Remarks at USAID Tacloban



John Kerry
USAID Tacloban
Tacloban, Philippines
December 18, 2013


AMBASSADOR GOLDBERG: Good morning, everyone. I’m Philip Goldberg, the U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines. I’d like to first thank our distinguished colleagues from the Government of the Philippines who are here, Secretary of Defense Gazmin, Congressman Romualdez, Mayor Romualdez of Tacloban, Ambassador Cuisia, who is here from Washington, and Under Secretary Del Rosario.

So without going any further, let me introduce – we’re very proud and pleased that our Secretary of State is here this morning, and I’ll turn it over to him.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Before I begin to talk about Tacloban and what we’ve been seeing, I do want to say something about our concerns regarding the violence in South Sudan over the last 48 hours.

The United States believes very strongly that all parties should refrain from any actions that could further escalate the tensions. The people of South Sudan – and I know this well because I was very involved in the efforts to move to a referendum and to see the South become a nation. I saw it firsthand how devoted and dedicated the people of South Sudan were and are, and how they have endured many years of conflict and sacrifice, far too much for their country to now go backwards and descend back into violence. Political differences need to be resolved by peaceful and democratic means, and those have been hard fought for. The government should respect the rule of law, and the people of South Sudan should be able to realize their full potential in peace.

While I’ve been in Asia, I have stayed in very close touch with our team that is working on this issue and closely monitoring the situation in Juba. And the State Department is continuing to stay in close touch and monitor the situation on the ground. The safety and the security of our diplomats is paramount, and we are taking steps at this time in order to guarantee that security.

It’s impossible to have landed here in Tacloban on an airport that was once created by United States Armed Forces at the time of the liberation of the Philippines and not feel the dramatic impact of what is taking place here. It is really quite stunning. It looks like a war zone in every respect. And in many ways, for a lot of people, it is. You’d have to see this to really believe it and feel it and to understand it. You also have to see and feel the remarkable efforts of people coming together in order to try to respond to this. It is the best demonstration of humanity and of common love and sense of responsibility that people feel for each other.

The wreckage that has been left behind by Typhoon Haiyan, or as it’s known here, Typhoon Yolanda, is absolutely staggering. No words can do justice to the level of destruction that you see: the entire community leveled, water that goes up to the second story of an airport tower over there, all of this covered by water; the destruction of the trees all the way up the mountains; the leveling of homes and the taking of life. This is a devastation that is unlike anything I’ve seen at this kind of scale. It’s many tornadoes, that I have seen in America, wrapped into one.

On behalf of President Obama and American people, it’s my privilege to come here today to offer our condolences to the families of the more than 6,000 who perished in the storm, and to wish a very full and speedy recovery to the some-27,000 who were wounded. And we are keeping in our thoughts and prayers the nearly 1,800 people who still remain missing. The United States is committed to doing whatever we can as we go forward to try to help our friends in the Philippines to recover.

Last month’s typhoon broke the world’s heart, but what is certain is it didn’t break the spirit of the people here. The resilience, the courage, the determination to rebuild and to remake what was inspires all of us. And the truth is that what’s been happening here since the moment this storm passed away is inspiring to everybody.

For example, in the immediate wake of the typhoon, one of the most pressing tasks was to coordinate the opening of the city airport, just across the way here. And the logistical challenge of opening that airport was simply overwhelming.

But Philippine Navy SEAL Captain Roy Trinidad and Major Leo Liebreich of the U.S. Army and Major George Apalisok of the U.S. Air Force got right to work. And those three heroes worked and slept side-by-side for 10 days straight to oversee the enormous challenge of off-loading and distributing relief supplies. They spent their nights beneath a makeshift shelter made of nothing more than a tarp, some buckets, and boards. Their efforts saved hundreds of lives, and it inspired thousands of more people to do the same. And it demonstrated the enduring partnership between two allies – not only in good times, but in trying times as well.

USAID, the U.S. military, and the Departments of Defense and State, I can tell you unabashedly and with great pride, have done incredible work here together. And all of that has been done in very close partnership with the Philippine Government. Mr. Defense Minister and Mr. Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Congressman, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Under Secretary, we thank you for your efforts and the close partnership that you’ve demonstrated, and the leadership that you have shown in working to move us forward here.

Private corporations, NGOs, faith-based groups, the diaspora communities have shown a remarkable willingness of leadership and generosity to come together and deal with this catastrophe. And they all deserve an enormous amount of credit for working under the most difficult kinds of circumstances.

I’m proud to announce here in Tacloban today that the United States, through USAID, is providing an additional $24.6 million in humanitarian aid now. And this is on top – (applause). This is on top of the 62 million that we have already provided. And we are mindful that there is a donor conference taking place even as we are here today, and we will watch and work closely with the government to make further determinations as plans are laid out and as the future is defined by the Government of the Philippines.

The new aid is calculated to help ensure that the residents and the relief workers have immediate access to clean water, to sanitation and to hygiene services, and also to make sure that they get the food and the temporary shelter that are essential to being able to continue this work.

USAID, I’m also pleased to say, has also just signed an MOU with Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, and they’ve created a public-private partnership that will help more than 2,000 small convenience stores to repair, restock, and rehabilitate their shops.

And the Citi Foundation just announced that it has raised $1 million for the recovery effort, and that it is contributing an addition half-million dollars to help the Philippines to rebuild.

These are just some of the examples of the good citizens of both of our countries who are working together and around the world in helping to step up to this challenge.

Let me single out a couple more people if I can, please. Illac Diaz, who I just was introduced to over here, standing beside his light fixture over there, is not only a brilliant innovator and an entrepreneur, but he is a generous human being. Illac took recycled materials and he made handheld, environmentally friendly, very simple solar lights – turning soda bottles into something that could be useful and a light for people to be able to have in their homes, into lanterns that served not only as the only source of light for Tacloban immediately after the typhoon, but as an important aid for people to be able to continue with their lives. I’m happy to note also – and I say this with some pride – that a few years ago, the U.S. Embassy in Manila gave Mr. Diaz a grant for this project, and we are very proud of the way he has put that funding to good use. In addition – and by the way, he distributes these lights free of charge, an example of the kind of effort that will make all the difference here. Thanks to his hard work and his kindness, a lot more lights will be on their way to reaching people here in this vicinity.

Let me also recognize Dave Bell. He’s an Embassy Warden and an American Legion Vice Commander. I just met him and chatted with him a little bit. He told me about his service out here, 1974 and ’75 was Vietnam, evacuation was taking place. And he has helped to locate veterans after the storm and checked in on survivors. Ken Holubeck, another Embassy Warden, who also served in 1966 and 1970 in Vietnam, is – has brought 56 people to live and find shelter in his damaged home. These are people who have helped to bring people together to clear debris in their neighborhood, and brought food to local workers and medical care to the injured. In addition, there’s another individual here who’s made an enormous difference. Dr. Ronald Arce, who – after losing his own home and two cousins in the storm – has served in the difficult task of being the lead mortician in recovering and identifying more than 2,000 victims. These folks are all of them local heroes, and there are many, many more who aren’t singled out here today. And they have meant – all of them together – the world to so many in such a dark time. They are an incredibly important part of the story of this storm.

And just as there are many examples of individuals stepping up, there is obviously an enormous challenge ahead. I could see that just driving by – the amount of wires and telephone poles and the level of destruction of homes along the way. Local fishermen have been among the hardest hit here. This was an enormous fishing community. Tens of thousands of small boats and fishing gear were destroyed or damaged in the typhoon, and the infrastructure that fishers, fisher people, rely on has been destroyed – the ports, the storage facilities, the markets – all flattened. So rebuilding the fishing industry here in a sustainable way, including by making sure that we’re not worsening the long-term challenge by overfishing, is a top priority and one that we need to all cooperate on.

We also know that while no single storm can be attributed to climate change, we do know to a certainty that rising temperatures will lead to longer and more unpredictable monsoon seasons and will lead to more extreme weather events. So looking around here, you see an unmistakable example of what an extreme weather event looks like, and a reminder of our responsibility to act to protect the future.

Looking around here you can also see how big a challenge remains. There’s no doubt in my mind, given the spirit that has already taken hold here, that we will get this job done. And in the past few weeks, the Philippines and the United States, joining together, have answered one of the worst challenges that Mother Nature provides, and in doing so they have shown the best of humanity.

So in the coming days and weeks and months – however long it takes – the United States will remain committed. We will work closely with our friends in the Philippines to rebuild this region even better and stronger and safer, and I’ve heard some people even talking about building a green community in its fullness. So that is what we will do, and we intend to be here by the side of our friends. Thank you all for your efforts, thank you for letting me come here today to see how we can work together to do better. Thank you. (Applause.)

PRN: 2013/ T20-12

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.