MANILA, Philippines – Six months since Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the Visayas, officials admitted that the national government still does not have a final rehabilitation plan.
On the eve of the 6-month mark, lawmakers criticized the national government, particularly the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), and some line agencies for what they called an “almost criminal” delay in coming up with a damage assessment.
Watch this report below.
A joint congressional oversight hearing illustrated how the lack of coordination, weak institutional mandate and red tape accounted for delays in the country’s biggest reconstruction effort since the end of World War II.
In the hearing at the Senate, Karen Jimeno of the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) explained that a major cause of the delay was the failure of the NDRRMC to submit a final Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report.
Jimeno represented OPARR head and former Senator Panfilo Lacson in the hearing on Wednesday, May 7.
Senator Francis Escudero asked her, “Is there a formal, final plan to rehabilitate the areas approved by everybody (all agencies) already?”
Jimeno responded, “Currently, there’s RAY or Rehabilitation Assistance on Yolanda but a final, official [plan], no. Categorically, no. We don’t have the submissions.”
Jimeno said that under the law, the Office of Civil Defense under the NDRRMC is mandated to come up with the PDNA, the basis of the final rehabilitation plan. She said the NDRRMC only submitted a draft PDNA to President Benigno Aquino III.
Senators Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda and Ralph Recto asked Jimeno what the OPARR is doing in the absence of the PDNA.
Jimeno explained that Lacson’s office formed 5 clusters of national agencies to assess the needs and budgetary requirements for rehabilitation. These are infrastructure, resettlement, social services, livelihood, and support.
“That’s the rough substitute for the PDNA,” Jimeno said.
Yet Jimeno said that of the 4 clusters, only the infrastructure cluster headed by Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson has submitted its assessment report. The social services cluster was set to submit its report on the same day of the hearing yet.
Escudero found this unacceptable. The chairman of the Senate finance committee said Congress allocated P40 billion for Yolanda rehabilitation in the 2014 budget but only over P3 billion or less than 10% has been spent so far.
“We are not questioning OPARR but it seems there is a lack of coordination among agencies. I share the frustration perhaps of President Aquino with the answers I heard. It seems the agencies do not share the President’s sense of urgency, Congress’ sense of urgency in allotting such a huge fund for rehabilitation. Five months later, there’s still no PDNA. Agencies are meeting and submitting only now,” Escudero told reporters after the hearing.
Escudero said the assessment appears to involve many steps: from the agency to the NDRRMC to OPARR to the Office of the President to the budget department for the release of funds.
“I understand every peso has to be used wisely but there’s also a need we have to address.”
“Quite frankly, if this is how slow we move while so many of our countrymen are suffering, this lack of urgency to respond is bordering on the criminal already,” he added.
The world’s most powerful typhoon to make landfall, Yolanda killed over 6,000 and left millions homeless when it hit the Visayas on November 7, 2013. OPARR was formed in the wake of the storm but focuses only on Yolanda, not other disasters.
Singson backs permanent disaster agency
Jimeno explained that the OPARR was only a coordinating body and has no powers to compel national agencies or the private sector to cooperate. She quoted the statement of Indonesian rehabilitation czar Kuntoro Mangkusubroto that Lacson’s office needs more powers.
“We don’t have police power to penalize agencies for not working with us,” Jimeno said.
This prompted San Juan Representative Ronaldo Zamora to point out that the mandate of OPARR is insufficient.
“If not for Singson, OPARR may end up with no reports at all. That’s what worries me. We’re talking about Yolanda but Yolanda is not the only case we’re touching on. Sooner or later, we will have to call on OPARR for another new set of calamities and what’s happening here is instructive on how we should proceed. Let’s make sure OPARR has the authority, ability to do real things, not just advise the President,” Zamora said.
Singson, who was present in the hearing, said he supported calls for a permanent agency like the US’ Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to replace the NDRRMC. He called for a review of the NDRRMC law.
“NDRRMC is no longer in a position to cope with huge disasters like Yolanda, even Bohol. I don’t think they have manpower on the ground to validate all submissions. Other countries have FEMA, a permanent body and we have 20 typhoons. It’s a continuing function. It can’t be ad hoc,” Singson said.
Senator Loren Legarda, author of the law creating the NDRRMC, agreed. “You hit the nail in the head. After the NDRRMC was approved into law 4 years ago, times have changed. We see the problem of NDRRMC for not being able to do it for a lack of personnel.”
There are bills pending in the Senate calling for such an agency. Senators Grace Poe and Alan Peter Cayetano filed separate measures for a separate department or agency to oversee disaster risk reduction and rehabilitation.
LGUs, private sector doing better job
Representatives from the Department of Budget and Management also said that they have been releasing funds directly to local governments because this was a faster process.
Recto agreed. “That is the problem of the central government. We always think [LGUs] are not prepared but what we see is that the national government is not prepared. It’s the other way around.”
Recto suggested that the government give funds to the private sector like the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation to fast-track the process. Escudero and budget officials said the government will have to fine-tune the procedure in order to comply with procurement and auditing guidelines.
Escudero also noted that there are 3 different lists of donations from the private sector: the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAITH) run by the budget and foreign affairs departments, donations to individual government agencies, and the database of OPARR.
Recto said, “Meron tayong El Niño, bagyo. Baka abutan na tayo ng bagong kalamidad, ‘di pa natatapos ang plano para sa Yolanda.” (We have El Niño, typhoons. The next calamity might come and we haven’t finished the Yolanda plan yet.) – Rappler.com