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Govt’s ‘criminal neglect’ scored

LAWMAKERS on Sunday slammed what they called the government’s continuing criminal negligence two years after Super Typhoon “Yolanda” killed more than 6,000 people and devastated large portions of Eastern Visayas.

With hundreds of thousands still waiting for rehabilitation assistance, the government must be held liable for the slow pace of rehabilitation, said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, particularly after the Commission on Audit reported that more than P1 billion meant for storm victims remained unspent and earning interest in various banks.

“The Aquino administration must explain why it did not use the funds meant for the rehabilitation of Yolanda-devastated areas. There is so much to do in building houses, creating livelihoods, rehabilitation of agricultural lands, and providing utilities and social services for the survivors,” he said.

On Sunday, foreign diplomats admitted they decided not to channel P15.77 billion in financial donations through the Philippine government and opted instead to use their own network to undertake relief and rehabilitation operations in the Yolanda-devastated provinces.

Second anniversary. From left, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Vice President Jejomar Binay huddle outside the Tacloban City Astrodome before a mass in honor of the thousands who died when Super Typhoon ‘Yolanda’ slammed into Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013. Ey Acasio
At a press conference in Patio Victoria in Tacloban City, vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his cousins, senatorial candidate Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez reiterated their demand that the administration account for the congressionally approved P180 billion earmarked for post-Yolanda rehabilitation.

Marcos expressed dismay that after two years, only 7 percent or 17,000 of the needed 250,000 homes were built for families living in high-risk zones.

He also said he doubted the government’s claim that it has accomplished 51 percent of its target for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Yolanda, because it had barely carried out the masterplan drafted by former Senator Panfilo Lacson.

“I don’t know how they arrived at 51 percent because by the government’s own admission, if you look at the [permanent] housing figures, it is less than 10 percent,” he added.

Officials from the embassies of the United States, Germany, Indonesia and Turkey were also at the news conference.

Marcos said the foreign governments could not be faulted for not releasing to the Philippine government the pledges they made because the Aquino administration failed to submit the required proposals on where the pledged money would be spent.

“For example, if one country has pledged to donate say $100 million, the Philippine government is supposed to submit a proposal as to where the budget would be spent and once approved, then the pledged money would be released,” Marcos said.

 “Unfortunately, the pledges remained pledges.”

The government said while P45.1 billion had been pledged, it has received only P1.2 billion.

Non-cash pledges came to P28.19 billion, but only P1.26 billion of this was received.

Michael Hasper, chief of mission of the German Embassy, said his country has provided a total of P13.5 billion in donations, with P5 billion coming from private citizens.

“We have channeled our donations to eight organizations in the Philippines like the German Red Cross,” Hasper said.

Susan Brems of the USAID said it was not a question of “trust” that the donated P1.97 billion was coursed through some 40 to 50 organizations such as the United Nation’s World Food Program.

“From day one, our objective was to extend humanitarian assistance that is immediate and sustainable. Worldwide, we course our help through our network. From the time the Yolanda hit the Philippines, we have released $43 million and we were able to build 250 classrooms, 12 health centers, 1,000 sari-sari stores and [provide] livelihood assistance to the farmers,” Brems told the news conference.

She said the US government has introduced a new phase—rebuilding.

Every year, she said, the US government would continue to grant $100 million in financial assistance.

Col. Brian Bell, US Air Attaché, said the US government has coordinated its efforts with Philippine military officials according to the mandates of Balikatan.  

“We learned a lot ourselves and we are always here to help. We are just a phone call away. And surely, we will pick up the phone,” Bell said.

Rosa May de Guzman-Maitem, communication manager of the Philippine Mission of the Action Against Hunger or ACF International, said some 24 million euros had been coursed through their organization by the foreign governments for Yolanda alone.

Mayor Romualdez said his city has started to get back on its feet but that it receives help from the government on a “piecemeal basis.”

Congressman Romualdez said Taclobanons were grateful for the substantial help given by the foreign governments.

“We are forever grateful for the foreign governments that came together to help us and immediately responded to the crisis. We cannot possibly repay it,” said Romualdez, whose district suffered heavily from Yolanda.

Also on Sunday, presidential candidate Vice President Jejomar Binay said the rehabilitation work would be done speedily under his administration.

In an interview after the unveiling of MV Era Jocelyn Commemorative Marker on Tacloban City, Binay said he was baffled by the snail-paced reconstruction, with only 27 percent of the funds released.

Binay, who used to be chairman of the National Housing Authority, said the agency was able to build only to the extent that they received funds. If the funds were insufficient, there was a huge backlog, he added.

With the reported underspending, Binay added, he was puzzled that Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said he was looking for funds.

“I think the people of Leyte deserve to know what really is the problem—what caused the delay,” Binay said. “I think it’s not a good explanation to say, ‘No, we did better than other countries.’ We’re not talking here of who did better... Each day is important, and this has been two years already.”

Topics: Super Typhoon Yolanda rehabilitation , Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. , Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez , Mayor Alfred Romualdez ,
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