'Mismatch' in Yolanda resettlement fund estimates – watchdog
MANILA, Philippines – Is it more expensive to rebuild a house in Negros Occidental and Iloilo than in Leyte?
This would seem to be the case if you compare the number of houses damaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan) with resettlement requirements as estimated by the National Housing Authority.
Budget watchdog Social Watch Philippines noted that while Leyte had the most number of Yolanda-damaged houses, it will not get the biggest resettlement funds if NHA estimates were to be followed.
Resettlement requirements for Leyte were only estimated at P5.97 billion – nearly a third of the estimated P16.33 billion for Iloilo – though there were 339,479 damaged houses in Leyte and almost half that number or 173,068 in Iloilo.
If one assumes that all the damaged houses have to be repaired, the estimated amount for rebuilding each unit in Leyte would be at only P17,597 per unit. Per unit cost in Negros Occidental is P172,651, and P94,344 in Iloilo.
Social Watch lead convenor Leonor Briones, who presented the group’s findings at a recent forum, was quick to stress that politics is not necessarily behind the discrepancies in unit costs. What is clear, she said, is that there are discrepancies in the way needs were calculated.
“Hindi natin alam kung ano ang criteria nang pagpili ng investment at pangangailangan. Hindi naman maliwanag sa atin iyon dahil it's probably the reason why there are 3 estimates at magkalayong-magkalayo,” said Briones, a former national treasurer and a University of the Philippines professor.
(We do not know the criteria used in assessing investment costs and needs. It's not clear to us because it's probably the reason why there are 3 estimates and that there are very huge discrepancies.)
Joyce Cuaresma, head of the Social Watch research team, said one reason could be that per unit costs followed in Leyte are not “Build Back Better (BBB)" compliant.
Briones said that the criteria for assessment is a process and should be sensitive to the needs of the community; of women and children.
Rappler tried to get the side of the NHA – the lead implementing agency of the resettlement cluster under the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) – on the observed discrepancies but emails and phone calls to the office of NHA chief Chito Cruz got no response.
Apart from the mismatch between estimates of reconstruction needs and reported extent of damages, Social Watch also scored delays in the release of reconstruction funds.
Among the regions affected by the typhoon, Region 8 was the most devastated region with Leyte sustaining the most casualties.
Yolanda damaged 99.99% of barangays in Eastern Visayas, and affected 850,080 families or 4 million people. About 75% of the 33,086 casualties in the region were from Leyte.
The funding estimate by the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for resettlement needs totals to P 167,864,788,553.
But of the P47.12 billion supposedly allocated for Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery, only P27 billion has been released as of February 23, 2015, according to Briones.
"The plan (CRRP) is very, very impressive. But yung pag-operationalize ng (the operationalization of the) plan, that is where there are challenges," Briones said.
The CRRP was approved 11 months after Yolanda. Briones recounted that they have to adopt students just so they have a place to live in. “'Yung Quick Release Fund, hindi naman talaga ganoon ka-quick ang release (The Quick Release Fund isn't really released quickly)," she said.
Out of the P51.98 billion allocation, P4.86 B went to relief operations.
She also said that there have been times when a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) has been released, but was taken back. Briones cited the case of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on December 31, 2014, when its Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) reverted back to the Bureau of Treasury.
Cuaresma, also a professor at the UP National College of Public Administration and Government (UP-NCPAG), explained that SAROs are not immediately funded. NCAs are issued 3 to 6 months later.
Are we prepared for another Yolanda?
This could become a problem as the next typhoon season comes nearer, the UP professors said.
"Definitely we are not prepared. Sa warning system, maybe. In terms of urgency, unahin yung mga vulnerable areas kasi available na 'yung mga geo-hazard maps e. Sa mapa, kitang-kita mo na yung mga earthquake-prone areas. Maliwanag na iyan. So, maghanda na dapat. Challenge natin 'yan sa mga leaders and politicians," Briones said.
(Definitely, we are not prepared. In terms of the warning system, maybe. In terms of urgency, prioritize the vulnerable areas because the pro-hazard maps are already available. You can see the earthquake-prone areas there. So we should be prepared. That is our challenge to the leaders and politicians.)
"Winter is coming. Twenty-two storms are coming....The earthquakes are coming....But are we prepared?" Briones asked.
Isagani Serrano, president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, stressed the importance of empowering local economies to ensure sustainable rehabilitation in case of disasters. "We need to empower local economies so that they won’t have to look for jobs elsewhere."
Cuaresma said another issue is whether LGUs have the "capacity to deliver" when disaster strike.
"The need to strengthen LGUs is there kasi eventually kapag nagkaroon ng calamity, pupunta ka pa ba sa national government mo? They should have control of the money. That is assuming they are efficient," she said.
(The need to strengthen the LGU is there because eventually, a calamity happens. Do you have to go to your national government? They should have control of the money. That is assuming they are efficient.)
Briones said the focus should be on creating more sustainable jobs. – Aika Rey/Rappler.com