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Philippine forecasters protest, track new storm

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 2:24 a.m. HST, Aug 14, 2012

MANILA, Philippines >> As another storm threatened to cause more flooding, hundreds of Philippines’ weather agency employees protested over their pay Tuesday and warned that forecasting services could deteriorate.

An alarmed President Benigno Aquino III rushed to assure the protesting employees that steps were being taken to resume payment of the cash benefits that had been suspended in March.

“I just reminded that since the weather is bad and we have a weather disturbance, we should not add to the worries of those who were hit by the floods,” Aquino told reporters after a hasty meeting with the restive employees.

Forecasters and other employees of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration wore black arm bands and hoisted streamers urging the government to resume hazard pay and other allowances.

While the workers did not plan any work stoppage, protest leader Ramon Agustin said some hard-up employees have failed to report for work due to lack of money.

“The only reason why we remain strong in performing our tasks is our pure love for the country, but this would eventually weaken,” Agustin said in a news conference at the weather agency, which buzzed with activity as forecasters tracked Tropical Storm Kai-Tak off the country’s northeast.

The archipelago located in the tropical far western Pacific serves like a welcome mat for about 20 tropical storms and typhoons that develop in the open ocean and blow toward Asia every year. Heavy rain from those storms and the annual monsoon often cause flooding and landslides and leave a trail of death and destruction.

Relentless rains for nearly two weeks culminated in a two-day deluge last week that submerged the capital, Manila, and outlying farming provinces, leaving nearly 100 people dead and forcing more than 400,000 people to flee from homes.

Relief work and repairs to roads and homes are continuing in some coastal and riverside areas in Manila and nearby provinces that were flooded. Kai-Tak was expected to hit the northern tip of the main northern Luzon island before blowing toward southern China later this week.

The storm was also forecast to intensify monsoon rains that could soak Manila and northern provinces again.

“We assure the public that a walkout is farthest from our mind,” said Agustin, who heads a 900-strong workers’ group. “But our workers need to be rescued, too.”

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said payment of the hazard pay and other cash benefits were suspended to correct past irregularities but added the workers would get back the benefits soon.

Agustin said the employees have lost an average of 10,000 pesos ($238) monthly since the benefits were suspended by officials in March.

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