We are all Warays now. And Visayans. There are no words that can describe the depth of the tragedy that turned vast swaths of the Visayan region into wastelands of rubble, dead bodies and zombie-like survivors. The inadequacy with words is more than compensated by the willingness of the non-affected to help the affected in any way they can.
Across all economic sectors, even for people with a few pesos to spare, there is a genuine determination to help and it comes from the heart. The footage from the typhoon-ravaged areas, “off-the-scale” in its fury, are making people, whether they are in palatial houses or in blighted slums, tear up. While it is saddening that only catastrophes can truly unite us, today we are all embracing the victims of the once-in-centuries super typhoon.
Tragedy as midwife of unity
Tragedy should not be the sole inducer of national unity but still the solidarity of people from Luzon and Mindanao with the people from the Visayas has been forged—and it is genuine and heartfelt. The international community has also been giving generously.
Private help will only go so far, though. Unless the top 40 Filipinos in terms of wealth do a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffet and do the act of giving almost everything away, there is no way to get private support for the tougher task of rebuilding the wrecked infrastructure. Or doing sustained efforts on the scale of a modern Marshall Plan. Private help will help feed the hungry, provide clothes to the soaked victims, tide over families in evacuation centers for a few weeks but that is about it.
The public sector, as usual, will still carry the largest share of the burden. But is has to redo the whole national spending policy. Senate President Franklin Drilon has made that specific call of reconstituting the P2.3-trillion national budget for 2014 to fully and adequately meet the rehab, relief and rebuilding efforts. As Cong. Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar aptly stated even before Yolanda struck, “the government has historically been the most determined and the most intense responder to crises.”
The massive destruction of public infrastructure needs an urgent and adequate response. The original plan of the Aquino government to allot an infra fund that is five per cent of GDP, or more than P820 billion, has to be revised to make room for a larger amount .
And, it has to be region-centric, meaning, it has to take care of the special rebuilding needs of Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas and Central Visayas.
What would be adequate to meet the rebuilding requirement of the three Visayan regions and meet the original growth targets through an inspired infra building effort would have to be the two main features of the 2014 budget.
P24-B pork can be tapped
The one big thing going for President Aquino is a P24-billion windfall that is available in the national budget. This is the money that used to go the now-loathed PDAF. Instead of scrapping the fund altogether, it can readily used as a lump sum in the national budget that is dedicated to the rebuilding of the Yolanda affected provinces .
Throwing the whole PDAF allocation into the rehab fund will not meet any form of opposition. The most vocal critics of lump sum will just keep their mouths shut with the declaration that the PDAF will be a dedicated fund for the Visayas. The senators who gave up their PDAF but have named specific projects that they want to support will forgo their requests and give everything to the rebuilding effort once asked. They will not say no to the clamor to use the PDAF for the ravaged areas of the Visayas.
The challenges to DAP, the legal and moral questions, have been overtaken by the savagery of Yolanda. Right now, President Aquino is faced with a humanitarian crisis of a scale and depth that no previous president has ever faced. There is no court of law or court of public opinion that would deny him the full powers to dedicate money to Central Philippines from savings generated and from the money under the special purpose funds.
The DAP, instead of being scrapped, would be augmented with additional funds. The consensus now is to allocate whatever can be allocated to the rebuilding efforts. This is not the time and context to argue for the crippling of the president’s power to move around public funds. The naysayers would be viewed as heartless quibblers.
DAP stays. More, it will do so in an enhanced version, the enhancement resting on both practical and humanitarian grounds.
Blessing in time of need
The Supreme Court and all other courts in the country craft their decisions on urgent and pressing legal issues based on existing realities, not on rigid constitutional constructionism. In the context of Yolanda and her heart-rending aftermath, no SC justice will vote to cripple the president’s vast powers to move around funds for a national emergency. The lump sums would be viewed from another light—as a blessing in time of great and urgent need, and not as a reckless exercise of executive powers.
That dynamism has been an inherent feature of our great and most important judicial rulings.
What about the priests and the clergy? After Pope Francis expressed his solidarity with the communities savaged by Yolanda, the worrywarts about lump sums will just have to temper their words. A great tragedy creates and outsized role for the government and the incumbent president. Look at the wrath earned by George W. Bush after bungling up with Katrina. With the scope of the tragedy, with the need to deliver succor with precision and speed, the priests and the clergy have lost the moral suasion to tell the president to get congressional authorization for every public peso spent by the executive branch.
We are all Warays now. And Visayans. Within the next few months or the next few years, we will all be our brothers’ keepers and we won’t even let COA impede the purity of the nation’s intention.