Order out: Lacson powerful rehab czar

The President directs government agencies and corporations, LGUs, as well as the private sector to assist the former senator as he needs them in Yolanda-ravaged areas

'REHAB CZAR.' President Benigno Aquino III swears in Panfilo Lacson as 'Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery.' Photo courtesy of the Malacanang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang released on Tuesday, December 10, the much-anticipated memorandum order that would define the authority and responsibilities of former Senator Panfilo Lacson in leading rehabilitation efforts after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Memorandum Order No. 62 – signed by President Benigno Aquino III on December 6 – makes a powerful rehabilitation czar of Lacson, an independent political ally whom the President’s party mates are known to be wary of.

Lacson gets the title “Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery” and will be “over-all manager and coordinator of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction efforts of government departments, agencies and instrumentalities in the affected areas,” the memorandum says.

The post allows him to “call upon any department, bureau, office, agency, or instrumentality of the government, including Government-Owned or Controlled Corporations (GOCCs), Government Financial Institutions (GFIS), local government units (LGUs) and request non-government organizations (NGOs), the private sector, and other entities for assistance as the circumstances and exigencies may require in carrying out his mandate.”

The memorandum says, “All departments, bureaus, offices, agencies, or instrumentalities of the government, including GOCCs and GFIs, are hereby directed to render full assistance and cooperation to the Presidential Assistant as may be required to carry out his functions pursuant to this Order.” 

LGUs, NGOs, the private sector, and other entities are directed to give “assistance as the exigencies may require.”

The national government has been criticized over slow relief efforts post-Yolanda and for stirring up tensions between the national and local government officials by putting blame on the LGUs for supposedly being unprepared.

Affected areas include the Visayas, and several areas in Luzon, where “widespread destruction, substantial damage, and death” was caused by the super typhoon.

As of December 10, according to the the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), more than 5,900 died and 27,022 were injured from Yolanda. Almost 1,800 remain missing, as government and private groups continue to collect the dead. 

More than 1.1 million houses were destroyed by the typhoon. Operations at the Tacloban airport, where storm surges wiped out huge parts of the city, remain limited. Total damage has so far reached P35.5 million for infrastructure and P17.3 M in agriculture. 

Cabinet rank

Three Cabinet secretaries were heavily involved in coordinating relief and rescue operations after Yolanda: Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as chairman, and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Social Welfare Secretary as vice chairpersons.

They, however, admitted two weeks after the super typhoon that their “consultative” approach in relief operations leaves them with no one calling the shots in the face more extensive damage being uncovered and millions of dollars in aid coming in.

A month after the disaster, politics and lack of command still hound Tacloban City, where the President and Roxas have taken to task the mayor who belongs to a rival political family. 

Lacson announced on December 2 that he had accepted the President’s appointment. 

Earlier, the Palace explained that Lacson would get a Cabinet rank because it entails dealing with Cabinet members. Coloma said Lacson’s job would not overlap with the roles of existing Cabinet secretaries, specifically that of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, who was also involved in relief efforts post-Yolanda.

Marami pong mahalagang programang ipinapatupad si Secretary Roxas at iba pang kalihim ng Gabinete,” Coloma said on Saturday, December 7. (Secretary Roxas and other Cabinet secretaries have a lot of important programs to implement.)

Lacson will coordinate with the NDRRMC and consult with local government units in “rehabilitation, recovery, and development of affected areas.”  

He is tasked with crafting and submitting to the President an overall strategic vision for short, medium, and long-term programs.

Danilo Antonio was also appointed undersecretary for rehabilitation efforts.

Lacson earlier said he hopes to finish the job by June 2016, before Aquino’s term ends.

That phrase: ‘affected areas’

In a press briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma said Lacson would be attending his first Cabinet meeting the same day his appointment papers were released. 

As Presidential Assistant, Lacson “exercises oversight” over government agencies involved in rehabilitation efforts. Funding for the implementation of rehabilitation plans and programs will also go through Lacson.  

But Coloma said Lacson’s “oversight” power does not mean he has power over existing departments. “May nadagdag lang po sa pagtalaga kay Secretary Lacson. Lahat po ng ating mga kagawaran ay patuloy na gagampanan ang kanilang mga pangunahing mandato,” said Coloma.

(Secretary Lacson’s appointed only adds a new dimension. All of the Cabinet secretaries will continue to fulfill their mandates.) 

It’s why the phrase “affected areas” in the memorandum is important, said Coloma. In areas devastated by Yolanda, Lacson can tap any government agency, as well as civil society groups and the private sector for help. – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com

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