LAST Friday, in a move that was possibly in violation of election laws and was certainly lacking in sensitivity or any obvious awareness of the concerns or even the existence of the Filipino public, President BS Aquino 3rd and his Liberal Party in a tearfully joyous (and expensive) celebration at Club Filipino “anointed” Interior Secretary Mar Roxas as the party’s candidate to continue Aquino’s “Tuwid na daan.”
All of which meant that the country’s leadership was too busy to share the frustration and deep embarrassment of being formally castigated by the international community for failing to “meet necessary minimum standards for the provision of basic needs and services” for the majority of families who were displaced by Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 – 21 months ago – and remain so today.
That was the observation of Chaloka Beyani, UN special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, in a news conference in Manila at the end of a fact-finding visit to Leyte and Samar. Beyani added, “I was concerned to learn that funding shortfalls and political challenges, including inadequate cooperation between national and local governments, are delaying processes towards achieving durable solutions.”
Only 500 houses constructed
The government’s own figures provide strong support for Beyani’s conclusions. As of June, according to a government report obtained by Reuters, only 2.5 percent of the targeted 21,012 units of permanent housing in the Eastern Visayas region were ready for use. That is about 525 houses; National Housing Authority records report a similar figure of 542. Of the remainder, only about 4,900 houses are in some stage of construction.
In at least two towns in Samar and six towns in Leyte, not a single house has been built in 20 months since the typhoon struck.
Apart from the shame of allowing through sheer inaction tens of thousands of our countrymen to live in desperate conditions, the economic harm being done by the government’s dysfunctional recovery program also does not seem to make much of an impression on the President or his “anointed” successor Roxas – who, we should be reminded, in his capacity as DILG Secretary bears a large measure of responsibility for the success or failure of disaster recovery efforts.
As long as a significant part of the population in the Leyte and Samar provinces remains at a bare subsistence level, there will be no economic growth whatsoever in that part of the country; at best, the region will continue to slowly progress towards recovering its economic state before the storm – which is not encouraging at all, since the Leyte and Samar provinces were already among the country’s poorest up to that time.
True unemployment data hidden
Since the storm hit 21 months ago, unemployment data from Leyte has not been included in calculations of the national unemployment rate. While prior data has been adjusted to allow fair comparisons, for nearly two years the Philippines’ true employment picture has been kept hidden, and at some point, is going to have to be corrected in official data – which is exactly the sort of drastic change in a key indicator governments try to avoid, if they like things like keeping the country’s sovereign credit ratings, or keeping bond yields from spiking upwards, or not having money flee the local financial markets by the truckload.
The negative assessment by the UN representative will have an impact on future financial aid the Philippines will inevitably need. A massive amount of funds from both government and public sources flowed into the Philippines in the wake of Yolanda; the UN, which for most countries is the next best thing to making their own individual assessments of how their money has been spent, has just basically said much of the funding has been wasted.
That won’t mean that financial aid will be withheld from the Philippines the next time disaster strikes, but it will mean that aid is very likely to come with many strings attached. The Philippines, which should because of its vast experience be a world leader in disaster mitigation and recovery, will instead be obliged to follow instructions.
If this is where “Tuwid na daan” leads us, then we are not surprised a growing number of people want the country to find a different path.