PRESIDENTIAL Adviser for Rehabilitation and Recovery Panfilo Lacson on Monday claimed that efforts to rebuild areas in Eastern Visayas that were ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda were being hampered by local politics.
In a press briefing in Malacañang, Lacson described the problem as “prevalent,” citing instances where feuding politicians would not cooperate with each other, thus making coordination a huge challenge.
“The problem is prevalent . . . small towns for instance where the congressman is not allied with the governor are being left out. These are gaps, which, to us, pose another challenge. We have to fill up these gaps that is why we have private sector development sponsors,” Lacson, dubbed as the “rehab czar,” told reporters.
He said they are addressing the problem by passing on the rehabilitation tasks to the private sector.
In the same briefing, Lacson stopped short of identifying political personalities who were “obstructing” their efforts and stressed that these local officials should just be “passive.”
“What is important is that if they don’t want to help, they should not obstruct. They should not say anything at all and get out of the way. That’s my message through media that as Dirty Harry said: ‘Either you’re in or in the way’ . . . If you are not joining, just be passive,” he pointed out.
Lacson said he exposed the issue on substandard bunkhouses and the meddling of local politicians to send the message that the government through him, is closely monitoring the developments in Yolanda-affected areas.
“I just want them to know that there are more funds coming in and that while each bunkhouse costs P838,000, when the rehabilitation goes full swing, we’re talking of hundreds of million of pesos,” the official explained, stressing that under his watch no Yolanda funds should go to waste.
Lacson said the problem involving local politics leads to a bigger concern, coordination.
“The biggest challenge that we face is coordination. Isa ‘yang challenge that Pak Kuntoro, when he rebuilt Aceh—Banda Aceh, the island—has faced. Ang depensa nga lang namin, he was coordinating from a position of near absolute authority—those that what he asked his President before he accepted the job of rebuilding Banda Aceh—and he was given the full authority. He was acting like a military governor in the area or he had the authority of hiring and firing,” he said.
In his case, Lacson explained that he was just given a memorandum order that explicitly defined his job as purely coordination.
“But we had the support of the line agencies. Ang mga challenges mostly sa local, ‘yung mga local politics. Alam naman natin doon, medyo mababaw ‘yung politika doon, ‘pag kalaban ang mayor ay hindi pinapansin ‘yung bayan. So the other day I told them, during a meeting with the LGUs, kung gusto niyong parusahan ‘yung kalaban ninyong mayor ang madadamay kasi ‘yung mga constituents na hindi naman nila kalaban,” he averred.
The problem is present even in the search for relocation sites since most LGUs have no property available to be used for relocation of those who would be transferred from the “no-build zones.”
“At least on the national [level], we have no serious problems. But when you go to the [proposed relocation sites]and you encounter local politics, that is where the dynamics become really challenging. But that’s life,” Lacson added.
With regard to building houses, the official said the government’s top priority are the marginalized sectors while those who can afford to build new houses on their own would be offered soft loan facilities by the national government.
Meanwhile, Lacson announced that contrary to his previous claim, the bunkhouses were not overpriced based on initial investigation he ordered. However, he maintained that the bunkhouses were constructed using substandard materials.
“Well, there’s no question, there was no overpricing. I asked our pool of civil engineers who went to the area, and took a look at the standard specifications prepared by DPWH. There was no overpricing and this was also what Secretary [Public Works Secretary Rogelio] Singson said and we agree,” said the rehabilitation czar.
However, he noted that the specifications of the Public Works department were not followed by the contractors, who maybe held liable for some violations pending the outcome of the investigation being done by both the military and the police.
And even Secretary Singson admitted that there were shortcomings in the actual implementation, in the actual construction. The good things is that now they are aware. They know that we are on guard and they cannot pull a fast one on us. Also, Secretary Singson said they will not be paid if there are problems,” Lacson emphasized.
He also raised concerns on the possible criminal charges that could be filed on certain individuals or groups regarding the poor construction of the bunkhouses.
Lacson said they are being hampered by the procurement law itself or Republic Act 9184 that gives contractor 60 to 90 days for repair.
“For me, this provision should be amended because if the underspecification was done deliberately, why give them time to repair?” he pointed out. Lacson said erring private contractors use this provision as a shield and as an “escape goat.”
When found, he said contractors could simply go back to the construction site and do repairs. That way, they can no longer be held accountable.