The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) has formed a communications team that will raise public awareness concerning the series of earthquakes that shook Mindanao last month.

PCOO Assistant Secretary for Special Concerns Joseph Lawrence “Bam” Garcia has been tasked to lead the Mindanao Earthquake Communications Team, PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar said in an interview with state-run Radyo Pilipinas on Friday night.

“Binuo natin iyong ating Mindanao Earthquake Communications Team at doon ay inalerto natin lahat ng mga kasamahan natin sa PCOO (We formed the Mindanao Earthquake Communications Team and we alerted all the PCOO personnel),”Andanar said.

“At itinalaga natin si Asec. Bam bilang head nitong Mindanao Earthquake Comms Team para iyong pagpapalaganap ng impormasyon mula sa… Dalawang ground zero ‘yan eh, ‘di ba? ‘yung sa Davao saka sa North Cotabato, [in] Kidapawan (We appointed Asec. Bam as head of the Mindanao Earthquake Comms Team to raise awareness in two areas that are at ground zero, namely Davao and Kidapawan, North Cotabato),” he added.

Mindanao was rocked by a string of deadly quakes in October, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to direct all concerned government agencies to extend immediate assistance to affected individuals.

The government’s relief operations in quake-hit areas in Mindanao continue to help residents return to normal life.

On October 31, Andanar also tasked Garcia to lead the “Laging Handa (always ready): Earthquake Update,” an initiative that intends to inform quake victims of the government’s response and other actions.

The PCOO’s monitoring of the situation in the earthquake-stricken areas will involve state-run People’s Television, Philippine News Agency, Philippine Broadcasting Service, Bureau of Communications Services, Philippine Information Agency, and Radio Television Malacañang.

Andanar lauded the government’s effective and efficient information drive that aims to give the public updates on the aftermath of the strong tremors.

“So mabilis naman ‘yung pag-activate natin ng team na iyan at naging maganda ‘yung dissemination ng information not only sa PCOO but iyong mga inter-agencies (We activated the team immediately and the information dissemination is good, not only on the part of the PCOO but also on the part of inter-agencies),” he said.

The successive strong quakes that jolted parts of Mindanao in the last days of October have left 16 persons dead, 2 missing, and 403 injured, based on a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

The number of fatalities could go up since there are still unreported deaths in some areas like Digos City and Magsaysay town, both in Davao del Sur, the NDRRMC noted.

While the government is on top of the situation, foreign assistance is welcome, Andanar said.

“Ang pinaka-numero uno talagang dapat na ayuda ay iyong local government. Now, saka papasok ang national government kapag hindi na kaya ng local government at hindi na kaya ng regional government (The immediate assistance should come first from the local government. If the local and regional governments can no longer handle the situation, the national government will intervene),” he said.

“Kung hind na kaya ng national eh doon naman tayo hihingi din ng ayuda mula sa ibang bansa. Pero, of course, alam naman natin kapag mayroong mga ayuda, hindi naman puwedeng tanggihan iyan (If the national government cannot do it, it will seek assistance from foreign nations. But of course, if a foreign country extends assistance, we cannot decline). So that’s one standard operating procedure that we must all remember,” he added.

On November 1, China donated three million renminbi or PHP22 million to support the Philippine government’s relief efforts in Mindanao. (PNA)