Aquino confident of Tacloban ‘composite team’
MANILA, Philippines – Contrary to speculation, President Benigno Aquino III did not leave Tacloban on Tuesday, November 19, because of the Supreme Court decision striking down lawmakers’ pork barrel.
Instead, the Palace said the Chief Executive was “confident” of the work of the “composite team” on the ground. The President earlier said he will not leave Tacloban until he is satisfied with the relief and rehabilitation efforts there.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda’s statement on the “composite team” comes after Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said that the relief effort in Tacloban was a “consultative process” and had no ground commander. Tacloban bore the brunt of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the world’s strongest typhoon, which killed over 4,000.
“President Aquino said that there was a big improvement [in Tacloban]. He has expressed confidence in the work that the composite team on the ground has done. Things have turned out better than he expected that’s why the flow of relief goods continues,” said Lacierda in a Palace briefing.
Lacierda said the “composite team” was led by Roxas, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, Palace Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang, the military, the Coast Guard and other government officials “who have been on the ground to direct and coordinate government efforts.”
Lacierda quoted the President, “That’s why he said, ‘I’m confident of the team here.’ Then all of the concerns on the relief goods, we see [these are already being delivered.] We also see the normalcy in terms of the start of commercial operations in some parts of Tacloban."
The spokesman added, “So the President felt very confident that Tacloban is in good hands, and also the disaster areas where he visited are in good hands.”
Lacierda said Aquino met with his Cabinet on Wednesday to discuss relief efforts for the typhoon victims. According to Lacierda, among those present were Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo.
“There’s no correlation between the decision of the Supreme Court and his coming home,” Lacierda said.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to declare lawmakers’ Priority Development Fund (PDAF) unconstitutional. The Palace had opted to overhaul and reform the pork barrel system instead of totally abolishing it.
‘Palace has no emotion on SC ruling’
Lacierda refused to comment on the High Court ruling, saying the Palace has yet to receive a copy. Yet he said Malacañang is concerned about the scholars and indigent patients who will be affected.
“The Palace has no emotion but it’s a valid concern we have. How do people who have been going to school, who have been going to hospitals, being given dialysis treatment now be funded now that it is out, now that PDAF has been rendered unconstitutional?”
As for the Supreme Court decision limiting the use of the Malampaya Fund, Lacierda said the Aquino administration has long been abiding by it.
“For us, we have no problem with the removal of that provision …. We have always viewed that particular phrase as limited to the use of—use for energy-related and energy projects,” Lacierda said.
Now that the PDAF is declared unconstitutional, Lacierda said Abad will discuss with President Aquino lawmakers’ proposal to pass and certify urgent a P14.5 billion supplemental budget for relief and rehabilitation of typhoon-hit areas.
Senate President Franklin Drilon filed the supplemental budget bill on Wednesday, with the money to be sourced from the unused PDAF funds.
Lacierda said, “The only way to use the funds that have been rendered unconstitutional is by way of supplemental budget. I had a discussion with Secretary Butch Abad this morning because the Supreme Court said, the PDAF is unconstitutional so the funds for the PDAF will go back to the National Treasury.”
‘Relief efforts not politicized’
Lacierda also reiterated that the relief efforts in Tacloban are “not politicized” even after Aquino and Mayor Alfred Romualdez traded barbs over the relief efforts.
“In fact, the President has met with Mayor Alfred Romualdez several times,” Lacierda said.
“I disagree that the process is politicized. How is it politicized? You have to give us concrete statements of politicizing. How is it politicized?”
Lacierda also said there was a structure to the government’s relief efforts following criticism that aid was disorganized.
“There’s a structure there, we also need to know, down to the barangay level, who are the ones there. That’s why you need the help of the local government structure also.”
“We’ve reached all the 40 towns of Leyte. So what does it mean when you say it is politicized?” – Rappler.com