The plans are in place, and the donors, ready. But Tacloban City, the capital of Leyte and a major hub for Eastern Visayas, lacks the land that would be developed as relocation sites for the survivors of Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) who are still living in bunkhouses, according to Malacañang.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said that the tracts of land initially identified by the government have some problem forcing it not to buy the land.
“Hindi po nagkatuluyan dahil mayroon po palang problema doon sa mga lupa na in-identify para naman po sa national government (The land acquisition deal did not push through because of problems with the property that the national government had identified to become relocation sites),” Valte told government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
“Land acquisition is a big challenge when it comes to the construction of permanent housing sites for the typhoon victims,” she added in Filipino.
Valte then cited a National Housing Authority (NHA) data regarding the shelter construction efforts by the government.\
The NHA completed 17,641 units while the construction of 41,566 units are ongoing, she said. Also, 929 housing units were turned over to families in Tanuan and Tacloban City, Leyte.
About 1,500 families have been relocated to permanent housing sites in Ridgeview Park, in Villa Sofia, as well as Villa Diana and these communities already have their own source of potable water through a water supply support system, she added.
Valte also reported that the NHA targets to complete a total of 92,544 housing units by December 2016.
The country on Sunday marks the second year of the disaster that left more than 6,000 people dead in the Visayas and in Palawan. The number was based on government figures. A police official was sacked in the immediate aftermath of the storm after he announced that they estimate the dead to reach 10,000.
Asked to compare the post-Yolanda rebuilding problems to US government efforts to rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Valte said that even a wealthy country as the US has struggled to rehabilitate disaster areas.
Yolanda was more devastating compared to Katrina that hit the US in 2006, she said.
But the Philippines fairs well in its rebuilding initiatives, Valte said, noting that even multilateral agencies like the United Nations and the World Bank have praised the government for its very effective process of rebuilding.
“We are refining processes on how to get relief out faster. Kasi, ‘di ba, ang naging challenge ‘nung nangyari itong sa ‘Yolanda,’ while nakapag-preposition tayo ng relief goods at ng ibang assets doon sa mga dadaanan, no one expected na pati po ‘yung mga na-preposition natin ay maaanod ‘nung nangyaring storm surge,” she said.
“But, as such, in-a-assure ko naman sa inyo na mayroon tayong mga key learnings o mga key lessons doon sa naging experience natin even post-‘Yolanda’ at ngayon ay na-i-a-apply na naman ‘yan doon sa ating mga iba pang unos na napagdadaanan,” Valte added
THE failure of funds to reach those who were supposed to be provided relief and whose lives were ought to be rebuilt following a tragedy is in itself a disaster in epic proportions, subjecting the victims to more hardships as they are left in want despite the availability of resources meant to better their lives.
And this failure can be traced solely on the “incompetence” and “callousness” of officials who were tasked mainly to manage these funds, according to a budget expert and a victim of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Speaking on the eve of the second anniversary of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of thousands of people in the Visayas, former Budget Secretary and UP Economic professor Benjamin Diokno and Aaron James Almadro, who lost both his parents at the height of the typhoon, claimed that a Commission on Audit (COA) report about unused disaster relief funds showed government apathy toward the plight of victims.
“Epic incompetence and callousness. The failure to address the needs of disaster victims after two years is unacceptable,” Diokno told The Manila Times when sought for comment on the COA report.
COA auditors previously claimed that the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) has not utilized hundreds of millions of pesos in donations meant to help victims of disasters, prompting them to call on the OCD to utilize the funds in a timely manner.
State auditors said that only P81.068 million of the P466.018 million in local and foreign donations for calamity victims since 2008 had been used.
“Utilization of the donations from foreign and local donors in the total amount of P81,068,471.49 was low, depriving the calamity victims of the much needed assistance to alleviate their difficulties. Moreover, the unutilized balances were not remitted to the Bureau of the Treasury contrary to Section IV.13 of COA Circular No. 2014-002 dated April 15, 2014,” the auditors said in a 2014 audit report.
The report said the Trust Liabilities – Disaster Risk Management Fund (TL-DRMF) account had a balance of P414 million in 2014.
“[T]here were remaining funds of P384,950,260.65 representing the balance of the donated funds of P466,018,732.14 (utilization rate of only 17.39 percent) which were not utilized for more than one year since the occurrence of the disaster, hence should have already been remitted to the Bureau of the Treasury pursuant to Section IV.13 of COA Circular No. 2014-002 dated April 15, 2014,” the auditors said.
Donations for Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013 formed the largest amount — P136,996,859.29. However, only P38 million was used, thus leaving a balance of P98 million.
The COA report said the disaster fund consist of donations given for victims of Typhoon “Frank” in 2008; flash floods in Cagayan de Oro, Gingoog, and Iligan in 2009; storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” in 2009; Storm “Sendong” in 2011; Typhoon “Pedring” and “Quiel” in 2011; Typhoon “Pablo” in 2012; Habagat in 2012; Typhoon Maring in 2013; the Zamboanga conflict in 2013; the Bohol earthquake in 2013 and Typhoon Yolanda.
“The low rate of utilization of the donated fund for payment of financial assistance was due to the absence of the rulings or guidelines on its usage. We noted that it takes time before calamity victims are extended the necessary assistance due to the claimant’s long period of compliance with the documentary requirements,” the auditors said.
Almadro, whose father, Virgilio and mother, Guadalupe, were among the thousands killed on November 28, 2013, confirmed that instead of the full P40,000 assistance promised to him, he only got P20,000 just recently, P10,000 for each of the deceased.
“The amount does not include those from the SSS (Social Security System) and the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development),” he told the Times.
“We are pained to find out that these funds, that were supposed to be ours, are just stuck there in their fattening bank accounts,” he lamented.
Likewise, he bewailed a COA finding on the lack of clear guidelines on the release of these funds that subject the victims to the prolonged agony of having to fill up required forms, present documents that were already “lost” and wait for their turn to be handed out their money.
“I heard that most of the donated funds can’t be used because they were given anonymously, and they can’t disburse funds without indicating where it came from. This transparency thing they’re doing is too literal. I don’t know if the government is too straight or just plain stupid,” added Almadro.
He said that other victims too were infuriated by reports about the “unused disaster funds,” stressing that the moneys were originally intended for “quick relief.”
“When we needed help, they couldn’t do it, but we understood because we were all in a very bad position and situation, but now that the truth is out, that there really was funds, it infuriates us more,” he further stressed.
Almadro recalled that the OCD promised them P20,000 per casualty but when he got his share, he was surprised to learn that the amount was cut by half per death.
“We cannot complain because it’s government. When you complain, they will subject you to more pain,” he further lamented.
In the same report, COA said the unused funds should have been turned over to the Bureau of the Treasury or returned to their respective donors when not put to use. The agency recommended that the OCD come up with specific guidelines on how to utilize donations according to the functions of each member agency of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).
The OCD, which administers the NDRRMC, is under the Department of National Defense (DND) which the COA also directed to inform the Department of Budget and Management to reallocate the quick relief funds (QRF) in order to “provide only what is necessary in the performance” of the OCD’s functions.
State auditors said the unused QRF allocated to the OCD had ballooned to P923 million as of the end of last year.
The COA 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 end 2014.
Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad called for “more understanding” with regard to the disbursement of relief funds, noting that there was no “anomaly” in the purported delays in releases.
“Anomaly? You ought to be more understanding. I invite you to (look at) Ethiopia-earthquake, Ache-tsunami, New Orleans-Katrina and Fukushima-earthquake/tsunami and see how those places are faring tears after the calamities hit them,” the Budget chief told the Times in a separate interview.
Abad earlier reported that the Philippine government received pledges of about P73 billion both in cash and in kind from government partners and international donors after Yolanda.
He explained, however, that only 23 percent of the promised dole-outs had actually been received while the biggest bulk of 85 percent went to non government agencies and international relief agencies that have offices here.
Only P2.4 billion were coursed through government and disbursed effectively.
Abad pointed out to the Times the explanation made by the NDRRMC and DSWD last week in a press briefing held at the Development Academy of the Philippines that came virtually unnoticed.
In the said briefing, DSWD Assistant Secretary Vilma Cabrera who represented Secretary Corazon Soliman reported that the agencies under the Social Services Cluster focused on health security through the delivery of priority medical program and projects; provision of Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) for 987,545 families (96%) out of the total target of 1,028,329 families with damaged homes; delivered books and learning materials and, strengthened and institutionalized partnership with the Local Government Units (LGUs), United Nations agencies, local and international non-government organizations, civil society organizations, and private donors in the implementation of major and support programs and projects for communities in resettlement sites.
The Cluster also implemented the repair and rehabilitation of damaged structures, and the construction of new ones using the Community–Driven Development (CDD) approach of the KapitBisig Laban sa Kahirapan Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS).
Out of the funded 13,876 sub-projects, 2,887 have been completed to date which are mostly roads, flood/river control, community center and multi-purpose halls; footpaths, foot and access trails/ electrification and lighting, school buildings, water system, day care centers, health stations and bridges.
As of October 14, DSWD, in partnership with NGOs, such as Operations Blessing, Catholic Relief Services, Operations Compassion and Oxfam has completed construction of 2,315 transitional shelters in Leyte, Eastern Samar, and Western Samar. A total of 1,576 families or 7,302 individuals are staying in these transitional shelters.
On the other hand, the National Housing Authority (NHA) which is tasked for the construction of permanent houses for Yolanda victims has completed 17, 641 units while 41,566 units are ongoing. About 929 units were turned-over at Tanauan and Tacloban City, Leyte.
A total of 92,544 housing units are targeted to be completed until December 2016.