Presidential Adviser on Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday expressed frustration over the “limitations” of his job, aggravated by uncooperative Cabinet secretaries and local government officials.
“I am really frustrated. Because when I want to do something, I want it done right away. But sometimes you can’t do it because it’s beyond my authority. That’s not within my authority to get things done the way I want [them]done because there is protocol. We follow international protocol and the law. And I am bound by MO [Memorandum Order] 62 that says in so many words my limits,” Lacson said at a news briefing in Malacañang.
The former senator added that he should be given the power to implement by revising the presidential order that created his office and defined his functions.
“That is the ideal situation, I hope it’s changed and the executive order replaced. But I cannot demand. If that’s given to me, then I have to live with it and I’ll maximize my actions given the limitation. That is always my attitude,” Lacson said.
He added that he finds fulfilment in being part of rebuilding areas devastated by the “strongest typhoon that ever hit the planet.”
“I always say that failure is never an option. We must succeed not only for myself but for the victims, the survivors of Yolanda; and for the safety of those who would be hit by future disasters. We can learn so many lessons from this exercise,” Lacson pointed out.
He considers the model for rehabilitation efforts as the one carried out in Banda Aceh after its devastation by the 2004 tsunami.
The appointed rehabilitation czar in Banda Aceh, Pak Kuntoro, accomplished his mission in eight years and he “had all the authority that he needed,” Lacson said.
“He had actually near absolute authority given to him. It took him five months to negotiate his powers and everything was given to him . . . He was wallowing in resources and that made his job easy,” he noted.
The resources for Banda Aceh’s recovery amounted to $7.1 billion and only $4.1 billion was utilized.
Lacson attributed Kuntoro’s success to his “authority or mandate to control the budget, implement and do-it thing, of course, under the existing laws.”
He said he will ask President Benigno Aquino 3rd to approve his recommendation to “go province by province” and to allow cluster groups to immediately implement their submitted rehabilitation plans.
“It is unfair for the hardworking, the proactive to just wait for the lazy,” Lacson pointed out.
Right now, he said, he is practically “breaking the law” by going beyond his mandated tasks only to see his plans implemented.
“We are in effect, you know . . . To say it undiplomatically, we are breaking the law,” Lacson added.
He said two Cabinet secretaries are “uncooperative,” and there are local government executives who are “deadma,” a colloquial term meaning unresponsive or aloof.
Lacson did not name the two Cabinet officials but he could be referring to Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 2nd and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, both members of the Liberal Party headed by the President.
“They know who they are. About two or three of them,” he said.
Lacson said he is hamstrung by delays in coordination with the officials who have been ignoring his requests.
“They say nothing at all. Isn’t that frustrating?” he added. “They do not even respond to official communication and phone calls.”
Lacson said up to now, he has no permanent office in Malacañang and that he “squats” in an office provided by a friend in the private sector.
The former senator, who held a briefing earlier along with Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya, added that rehabilitation work in Yolanda-ravaged communities is on track despite the absence of a master plan.
“If we base it on international experience, Hurricane Katrina took eight years before they reached full recovery. Banda Aceh took eight years also, and Haiti, four years after, and is yet to recover,” Lacson said.
In the last six months “a lot has happened in the Yolanda avenue, despite the vastness of the area and the extent of devastation. We are not off track and we are doing everything to hasten the process,” he added.
Lacson said the Office of the Civil Defense has completed its post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) for the devastated areas.
The assessment, which will provide crucial data for forming a rehabilitation plan, is not yet final and is still being vetted.
Without it, Lacson cannot submit a master plan for the rehabilitation.
Last December, the government placed the cost of rehabilitation in Eastern Visayas at P306.8 billion but Lacson said the PDNA lowered the estimate to P104.64 billion.
He attributed this to the earlier intervention by the government and the aid from local and international donors.
Lacson said the master plan will incorporate the recommendations of five clusters, each headed by a Cabinet member—Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson; Vice President Jejomar Binay; Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo; Soliman; and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Neda Director General Arsenio Balisacan.
Governors and the mayor of Tacloban City have also been asked to come up with their own provincial and city rehabilitation plans.
Some lawmakers interpret the absence of a PDNA as showing the “lack of sense of urgency” of officials of agencies involved in the rehabilitation process.
“We have fast-tracked the appropriation of funds for reconstruction and rehabilitation specifically to immediately address the needs of the affected families and communities and yet up until this minute they cannot even come up with the post-disaster needs assessment [PDNA],” Sen. Francis Escudero said.
“This is very sad. Six months after Yolanda, more than a year after the previous disasters we don’t even know what exactly the affected communities need? It is not about what we can give or what we will give. This lackadaisical attitude is prolonging the anguish of victims. It is bordering on the criminal already,” the senator added.
For this year, Congress appropriated P40 billion for post-disaster operations but only P3 billion or less than 10 percent has been spent.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto called on all government agencies concerned to plan and act fast.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA