AS THE nation marks the third anniversary of the “Yolanda” tragedy, a militant lawmaker urged President Rodrigo Duterte to order an investigation into what happened to the billions of pesos earmarked for rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas ravaged by the super typhoon, and to hold accountable those responsible for the inadequate government response.
“The government response [to Yolanda was] criminal negligence right in front our faces and contempt for the thousands of victims,” said Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao, who blamed President Benigno Aquino III and members of his administration for the failure to address the needs of typhoon survivors.
“President [Rodrigo] Duterte should ensure the culpability of Aquino and his cohorts who cold-bloodedly pillaged the public funds intended for the Yolanda victims,” Casilao said.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo revealed last week that only P30 million was left from the billions in combined government and private donations, Casilao said.
Despite the Aquino administration’s release of P90 billion in Yolanda aid last year, the Department of Social Welfare and Development is now seeking additional funding to be given to 200,000 people for emergency shelter assistance (ESA), he added.
At least 7,000 people died during Yolanda, mostly in Leyte and Samar provinces, and damage to infrastructure and other sectors amounted to more than P89 billion.
Despite the outpouring of donations after the killer storm, the construction of permanent shelters for typhoon victims remained slow, Casilao said.
With a comprehensive plan targeting 205,000 housing units for the typhoon victims, he said, a tiny 1 percent or 25,000 units have been completed, according to Vice President and Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council chief Leni Robredo.
Some of these were in Hernani, Eastern Samar, where only 200 out of 900 housing units were completed by the National Housing Authority. Robredo, who belongs to Aquino’s Liberal Party, said the bureaucratic process and corruption were the main cause of delays.
Similarly, Casilao said that according to the local city housing of Tacloban, out of 14,162 permanent houses that NHA promised to build; a dismal 572 were completed. On the other hand, non-government organizations constructed 556 out of its planned 2,169 permanent housing. The NHA also admitted that it had completed only 5,767 houses as of mid-February, far cry from its 13,928-unit target for the end of 2016.
The NHA is constructing 8,161 houses in 19 sites located at the northern villages of Leyte. But despite the completion of thousands of units, only about 200 houses are occupied by families from high-risk zones because the units have no permanent water supply or electricity.
Also on Sunday, a militant fishermen’s group said thousands of Yolanda victims still live in high-risk areas thanks to Aquino and his “yellow cohorts’ incompetence and criminal negligence.”
Despite the reported release of almost $1 billion after the super typhoon, thousands had yet to receive reconstruction help, said Fernando Hicap, chairman of the fishermen’s group Pamalakaya.
Hicap blamed Aquino and former Social Welfare secretary Corazon Soliman for the “Yolanda rehabilitation mess.”
Hicap called on President Duterte to pursue the immediate implementation of Yolanda rehabilitation plan because the victims were still in dire need of support.
In Tacloban City, the chairman of the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, Terry Ridon, said the construction of the 27.3- kilometer Tide Embankment Project will not proceed, pending its review.
“There is an agreement among all agencies present that the Tide Embankment Project should be reviewed and should not proceed without consideration for the future of affected urban poor and fisherfolk,” said Ridon, who was joined by Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco for a formal consultation of Yolanda survivors’ groups like People Surge and Bakhawan.
“Not a single family will be removed from their home unless those in charge of the relocation areas are willing to live there themselves. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: President Duterte’s ‘no demolition without relocation’ policy stands, especially in the case of Tacloban where dumping Yolanda survivors in the existing resettlement areas is an insult to injury,” he added.
People Surge and its coalition of civic groups have had launched a series of protests against the construction of the tide embankment, saying that over 10,000 people will be displaced by it.
Earlier, Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) and its partner scientists from Agham (Advocates of Science and Technology for the People) investigated the project’s impact on the environment and the socio-economics of the areas affected.
According to the scientists, some 97 hectares of mangrove areas will be affected by the project.
April Porteria, CEC’s head researcher, also noted on the “there is little to no information provided to affected residents” on the project.
“Some of them have not seen the design of the project yet, while others just learned about the project when Department of Public Works and Highways employees came to assess their houses,” she added.
The P7.9 billion tide embankment is said to be the previous administration’s biggest infrastructure project in response to the damage wrought by Yolanda.
Robredo, in her report, said one of the causes of delay in the construction of homes for Yolanda victims was the requirement of the National Housing Authority that land titles must be secured before housing projects are approved. The process can take two to three years, she said.
She said the conversion of agricultural lands to residential lands has also hampered the swift implementation of the housing program.
President Duterte, however, has yet to come up with an executive order to use other proofs of land ownership to allow faster construction of housing.
Leyte Rep. Yedda Marie Kittilstvedt Romualdez on Monday vowed to remain steadfast in making permanent homes, better job opportunities and sustainable livelihood for super typhoon survivors a dream come true.
“Now we have seen so much progress has been achieved in building back our communities even better, and we have to thank the help of our Filipino and foreign friends as well as our national and local government for their continued leadership and support in the rehabilitation efforts,” said Romualdez who is scheduled to deliver her solidarity speech Tuesday after 7 a.m. commemorative mass at the Tacloban Astrodome.
The theme of this year’s Yolanda commemoration (on its third year) is “faith, hope and love.”
Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Gonzales Romualdez said that 70 percent of Tacloban City has fully recovered as new malls, restaurants and hotels have risen since Yolanda hit the country on Nov. 8, 2013.
“Business is restored in the downtown area. New hotels, malls, and restaurants have mushroomed and this is a very good sign,” Gonzales said.
Aside from Romualdez and Gonzales Romualdez, former House Independent Bloc Leader and ex-Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, former Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, Senators Richard Gordon and Cynthia Villar are also expected to give commemoration messages.
Singer Kitchie Nadal will sing the “Song Of Love And Faith” while Leyte Dance Theater will play the “dance of hope” and the City Acoustic Band will sing the closing song.
At 10 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a turnover ceremony and playground blessing at the Astrodome Park before the 6 p.m. lightning of candles and 9 p.m. sky lantern memorial at the Balyu-an Grounds.
Martin Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), said local leaders are doing their best to put an end to the struggle of Yolanda survivors who experienced slow delivery of promised help and relief during the previous administration.
He said the fight of Yolanda survivors will continue as many of them have remained homeless.
“The fight and struggle will continue as our malasakit [compassion] to the victims,” he said, noting the previous administrations slow release of funds for the survivors.
“We know how extensive the damage was, but I believe the previous government could have done better had funding for the reconstruction effort been released quickly and sources for the needed money were prioritized and clearly identified,” he added. With Rio N. Araja and Sandy Araneta
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