By Rosemarie Francisco
MANILA, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Philippine officials scampered to send relief aid on Monday to hundreds of thousands hit by weekend floods in and around Manila, while anger mounted over what was seen as an inadequate response from the government.
As the death toll from flash floods soared to 140, analysts said the anger could damage the prospects of Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, the administration’s candidate in the May 2010 presidential election.
"His 0.2 percent popularity could be zero by now," said political analyst and columnist Nelson Navarro, of Teodoro.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, already deeply unpopular in opinion polls, ordered an emergency centre be set up in the presidential palace on Monday, two days after the floods, highlighting for some the haphazard response to the disaster.
At least 450,000 people were affected, including about 150,000 displaced.
Officials said the economic damage from the worst rains on record in the Manila area was about 1.4 billion pesos ($30 million), including 500 million pesos in lost crops. Damaged roads and bridges accounted for most of the remaining costs.
Officials expected the toll to rise with people looking for missing relatives and residents trapped in flooded houses two days after Typhoon Ketsana dumped about 410 mm of rain in 24 hours, about the average amount of rainfall for an entire month.
Arroyo called the typhoon "an extreme event that has strained our response capabilities to the limit. But it is not breaking us." "It’s a once-in-a-lifetime typhoon," she said in a statement. "We are continuing the rescue efforts until everyone in danger is accounted for." While waters had receded from most flooded areas in Manila, some parts of the city of 15 million remained cut off and in others, mud and garbage was left caked on streets.
Schools were ordered closed, but financial markets were open on Monday and public transport was operating. Offices and businesses were open, but attendance was poor.
"There was a massive failure in government and the direction of management response," said Mario Taguiwalo, president of the National Institute for Policy Studies think-tank.
"The root cause is you have a government whose predominant preoccupation is with graft and corruption — how to steal more money from the people," Taguiwalo said.
"If your officials are not motivated to serve and just motivated to steal, then that’s the kind of response you get."
Arroyo has been accused of vote fraud and corruption in her nine years in power. She has consistently denied the charges.
The government was using helicopters to drop food packets.
Television reports said private citizens and volunteer groups were collecting relief goods — mostly clothes, drinking water and medicines — and distributing them to victims. (Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.) (Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bill Tarrant)