As a native to the region of East Visayas and the province of Leyte, for me the tragedy of Yolanda/Haiyan remains an open wound that will not heal, a tragedy that has been compounded by one tragedy after another, a chapter that cannot be closed because many lives are still unaccounted for, many victims still have to be properly mourned, and the restoration of our lives and our communities still eludes realization.
The only words of consolation that I can share with families and friends who lost loved ones in the perfect storm are those of Aeschylus, which are perfect in their own way:
“In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Hair-raising facts, dashed hopes
I am staring with disbelief, disgust and despair at a story yesterday in the Manila Standard by Christine Herrera, which reported matter-of-factly the following hair-raising facts about the post-Yolanda/Haiyan situation in East Visayas and Tacloban City.
First, eleven months after Yolanda flattened East Visayas, President Benigno BS Aquino 3rd still has not signed the master plan for the P170-billion rehabilitation and recovery program, leaving some 7,291 families in cramped tent cities, ill-equipped bunkhouses and makeshift shelters in danger zones in Tacloban City, and most rehabilitation work on hold.
Second, although the plan was submitted to Aquino by rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson in June, the national government has yet to move one inch toward implementing the plan, which was drafted at great cost and with so much fanfare.
Third, despite the massive outpouring of foreign donations (cash and in kind) for recovery and rehabilitation, and despite the approval by Congress of a P120-billion supplemental fund for the disaster recovery and rehabilitation effort, money from the massive funds has yet to trickle down to the victims and the stricken localities.
Where’s the plan? Where’s the money?
Fourth, although President Aquino boasted in his State of the Nation Address last July that the master plan and the funds for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the Yolanda-devastated areas were under way, local governments in the region still cannot move forward in the rebuilding of their devastated communities.
Members of both houses of Congress, like partylist Congressman Jonathan de la Cruz, are asking pointedly, “Where is the master plan? Where’s the money?”
De la Cruz says that if Aquino does not like the plan prepared by Secretary Lacson, he should say so. “That way, the local governments can revise their plans and people housed in tent cities can be relocated.”
When asked about the money and the plan, neither Lacson nor his spokesman Karen Jimeno do not seem to know what is what or where is where.
Fifth, in Tacloban City, the hardest hit of all communities, Mayor Alfred Romualdez has reported that not a single permanent housing unit of the needed 7,600 units has been built by the national government and not a single centavo has been released to build 3,853 temporary housing units or bunkhouses.
City records show some 529 families are cramped in 241 tents in five barangays that host the tent cities.
Some 3,627 families are housed in makeshift houses in danger zones.
Other bunkhouses and permanent housing units are under construction, thanks to the generosity and initiative of local and foreign donors.
Some 15.6 hectares have been secured as relocation sites for some 1,524 families in New Kawayan.
Romualdez says that P3.35 billion is needed to construct the permanent and temporary houses.
Construction is not happening, not because money has not been budgeted, but because the national government refuses to move.
Independent legislators are demanding that the administration account for the P14.8 billion in supplemental budget approved by Congress for the calamity-stricken areas.
“Where did the supplemental budget go?” they ask. ”President Aquino is asking for billions in lump sums for his Calamity Fund for 2015 but he has yet to account for the P14.8 billion that had been earlier allocated by Congress.”
Sixth, the national government still has to download to the local government units (LGUS) the cash donations from international and local groups. Rehabilitation would move quicker if this happens
Says Mayor romualdez: “If the national government downloaded the donated money from foreign donors to us, progress would be quicker. People need the shelter, people need safety.”
The fact is, it is the local governments, not the national government, that can speed up the reconstruction and rehabilitation because they have the structure, network and manpower to get things moving fast. They are the ones who stand closest to the problems. They are the ones who can feel the pain of victims and their families.
Seventh, the national government still has to report accurately on the international cash donations, and the supplemental budget.
The untrustworthy Budget S ecretary Butch Abad has reported that as of May 15, the government had received a pledge of P11.076 billion in cash donations, but provides no specifics. He claimed that the government has already released P32.2 billion for infrastructure rehabilitation and reconstruction in devastated areas. Yet Tacloban City has yet to receive one centavo from these massive funds.
Eighth, in line with his recent trip to Europe and the US, some of us suggested that President Aquino should prepare a report and accounting of international assistance for the disaster, as a fitting gesture of thanks for their solicitude during our time of distress. But despite claims of transparency in monitoring donations, there is still no such report. With the first Yolanda anniversary just a month away, the administration still cannot get its act or count together. Mendacity still rules.
Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman remains cross-eyed from all the stuff allowed to rot and lack of proper accounting.
A form of malpractice
When medical practicioners commit grievous errors or neglect to provide appropriate services, in keeping with their Hippocratic oath, they can be charged with malpractice.
In the US, doctors spend thousands of dollars on malpractice insurance to guard themselves against malpractice suits.
In the case of the Yolanda/Haiyan disaster, I believe we are looking at not just a malfunction of our disaster management system. We are looking at a crime or crimes. From the time the storm struck to weeks and months afterwards, and even up to now, we see the failure of leadership and systems from the top down, starting with President Aquino.
We saw people die for lack of quick rescue and relief. We saw houses and stores looted and stripped to the bone, And we saw peace and order break down to the point that citizens cringed in fear for their lives.
We saw cities and towns and villages deserted by residents fleeing.
When elected and appointed government officials fail to do their duty during times of emergency, we have a situation analogous to the failure of doctors to do what they do best.
CNN broadcaster Anderson Cooper captured the extent of criminal neglect that transpired at the height of Yolanda, when he allegedly tweeted and announced to the world:
“There is no leader; there is no government; there is no civil defense in the Philippines.”
Civil defense is the organizing of civilians to deal with enemy attacks and emergencies. Like my topic last Tuesday, civil resistance, civil defense is fundamental to an orderly and civilized society.
It is noteworthy that one senator has finally taken note of how crude is our National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) for responding to disasters like Yolanda. As a disaster management agency, without no institutional setup and budget, it cannot do the job.
For a country of one hundred million people that is visited by multiple natural disasters every year, making do with NDRRMC is criminal neglect.
The tongue-twisting and unpronounceable acronym says it all. It cannot help anyone.