Yolanda Rehab
Image Source: brigada.ph

On the second anniversary of the deadly devastation wrought by the super typhoon “Yolanda” on Leyte and nearby provinces last Sunday (Nov. 8), President Aquino would rather attend the wedding of the daughter of tycoon Andrew Tan than be with the survivors in Tacloban to reassure them of the government’s support.

The President’s nonchalant attitude is symptomatic of the government’s criminal neglect in the rehabilitation of Leyte and other hard-hit provinces, where 24 months later, the people still continue to suffer from deprivation of food, shelter and livelihood.

Foreign nations and individuals answered the call of the Aquino administration and the United Nations for donations in cash and in kind, but the government is, for some reason, slow in disbursing them, ignoring the fact that they were emergency funds that needed to be used immediately. Billions of pesos have also been allocated for disaster relief, rehabilitation and preparedness, and yet not much has been spent for these purposes.

An audit report by the Commission on Audit (COA) showed that the Quick Response Fund of the Office of Civil Defense accumulated to a huge amount of P923,153,721 as of December 31, 2014 but “was not utilized as envisioned and became idle, thus, depriving the intended beneficiaries of the benefits that could be derived therefrom and unnecessarily tying up the fund in the custody of the OCD which could have been used to fund other important projects of the government.”

The COA report also said that at least P382 million in local and foreign cash donations were locked in the bank accounts of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The COA also said that out of P466 million in foreign and local donations received by the NDRRMC for various disasters since 2008, only P81 million, or 17 percent, had been disbursed as of last year.

Sen. Loren Legarda gives an even bigger amount of unspent funds from the QRF. She said that based on Department of Budget and Management records, for 2015 alone, a total of P5.458 billion out of a total allocation of P6.7 billion for QRF remains unspent, meaning as much as 81 percent of the available fund has not been used.

In addition, she said, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (NDRRM) Fund still has a balance of P10.28 billion that can be used for relief and rehabilitation purposes.

“We have more than P15 billion worth of government funds that we can use for Lando victims. Yet many survivors of calamities in recent years are still suffering and have yet to rebuild their homes and regain their sources of livelihood,” she said.

The big question remains unanswered: Why?

Budget Secretary Butch Abad admitted that only 8.6 percent or 17,641 of the 205,000 housing units programmed for Yolanda survivors has been built. Out of P75 billion allocated for housing resettlement, only P21 billion have been released by the DBM.

Again, we must ask: Why?

The survivors are getting tired of the government’s promises and inaction. Thousands joined a protest rally in Tacloban while close to 10,000 staged their own protests in Roxas City in Capiz, home province of administration presidential candidate Mar Roxas, and in Iloilo and Aklan.

“It has been two years now after Yolanda, but the people are suffering from the bigger disaster that is the Aquino government. Instead of helping the victims, the government pocketed the funds allotted for the victims and paved the way for private contractors and big businesses to profit from the misery of our kababayans,” said Anakbayan national chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.

To dissipate the protests, Abad announced that P10.20 billion might be released this month for rehabilitation and recovery programs in badly hit areas and that P46 billion would be included in the 2016 budget, the bulk of which would go to housing and other rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.

But we must ask again: Why only now? Was the planned release timed for the 2016 elections, so that before the presidential campaign goes into high gear, people would see rehabilitation projects going on? Worse, will a chunk of the unspent funds be used for the campaign as suggested by some opposition leaders?

President Aquino, who since giving away bottles of water to the victims a few days after the typhoon has not returned to Tacloban, made the snub even more evident on Sunday when he opted to go to the wedding of Tan’s daughter. At least, during the first anniversary last year, he visited Guiuan in Eastern Samar, the first land to be hit by Yolanda and where the officials are not surnamed Romualdez.

While the government is dilly-dallying on its rehabilitation efforts for the victims of Yolanda and other disasters, which even Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson could not stomach and resigned in disgust, private organizations have been doing an outstanding job of helping the Tacloban folk rebuild.

Last week, the France-Philippines United Action (FP-UA) Foundation turned over 76 disaster-resilient houses and a multi-purpose center to Yolanda survivors who relocated to Cebu. The housing projects cost $1.5 million and were financed by leading French companies. The project was implemented in cooperation with the Habitat for Humanity Philippines.

The Red Cross, on the other hand, turned over 128 houses built on 1.3 hectares in Barangay Paypay also in Cebu built in cooperation with the Philippine National Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity Philippines.

Banco de Oro and SM Holdings, Inc. has donated a two-story, four-classroom building while the US Agency for International Development (USAID) constructed a single-story, four-classroom building, both in Tacloban.

The Rotary Club of Yokohama, Japan, rebuilt two buildings at the Sagkahan National High School in Tacloban that were destroyed by the storm surge. The Red Cross Society of Japan and Taclobanon Elena Sen Lim donated modular buildings that serve as temporary classroom units.

Also last week, I watched a news segment in Aksyon News where scores of volunteers from the US and Europe were seen helping local volunteers and town folks build a barangay hall in Tacloban. For more than two years now, many of these volunteers have been toiling with the local people to help rebuild Tacloban.

And yet, the national government that has billions of pesos in allotted and donated funds plus other resources is dragging its feet to come to the aid of the victims of Yolanda and other disasters, such as the Bicol earthquake, the Zamboanga siege and the recent super typhoon Lando.

Until when will we have to ask why? (valabelgas@aol.com)

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