Abad: No extra money for Tacloban

Patricia Evangelista

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

The budget secretary says the national government is not obliged to give direct financial assistance to LGUs. But it gave funds to Cagayan de Oro after 'Sendong' in 2011.

CITY CHIEF. Mayor Alfred Romualdez talks about leadership to new city officials more than three weeks after typhoon Yolanda devastated Tacloban. Photo by Carlo Gabuco

MANILA, Philippines – Mayor Alfred Romualdez of Tacloban – a city of 250,000 and hardest-hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda – was expecting too much when he said they “have not received a single centavo from the national government.”

At least, that’s according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad. The national government, says the President’s party mate, is not duty-bound to give direct financial assistance to local government units (LGUs).

Abad told Rappler two things:

  • All the relief, rehabilitation, and rebuilding needs of Tacloban City will be met by line agencies. He can send them written requests if he has specific needs.
  • Tacloban has Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). That should suffice for all necessary salaries and expenditures.

Other than these, the budget chief said he is not aware of any planned augmentation of Tacloban’s budget.

“Now if [Romualdez] is expecting national government funding, well, I’m not aware of any funds because the responsibility of implementing national government programs rests with national government agencies,” said Abad.

Romualdez’ request has precedence, in spite of Abad’s claim that the government does not offer local governments financial assistance after calamities.

In 2011, President Benigno Aquino III authorized the release of P50 million to the city government of Cagayan de Oro, 6 days after typhoon Sendong (international name Washi) made landfall.

Romualdez, who belongs to a family and political party that is a rival of the President’s, has figured in a word war with the administration. The President took a swipe at him for supposedly being unprepared for the world’s strongest storm, while Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, another party mate of the President, refused to assist the city government without official papers signed.

Is IRA enough?

Abad said Tacloban’s IRA share would be sufficient.

The national government distributes the IRA share of LGUs according to their population, land area, and an equal sharing scheme.

Many of the typhoon-struck municipalities, like Guiuan in Eastern Samar and Tanauan in Leyte, have been dependent on their IRA almost entirely for their yearly expenses. This means, with the amount they will receive from the national government, they will still be able to function in spite of the devastation.

In the case of Tacloban, only 45% of its total spending is covered by its IRA share. Largely self-sufficient before the super typhoon, the city had most of its expenses covered by locally-generated income.

In 2013, the city’s IRA amounted to P423,841,662. The rest of its P980-million total income came from revenue from local businesses.

With those local sources of income gone, and the bigger demands of rehabilitating a city, Tacloban therefore has greater needs than other LGUs.

Romualdez said the city lost roughly P405 million – or about 80% of its local income – due to Yolanda.

Even before the typhoon, the IRA was insufficient for Tacloban’s needs, he said. Local income was what allowed the city to subsidize costs – like additional teachers and police cars – that were not paid for by the national government.

Funds were so stretched after the storm that the city was barely able to pay out Christmas bonuses to employees.

Even the national government’s own Reconstruction Assistance for Yolanda (RAY) blueprint estimates that local governments in disaster-stricken areas, lost P300 million in earnings, including reductions in tax revenues and other local income, while incurring “additional operating costs and restoration costs.”

It acknowledges that there will be additional costs of “restoring the functions of offices whose operations were disrupted due to the disasters” as well as “higher operational costs for operating offices in the period following the storms.”

After Yolanda

Abad, however, doesn’t see the situation that way. The IRA, he said, should be sufficient to cover Tacloban City’s operational needs even after the devastation. 

He said reconstruction of damaged public property – city halls, municipal and provincial jails, fire departments – “that will all be under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).”

What Romualdez must do, he said, is submit requests to government agencies, something Romualdez claims to have already done. 

“For personal services, operation, gasoline, electricity, I don’t know if the national government can subsidize that,” said Abad. “The IRA is always there.”

In spite of this, Romualdez said the local government continues to subsidize many of the operations being performed by national agencies. It is practice in most LGUs across the country, when local offices of national agencies either receive their operational funds late or receive insufficient funds for the daily requirements of their work.

“The difficulty we’re going to have there now is the support we’re giving the national government. We give fuel for the police, we provide their patrol cars, even their communications – that comes from us,” the mayor said. “So our support to the police averages P700,000 to P750,000 a month, even before Yolanda. But now we’re providing this.”

Abad said there is no reason for the city government to cover operating costs of the Philippine National Police (PNP). National headquarters pay for salaries, while the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOE) of the PNP covers all other operational needs.

“In so far as the overhead, the gasoline of patrol cars,” Abad said, “that is covered by the MOE released directly to the police stations. If they give police additional allowances, that’s their call, but the rest is taken care of by the national government.”

Romualdez said the city government also continues to shoulder many other national government expenses. “I have a long list,” he said, that includes electricity for local precincts as well as salaries of teachers the city had to hire to augment those selected by the Department of Education.

Abad told Rappler there is no need for the city to take on the salaries of schoolteachers. “I don’t know why they have to pay for teachers. These are public school teachers paid for by the Department of Education (Deped).”

Abad added that if these were teachers hired by the city to answer an unmet need, he is confident Deped Secretary Armin Luistro will be willing to cover the costs.

‘If they help us, they get it back’

Romualdez argued that there is value in assisting the local government of Tacloban in rebuilding its economic base. The city, he said, was the business hub of the region now devastated by Yolanda. The city’s contribution to the national budget was also substantial.

“In the end, our share to national government is in the billions [of pesos] in terms of taxes, so it’s worth it. If they help us they get it back,” he said.

Although the city is surviving on its IRA and what was left of last year’s local income, he risks the city’s finances for 2014. It is why he wants Tacloban City “to get back on its feet right away.”

Getting back on its feet, he said, requires that the city bring back business owners’ confidence in government. His priority is to make businesses operational again.

“The business community has lost confidence in the government because of the looting. So what we want to bring back to them is confidence, to create an atmosphere that they feel safe,” he said.

That confidence, he said, is dependent on greater police visibility.

“Before the typhoon, the city paid up to P 750,000 a month to support the local police. To do that we need more patrol cars, which we have to buy because some of them were damaged and some of them were totally lost. We need to upgrade again the communications because that again was destroyed. To move, they need gasoline.”

The issue of police presence is a sensitive one. Immediately after the aftermath of the storm, Romualdez reported only 26 policemen reported for duty out of the 300 assigned by the Philippine National Police (PNP) to Tacloban City.

In a controversial conversation between Romualdez and Roxas, Romualdez asked for the augmentation of the police force. Roxas replied with a demand that the Tacloban mayor sign a legal request ceding control of the city to the national government.

The reason for the letter, said Roxas, was the political history between the Romualdez family and the Aquino family. The government did not want to be seen as arbitrary.

As of publication, Rappler is yet to find another mayor in any of the Yolanda-affected areas who was asked by the national government to submit a similar letter.

Lacson’s assurance

The government has been criticized for the slow pace of its recovery and relief efforts, with survivors complaining that aid arrived 5 days after the typhoon.

Asked about the delay in releasing requested funds, Abad said the government is “not able to release them yet,” because “we got going just this week.” The President signed the paperwork after Christmas.

Many of Yolanda’s survivors still live in evacuation centers and emergency shelters donated by international organizations, while a large number have built makeshift homes among the rubble, some along the debris-strewn coastline. The government promised temporary shelter for the affected communities, but substandard building and a lack of coordination has delayed turnover by at least two months.

In a text message to Rappler, disaster czar Panfilo Lacson said he was aware of Romualdez’ complaint.

“I told him I would do something about it,” he said. “One thing is for sure, as far as rehab is concerned, Tacloban won’t be left out, either by government or the private sector.”

Romualdez said he does not know what the city will have to give up if funds are not sent to the local government. He will wait for whatever comes.  Rappler.com  

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!