It should be marked down in history as the strangest progress report ever made in this country. More befuddling even than Kris Aquino’s report that her “work in progress” with Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista “did not progress.”
To punctuate the six-month anniversary of Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation of East Visayas, the government delivered its progress report in two parts.
Still no master plan
First, Karen Jimeno, spokesman of the administration’s Yolanda rehabilitation effort, testified before the congressional joint committee on public expenditures, and disclosed that there is no comprehensive rehabilitation program or master plan to assist the millions of victims and their communities.
When pressed for an explanation by the dumbfounded legislators, Jimeno admitted: “We do not have a consolidated master plan because we do not have all the submissions from the government agencies involved.”
Alarmed by her disclosure, Jimeno’s boss, the Presidential Assistant on Rehabilitation and Recovery, former Senator Panfilo Lacson, hastily organized a news conference in Malacañang to stanch the damage she may have inflicted.
Trying to look unflappable, Lacson told the assembled throng that the government is “on track in giving back normalcy to the lives of the survivors.”
“Six months after, a lot of things have been done,” he explained. “There is no widespread hunger or famine, no epidemic and no breakdown of law and order.”
But if this was a progress report, why was he describing the state of affairs in the negative. Why, considering that President Aquino keeps telling the media to report on the positive?
Why did Lacson go negative in his progress report?
I can think of two reasons:
1. He was channeling a media consultant’s advice that “going negative works”; and
2. He was emulating the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Reproductive Health Law, which declared that the law is “not unconstitutional.”
Report padded with innuendoes and numbers
To give his report the impression of substance, Lacson padded it with innuendoes and numbers:
First, he naughtily told the media that two Cabinet secretaries were not cooperating with his office in the rehab effort. But just as he did with his claim of having a Napoles list containing the names of 16 senators, Lacson disclosed no names, leaving the media to speculate on who are his targets.
The most disappointing part of the government’s progress report was its inability to quell abiding public concern that the government still hasn’t taken full measure of the challenge, and it does not have the competence to do the job effectively.
Questioned from the start as not having the skillset to manage and lead so great an undertaking, Secretary Lacson was not helped by the lack of a real office and mandate, and the requisite authority to harness government resources and agencies.
Oddly, when government had largesse to distribute to local governments in East Visayas, the administration chose to channel the distribution of the money through Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas.
Despite the clear need for a law similar to what enabled Central Luzon to recover from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, the administration still has not bothered to get Congress involved in recovery and rehabilitation.
With his distraction by the pork barrel scandal, and his high-profile claims about knowing that so many senators profited from the scam, Lacson will have even less time to focus on his work as rehabilitation czar or coordinator.
Report of aid organizations and media
While the government’s sixth-month report was sketchy and insubstantial, those of the international aid organizations were more substantive and reflective of the situation in East Visayas.
The United Nations said this week that there is an “outstanding need” for the government to provide jobs, shelter and aid to the survivors of Yolanda.
In a statement released on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative to the Philippines Bernard Kerblat said that the situation of the survivors has improved but aid must continue.
“A lot has been accomplished by the Philippines even if much needs to be done given the enormity of the task at hand,” Kerblat said.
The UK charity Oxfam earlier noted that providing jobs and livelihood to the survivors is not part of the government’s relocation program. This is a huge omission.
Kerblat said the UNHCR is now trying to find long-term “durable” solutions for the Filipino survivors.
The World Health Organization, through its country representative Dr. Julie Hall, said the organization is moving from the initial emergency phase, which coordinated the arrival and dispersal of more than 150 foreign medical teams, to the longer-term health issues facing the communities.
She added that the WHO also continues to map the state of repair and rebuilding of the 582 public health facilities that were damaged or destroyed and to provide advice to ensure government and aid money are directed to where the need is the greatest.
She said that aside from jobs and livelihood, the government must provide clean and safe health facilities for 70,000 births expected in the next three months.
The WHO is working in communities to prevent disease outbreaks through health and hygiene promotion and ensuring families have access to clean water for drinking and washing.
“Six months on, we have made real progress, but the resilience of the Filipino spirit alone will not be enough. Ensuring the resilience of the health infrastructure, universal health care for all Filipinos, and continued investments in health promotion are all required,” Hall said.
With less than four weeks before classes start in June, various organizations are setting up temporary learning spaces in an attempt to restore a sense of normalcy in Yolanda-affected areas.
The international aid agency Save the Children said going back to school after experiencing such tragedy is crucial for children’s well-being.
“Save the Children will continue to work round the clock to distribute essential teaching and learning materials and support schools to provide a quality education to children,” said Save the Children country director Ned Olney..
Francesca Cuevas, Director of Health for Save the Children-Philippines, said at least 1 million students were affected when the typhoon ravaged the Visayas.
The organization seeks to bring thousands of students back to school as a major step in their post-Yolanda recovery plan.
The international media, which helped so greatly in reporting the disaster to the world, has also returned to look at what is happening and what progress is being made.
Most notable was the report by the BBC, which visited survivors in their homes and conducted interviews with people who lost family members in the tragedy, and are now doing their best to rebuild their lives.
The BBC correspondent observed that there is a stark difference between the impact on people of disasters in America and Europe, and disasters in developing countries like the Philippines.
In America and Europe, people can collect insurance after their homes and businesses are destroyed. In the Philippines they don’t have that kind of protection.
What is left therefore is the enormous challenge of how to help people restart their lives.
Clearly, this is something wherein Government should take the lead.
The problem for the Yolanda survivors, as it was six months ago, is whether their government can do the job, or whether it truly cares.