BECAUSE of the surfeit of Senate inquries, arising from the great number of hearings conducted by Senators Koko Pimentel, Antonio Trillanes and Alan Peter Cayetrano in their effort to take down the candidacy for president of Vice-president Jejomar Binay, we in the Manila Times have taken the view that we should only encourage and support a congressional inquiry if it pertains to a matter of urgent public interest and far-reaching national importance. We will look askance at inquiries called out of personal pique or for clearly personal reasons.
Among current public issues, there is perhaps none more worthy of congressional inquiry than the state of rehabilitation and recovery in the areas struck hard by Supertyphon Yolanda/Haiyan in November 2013.
Two years after the event, the situation certainly deserves looking into.
As we write this comment, accusations are flying left and right about the shortcomings and management of the rehabilitation and recovery effort. Along with grave questions about where all the money donated and appropriated has gone.
Former Senator Panfilo Lacson, who served at one time as the rehabilitation czar of the government, the other day once again lamented in a public statement that the comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery plan which his office crafted and which President Aquino approved and committed to implement, is not being followed by the implementing agencies. They are not doing their jobs, he said, and so the nightmare of Yolanda continues to haunt us.
He declared that if not for the non-government sector and the bilateral and multilateral agencies from foreign countries, which responded and assisted beyond anyone’s expectations, nothing much would have been accomplished ain two years.
For their part, many local government communities, particularly Tacloban City, which was Ground Zero of the typhoon, continue to complain of inadequate government support for their recovery efforts. Particularly lacking is adequate funding for the building of permanent shelters for thousands of typhoon victims families. Targets pledged and committed have not been met.
National leaders, including vice-president Jejomar Binay and some senators, have also been loud in criticizing the inadequacy of the administration in meeting urgent needs and requirements.
For demanding a full accounting and report on the status of rehabilitation programs and projects in the areas struck by Typhoon Yolanda, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has drawn a sarcastic reply from presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, who told him gruffly: “It’s now 2015. The President is not Marcos and the ruling coalition is not KBL.”
This is an unbelievably insolent comment from an unelected official of the executive, in response to a legitimate inquiry by an elected member of the Senate on a matter of great public interest and national concern.
From the story which we read online, all Senator Marcos did was ask a series of questions about the Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery program.
“What did we receive? What have we done with it?
“How far on the master plan for rehabilitation are we? Saan tayo nagkukulang?
As we remember our Constitution and the need for comity in legislative- executive relations, both houses of Congress, through their committees and their members, have the power of inquiry and oversight in the conduct of programs by the executive.
Sec. 21, Article VI of the Constitution clearly provides: “The Senate or the house of Representatives, or any of its respective committees may conduct inquiries in aid of legislation in accordance with its duly published rules of procedure. The rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected.”
In the exchange we see before us, we are not even dealing yet with a formal call for an inquiry by Senator Marcos, yet already there are fireworks.
Since Secretary Lacierda appears to be very knowledgeable about the progress of the rehabilitation and recovery program, and about the monies involved, we suggest that the Senate should call him posthaste to testify in open session. Perhaps, he will be able to explain to the satisfaction of all what so many of us in the media have so far been unable to comprehend.
Both sides should welcome the opportunity to say their piece in a formal inquiry. And we in the media will gladly cover the proceedings.
The Yolanda catastrophe and the people of East Visayas deserve full inquiry and closure. Otherwise, the wounds will not heal.