Most privileged speeches are delivered by blowhards in suits on issues so trite that they have cheapened the speech-delivering component of the legislature. But some are worth listening to, such as the call-to-action speeches in the aftermath of Yolanda, delivered, naturally, by legislators from the affected areas. One such timely speech was delivered recently.
Grief from the realm of the personal should be turned into strength as we deal with the impossible ruin, said Cong. Ben Evardone, the lone district representative of Eastern Visayas, the province where Yolanda started unleashing its record-setting fury. Despite the grief, he was able to outline in his speech – clearly and succinctly—the rough draft of the formal structure that would handle the reconstruction and rebuilding efforts across the Visayan areas laid to waste by the super typhoon.
The summary of Evardone’s speech was this: carry out a version of a Marshall Plan for the affected areas, though he avoided using that overused term. He realized that politicians were wont to invoke a Marshall Plan even for tasks as puny as clearing irrigation ditches. The Plan, as we all know, anchored the rebuilding of war-ravaged Europe. And it was named for US Secretary of State George Marshall who delivered at Harvard University in June of 1947 a speech that precisely outlined the reconstruction plans for ruined Europe.
Create Visayan Commission
The heart of Rep. Evardone’s proposal is to create a Visayan Commission, an expanded Mt. Pinatubo Commission. A loose, uncoordinated office cannot do the job, he said, given the immensity of the work, resources, funding and personnel needed.
The Mt. Pinatubo Commission is actually an apt model since lahar flows continued for five years and, at the very least, the rehabilitation of the Visayan communities affected (East, Central and West), require on the minimum a five-year program.
Clearly, there are two operative words that the proposed Commission should be extra-sensitive to: urgency and oversight. Cong Ben sees the imperative of the rehab work being done on time and with a sense of real urgency. But at the same time, he sees the need to subject all supplies and work contracts to be done under the comprehensive rebuilding and reconstruction work to the test of integrity. How to reconcile the two is a must.
Official response fails integrity test
The Pinatubo reconstruction work was, admittedly, not a model of integrity. And so were the multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts that the US government awarded to companies that helped rebuild Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. It seems that every official response to a great tragedy, be it here or in a country with strong institutions such as the US, often fails the integrity test.
The ad hoc measures that are sorely needed before the proposed commission is fully structured and operational have to be taken care of by reworking the P2.2 trillion national budget, he said. This is actually a proposal with Senate-House consensus. To what extent can the two chambers rework the national budget to incorporate the funding for the relief and rehab work that are needed now, as in now, is up to the senators and congressmen.
A crash food-production program can also be implemented in the interim, he said. Coconut trees are the economic lifelines of people in his region and the massive destruction of standing coconuts deprived his region of that lifeline. But in between the dead coconut stumps, many cash crops can be abundantly grown. The planting of cash crops and the planting of young coconuts can be pursued simultaneously.
The private sector can come in and provide help through a Visayas-centric hiring program. The POEA should strengthen its placement arm in the affected areas. Affirmative action programs for displaced people have historical roots. This is the reason even the US immigration service is planning to relax some of its requirements to help the Yolanda-affected areas.
Cong. Ben has raised a very important query that should be studied by finance experts seriously. Can LGUs prone to calamities issue Cal-Bonds or Calamity Bonds? Of course, experts are needed to study the technical details. How will the bond issuance take place and what process and terms should govern the redemption of the Cal-Bonds, if ever?
What are the pros and cons of vesting LGUs with Cal-Bonds issuing authority?
One issue that Cong. Ben would raise in future discussions on the future of the Yolanda-affected areas is on how to make the best and the most productive use of the money inflows into the country in the aftermath of Yolanda. Cong Ben knows that the inflows from outside, whether in form of grants, loans of investments would be overwhelming.
How do we channel those inflows into the noble cause of rebuilding the Visayas from the ruin?
Support for rebuilding
In the early 90s, much of the country had given up on Central Luzon. I farm some 30 kilometers away from Pinatubo’s crater and I fully know the sense of hopelessness and desperation of people that go through horrible tragedies.
Most of us never got government support. Most of us carried the task of rebuilding from the ashes by our own lonesome selves.
It is our real hope that this time, the government would be different and the private sector would be kinder, gentler and more supportive.