President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino 3rd had vowed to stay in Tacloban City until everything in the disaster-hit city is okay. When the Supreme Court ruled that the congressional pork barrel is unconstitutional, he immediately left Tacloban for Malacañang. That shows he considers pork barrel a higher priority for him than the relief and rehabilitation of typhoon victims.
Malacañang said BS Aquino left because relief efforts were already going smoothly. On the day that claim came out, Korina Sanchez was quoted as saying ABS-CBN vetoed her plan to go to Tacloban because it was still dangerous there. Ano ba talaga Kuya?
While the Palace said that things were starting to normalize, newspapers reported that several bodies remained unburied and that a number of stricken communities still had to receive relief assistance. Speaking of casualties from the catastrophe, the President seems hell-bent on blaming local governments why many died. DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin were in Tacloban before Yolanda hit land supposedly to oversee preparations for the super typhoon and yet, they were never admonished. Ah, but the administration, especially the President, should never be blamed for anything. Insofar as Yolanda is concerned, the buck stops at the local government unit.
Accounting for relief funds
Government propagandists are hitting at critics of its slow and inept response to the calamity in Eastern Visayas and parts of Cebu. (Criticisms have traumatized DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman who obviously needs debriefing more than the police officer canned by Malacañang for estimating the casualty to reach 10,000.) This said, the pledge of Senate President Franklin M. Drilon (FMD) to oversee the disbursement of relief and rehabilitation funds that Congress would approve is most welcome even to critics.
“Our role as legislators also covers the monitoring of public spending to guarantee that the funds we authorize to the executive to spend are indeed spent properly and purposely,” FMD said in a press statement.
Congress, according to FMD, will allocate P55.4-billion funds to the national government solely for the rehabilitation of infrastructure damaged by calamities including school buildings, power supply utilities, roads and bridges, and even houses.
Now, if only Congress could truly protect the people’s money as vowed by FMD, then that could help arrest its current freefall in public approval. Since I could remember, some people, mostly politicians, have made money and political capital out of other people’s misery. One moneymaking stratagem lies in repacking of goods from foreign and local donors.
Repacking of donated relief goods not only delays their delivery to beneficiaries but also results in some hocus-pocus. Reports on past calamities indicated that donated Maling luncheon meat and corned beef magically became sardines and woolen blankets, plastic blankets after repacking. And where were the thousands of sacks of rice donated by foreign governments? Why is it that only NFA rice was being shown?
While we are on foreign aid, the US government might send home some of its military personnel now helping typhoon victims but they will be replaced by new ones, mostly of Philippine roots. As I have written in my last column, the US Navy is seeking volunteers from among its Tagalog-speaking personnel for assignment in Tacloban from December to February. The first batch might arrive within a week, I was told.
This is in addition to the deployment of the hospital ship USS Mercy. So far, the US has donated $47 million in cash and in kind.
Oh yes, it looks like the P12.8 billion in foreign aid reported by the Department of Foreign Affairs pertained only to that received by the government and excludes aid directly given to non government organizations or to victims
Aid from China
The Philippines is in need of help from the international community and all countries that provide help should be considered friends. As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” We can easily assume that friends of long standing will come to our succor. However, aid from those that the country has icy ties is a complete—but welcome—surprise.
That China still saw it fit to give us help shows that our bilateral relations could still be salvaged despite our conflicting claims over the West Philippine Sea. To be fair, our ties had been excellent despite the WPS claims until a pugnacious president took over Malacañang. Hopefully, things will improve from here on.
The Chinese Embassy said last week that some P73-million worth of aid including blankets and tents has been delivered to the Philippines. Its most welcome friendly and humanitarian gesture is the sending of Peace Ark, the first 10,000-ton hospital ship in the world. The Peace Ark, said to be equipped with 300 ward beds and 2,406 units of advanced medical systems, arrived in Tacloban Sunday.