NEARLY two years after Supertyphoon Yolanda/Haiyan struck East Visayas and other parts of the Visayas, the national government is still groping to get on top of the catastrophe, and fully assist all those who have been stricken, and to get the flow of funds for rehabilitation flowing efficiently and smoothly.
It was sad enough that government was slowfooted in the initial rescue, relief and recovery phases. It is alarming that today, Yolanda victims and entire communities are still languishing in adversity, unable to gain full access to funds and assistance promised many times by the national government.
Under the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for 2014 to 2016, the government announced an outlay of P170 billion for the CRRP, but now victims and communities have been thrust into a situation where they must compete for funding with other projects, and with the nearing election campaign and elections next year threatening to introduce complications.
This distressing situation has come to light in a seven-month study conducted by Social Watch Philippines (SWP), on the Yolanda rehabilitation.
The civil society group was asked to conduct the study by Christian Aid to track the CRRP funds. SWP reviewed accomplishment and status reports from various government agencies, interviewed national agency and local government officials, and visited 13 municipalities and one city affected by the storm.
According to Ms. Leonor Briones, SWP convenor and former national treasurer, there are unclear sources of funds for the P170.9 billion requirement for the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas under the CRRP.
By law, funds must come from the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund, the regular budget, and foreign donations only.
But SWP found out that according to data from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), some funds were from the 2012, 2013, and 2014 budgets.
Particularly problematic are the unprogrammed funds as sources, because this means that the money can come only from extra government revenue, which is an “insecure” source.
Yolanda funds could even be mixed with those allocated for other disasters. In fact, when the DBM announced that it had been able to release P84 billion out of the P70.9 billion in June this year, the data it presented included appropriations for areas affected by other disasters such as the Bohol earthquake in 2013 and other typhoons.
The situation is deplorable, so government must proceed with dispatch to improve its systems and procedures to do the job.
Because the immediate emergency is over, there may be a false sense of complacency that the worst is already over. Yet in point of fact, there are still tens of thousands of people who are living in tents, and there are countless families who have not received the merest assistance to help them recover and rebuild their lives.
Yolanda victims are in effect being victimized and punished twice in this tragedy. After having had to wait for so long for government assistance, they are now being told that they must wait some more.
After witnessing the generous outpouring of international assistance and donation, in magnitudes never seen before in this country, victims and survivors are learning that the flow of assistance has been slowed down by government bureaucracy and official incompetence and lethargy. Sometimes donated funds have been misplaced in the wrong accounts, where they cannot do any good..
This is a situation where government clearly must take the initiative and full responsibility.
Many of the victims have only the government to turn to. But because of lack of system and proper management, the government bureaucracy is ill-equipped to take over the task of caring for disaster survivors, and handling hundreds of millions of pesos.
President Aquino approved the CRRP in October last year, with the biggest estimate of funding requirements for resettlement, at P75 billion, followed by infrastructure (P35 billion), livelihood (P33 billion), and social services (P26 billion).
“It took the President a year to approve the P170-billion Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) in October 2014, also one year to release P52 billion to fund the CRRP and it took 20 months for [an]additional P32 billion to be released in June 2015 for a total of P84 billion,” Briones said.
Any more delay is inexcusable.
Leonor Briones is correct to express alarm that: “It is now 2015, and we still haven’t even reached half of the actual release of funds. Nor do we know what is happening to victims on the ground.”
According to Social Watch, the significant delay in the releases of funds from the DBM to the implementing agencies and local government units was aggravated by poor coordination between and among the different agencies. This was caused by lack of competence and appropriate mechanisms to hasten the delivery of services.
While government agencies faltered, Faith groups and survivors’ relatives acted faster in comparison.
Perhaps the biggest reason why the entire rehabilitation effort has been hobbled by problems is that there is no clear central authority to implement, oversee, coordinate, and monitor all reconstruction and recovery initiatives. It is also plain that the lethargy of bureaucracy proved to be a massive problem for the relief, recovery and rehabilitation effort in the Yolanda disaster.
It is in this light that Social Watch is now batting for the creation of a central agency that could ensure the implementation of the CRRP, as well as take the lead for other disasters in the future.
This merits study, but if the government is going to do this, it must do it right.