Aquino defends ‘slow’ relief efforts anew

Natashya Gutierrez
'We may not have been perfect and I'll admit that. But to say we didn't exercise maximum effort, that's not fair.'

EDSA IN TACLOBAN. President Aquino visits Tacloban on the anniversary of the EDSA Revolution.

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – “We may not have been perfect and I’ll admit that. But to say we didn’t exercise maximum effort, that’s not fair.”

These were the words of President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday, February 25, as he commemorated the 28th anniversary of the People Power Revolution here.

During his tour of calamity-hit areas, Aquino hailed the progress of the administration in rehabilitating affected communities but was met with the same criticism: government relief is just too slow.

In Cebu, where Aquino inspected bancas donated by non-governmental organizations to residents and turned over checks for cash-for-work programs in Bantayan Island, the President was asked about the local government’s complaint on the difficulty of implementing rehabilitation projects because it has received no direct funding from the national government.

Aquino explained it was because they were being extra careful with how rehabilitation money is spent, and fund releases depend on the capabilities of various local government units.

“We just need to vet everything. Why do we have to verify everything is right? Because what we’re rebuilding has to be able to help the community more than it did,” Aquino said.

For the first time in history, a Philippine president decided to celebrate EDSA outside Metro Manila. The remembrance also included hours spent in calamity-hit areas. 

After Aquino led the annual “salubong” – or the re-enactment of the meeting of the military and civilians on EDSA  – in Cebu instead of the historic highway in Quezon City, the President visited provinces hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

His stop in Bantayan Island was followed by visits to Tanauan, Leyte, and Tacloban, which was the hardest-hit by the storm. 

No power

In Tanauan, Aquino inspected the permanent relocation in Barangay Pago as well as the Tanauan I Central School Building rehabilitated by the army with the help of Korean soldiers.

He also led the groundbreaking of a memorial for those who died from Yolanda. 

Aquino then finished his Tacloban visit, where he broke ground for the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Barangay Cabalawan.

The President said these were evident signs of progress.

But an important concern also came to light during Aquino’s visit: many calamity-hit areas remain unenergized. 

A day earlier on Monday, February 24, Aquino was surprised to learn 57% of barangays in Davao Oriental had yet to get their power back over a year since December 2012’s typhoon Pablo. He again expressed his disappointment on Tuesday.

“I’ve asked the concerned departments to explain their faults: why is it this way over a year later? Why has power not been restored? This is bureaucracy. They were pointing fingers, they passed on responsibilities,” he said.

“I made the agencies feel I am not happy with them. By the next time I follow up with them, there needs to be electricity to most areas or they’ll need to submit their resignations. Those are just two things. I’m easy to talk to. We all have work, so do your work or sorry.”

Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez told media he estimates about half of Tacloban is still without electricity, despite the government’s claims that Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla has achieved his promise to restore 100% of power by Christmas 2013.

Even bunkhouses in Tacloban which the government vowed to provide with free electricity are still without power.

More than others 

While Aquino admitted the government still has work to do, he remained adamant the government has done enough.

“You know you should interview foreign aid workers like the UN and others. Because they tell me that compared to Haiti, what we’ve done in a month is more than what they’ve done there in one year,” he said.

Despite the criticism, Aquino maintained spending the EDSA anniversary with calamity victims was the right decision.

He said he visited the hard-hit areas because EDSA is “not just about freedom from dictatorship,” but also a “celebration of the Filipino’s ability to rise no matter the challenge.” – Rappler.com

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