yesterday, the Sant’Egidio Community held a prayer service celebrated by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Representatives of the Philippine Embassy were present at the event, which took place in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, located in the heart of Rome
Among those present was Leila Lora-Santos, Consul General of the Embassy of the Philippines in Rome, who sat down with ZENIT to discuss the massive efforts to assist Filipino citizens at home and within Italy.
ZENIT: What is the current situation in the areas affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan?
Lora-Santos: Well slowly all the relief operations are slowly trickling in. As you know the initial stage was very difficult with all the network outages, the communication lines were cut and we didn’t actually know the full extent [of the damage]. [Or not actually] that we didn’t know the full extent, but at least now it is much clearer. The death toll continues rising. Currently, it is at 1,800 but we don’t know of those missing. And there is an increasing number of those missing.
ZENIT: What is the Philippine Embassy in Rome currently doing to mobilize relief efforts for those affected by this tragic storm?
Lora-Santos: Initially, we are helping those who are missing families or having difficulty contacting their families. There are roughly 180,000 Filipinos currently living in Rome, many of whom are from Leyte, from the area which was affected, and they cannot get in touch with their families. So they come to the embassy and give us details of their family, and we try to help. So that’s the main concern of the Filipinos living here.
But of course, for cash donations, from both Italians and Filipinos, we cannot receive money here at the Embassy, so we have released bank account details of two government agencies and the Red Cross for cash donations.
Now with regard to material donations, we have identified the urgent needs of the Filipinos back home and we have also informed people here of those needs. But as I speak to you now, the Embassy has no clearance to receive donations, we refer them straight to the office in Manila. But we are trying to obtain clearance to receive donations since we have received so many requests.
But currently these are the urgent needs of those in affected by the typhoon: Food (preferably ready-to-eat), water, water purifiers and containers, tents because many houses have been flattened, blankets, pillows, towels, etc., hygiene kits, cooking apparatuses and utensils, power generators
So, should the Embassy be given clearance to receive, we are going to receive only these items, but we are not going to receive toys or used clothing, we are going to receive only the basic necessities.
As of this morning, we had a meeting with all the Philippine air cargo businesses here in Rome. We are fortunate because we have many Filipinos here in Rome. We requested them to get in touch with their network, all the airlines so they can give us air cargo space to send out donations, free of charge, so that when the Embassy receives donations, we can place them in the air cargo space of these airlines. And by tomorrow, we hope to get some response from the airlines. There is another way, which is the sea transportation but that would take two months which would not be timely. The drop-off point for these material donations would be the Embassy, once we receive clearance.
ZENIT: Pope Francis recently made an initial donation of $150,000 to aid in relief efforts. What is the Philippine government’s response to the Holy Father’s gesture of solidarity with the Philippine nation?
Lora-Santos: We have expressed appreciation for the Holy Father’s donation as well as to the Italian government who donated 1 million euros to the Philippines. This has been confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we have expressed appreciation for that. And this donation was both in material and cash donations through the Red Cross. For this, and all the donations we have received, we express our appreciation.
ZENIT: Many of our ZENIT readers are from Philippines. What can those living abroad do to help those in need in this time?
Lora-Santos: Well the preference is cash donations, you can go to the bank account details. There are also announcements through RAI (Italian news station) that are done in cooperation with the World Food Program and UNICEF so that can also do it through that. Many of the Church associations of the Philippines are handling material donations and do it through them or once we receive clearance to receive from Manila.
Unfortunately we cannot accept toys, we’ve had very generous people who have tried to donate toys and used clothing but we cannot accept those because we are concentrating only on the basic necessities. They can however donate toys and used clothing through other means.
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On the NET:
In order to make a cash donation to the Philippines via the Philippine Government’s National Disaster Risk Reductions Office’s Bank account, go to: http://www.philembassy-rome.net/home/
To donate to Catholic Relief Services, go to: