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China urged to send warships amid Philippine aid anger
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Nov 15, 2013

Philippines raises typhoon death toll to 3,621
Manila (AFP) Nov 15, 2013 - The Philippines raised its official death toll from a super typhoon to 3,621 Friday, but it was still below a UN count that has caused friction between the world body and the government.

Reynaldo Balido, spokesman for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, said the number of confirmed dead had risen significantly from the previous count of 2,360, adding that 1,140 were reported missing.

"It is the result of reporting by the LGUs (local government units)," he said.

"The LGUs did not report immediately" because "they have to be careful in their reporting. They have to validate everything," he added.

"The clearing operations of roads and communities are ongoing and we will see if there are more dead bodies (underneath the debris)."

Earlier Friday, confusion deepened when the Philippines agency disputed UN death toll figures, and officials said a police general who claimed 10,000 people might have been killed was removed from his position.

Citing regional authorities, the UN said Friday the latest figure for the number of dead in last week's storm -- one of the most powerful ever recorded -- was at least 4,460.

The national disaster council maintained a much lower figure of 2,360, with Balido saying "not true" when asked about the UN's toll, before raising it later.

The differing counts came as officials said regional police chief Elmer Soria had been removed from his post, adding another twist in a tale which has seen President Benigno Aquino accused of downplaying the scale of the disaster.

"Superintendent Soria and many of our police officers from Region 8 have been through a lot over the past days and they may be experiencing what you might call 'acute stress reaction'," national police spokesman Reuben Sindac said.

"As such, it was deemed by higher headquarters that might need to go through some 'stress debriefing', hence, his recall.

"A new regional director (not affected by the recent events)," has been appointed "as his replacement", he added.

The death toll from Super Typhoon Haiyan has been a source of contention and confusion between the UN and the Philippine government for much of the past week.

After Soria made his claim, John Ging, operations director for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Monday said it was estimated that over 10,000 people had died.

The next day Aquino told CNN that number was "too much", suggesting that the final toll would be around 2,500.

"Government credibility is sustaining a lot of damage as it makes conservative estimates to downplay the extent of the tragedy," said Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.

OCHA said Friday its number was acquired from the regional taskforce of the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) on Wednesday.

"As of 13 November, the government reported that 4,460 people have died," an OCHA statement said.

Asked for the source of the figures, Manila-based OCHA spokeswoman Orla Fagan said: "We are getting it from the operations centre of the regional taskforce set up by the NDRRMC."

On Thursday UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said: "The figure of 10,000 is not a UN figure," adding that it was put together by local officials.

"We have no way of verifying. I think it will take a long time before we have an accurate assessment of the number of people who have died."

China should send warships to aid the typhoon-hit Philippines and counter US and Japanese influence, state-run media said Friday, as Beijing comes in for criticism for its relatively meagre donation to the stricken nation.

The call came after China said Thursday it would provide a further $1.6 million aid to the Philippines, mainly in tents and blankets, following condemnation of its initial response of a $100,000 government donation, matched by the Chinese Red Cross.

Even the expanded donation was less than that of Swedish furniture group Ikea, whose charitable foundation is giving UN children's agency Unicef $2.7 million for its relief efforts.

Beijing and Manila are embroiled in a row over disputed islands. But China's Global Times said in an editorial that if the Philippines rejected the warships proposal, that would only "underscore its narrow mind and will be of no loss to China".

An eight-strong flotilla of US vessels, headed by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, has arrived off the Philippines bearing badly needed equipment, supplies and expertise for the thousands left homeless and hungry by one of the strongest storms in history.

Japan is tripling its emergency aid package for the Philippines to more than $30 million, and plans to send as many as 1,000 troops to the disaster zone -- the largest single relief operation team sent abroad by its de-facto military.

"We believe China should send its warships to the Philippines too," said the Global Times, which is close to the Chinese Communist Party, adding such a move would be "well-intentioned".

Beijing's initial financial response to the disaster was met with disgust, with US magazine Time carrying a report Wednesday under the headline: "The world's second largest economy off-loads insultingly small change on a storm-battered Philippines."

Michael Valderrama, a columnist with the Sun Star Daily in the Philippines, wrote: "China should realize that this isn't about politics any more - it's about basic human decency.

"The Philippines and China aren't exactly best buddies, but we're not sworn enemies either," he added.

"If bitter enemies like Pakistan and India or Japan and North Korea can give each other appropriate aid and funding in times of need, then why can't the Chinese just give a little bit more instead of tossing a few dollars at us like we're a beggar that they want to shoo away?"

The territorial dispute over islands in the strategically vital South China Sea -- which Beijing claims almost in its entirety -- has been running for years.

Manila says Chinese vessels have occupied Scarborough Shoal, which it claims itself, since last year, and it is open to question whether it would welcome a Chinese navy presence in its waters.

The US and Japanese militaries' part in the relief efforts is an element of Washington's Asia strategy and may have "more intentions hidden behind the humanitarian aid", the Global Times -- which often strikes a nationalist tone -- said in a separate report.

Beijing could send a hospital ship, the Peace Ark, escorted by warships if dispatching its newly commissioned aircraft carrier the Liaoning was "sensitive and premature", said the editorial.

China's foreign ministry disassociated the authorities from Friday's editorial, with spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters at a regular briefing: "The relevant op-ed represents the opinion of the media itself.

"As for in what way and how much (further aid should be provided), China will make relevant decision in accordance with the development of the situation as well as the requirement of the Philippine side," he added.

The Global Times editorial, which was similar in both the paper's English- and Chinese-language editions, said Beijing was cautious about sending troops overseas in the past because of "a lack of capabilities, experience and many other concerns".

But now, it said: "The Chinese military must gradually assume a more forceful role in China's diplomacy.

"There is no need for a stronger China to worry about what we should do if our offer is rejected by the Philippines or if we are criticised by global public opinion due to poor performance," it added.


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