Q&A: Yolanda recovery: ‘We need to see action and results’

Voltaire Tupaz
Q&A: Yolanda recovery: ‘We need to see action and results’
Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez: 'Our people have been suffering for 9 long months now... while the debris has been cleared, Yolanda’s pervasive impact on their lives remains'
TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 28, should address concerns hounding rebuilding efforts in the areas ravaged by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

This was what Leyte First District Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez told Rappler on Sunday, July 27, a day before Aquino delivers his SONA before the joint session of Congress.

Bureaucracy and lack of resources remain the stumbling blocks on the road to recovery particularly in the areas of shelter, livelihood, and financial assistance from the national government, according to Romualdez.

Here is Rappler’s Q&A with Romualdez.

What would you like to hear from President Benigno Aquino III during his SONA?

For the SONA subject matters, on top of the list is the one closest to home.

(1) This is in regard to his action plan for Yolanda affected areas and timely disaster risk reduction measures in light of the new normal as we have experienced recently with Glenda.

(2) The state of the economy and the fact that while it has been forecast in a positive direction, how this has failed to address the matter of the perennial problem of poverty – the rising prices of basic commodities, the state of unemployment and underemployment in the country.

(3) The crackdown on corruption and how there seems to be a preferential treatment to those perceived close to his administration, especially those involved in this Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) issue.

Almost 8 months after Haiyan, how do you assess rebuilding and recovery in your district?

Four of the hardest hit municipalities/cities belong to my district, the 1st District of Leyte. I’m referring to the city of Tacloban and the towns of Palo, Tanauan, and Tolosa (which is also our hometown). Going into the 9th month since Yolanda struck, I can say that considering the extent of the devastation, the resources we were left to work with, and of course, the invaluable help from friends, donors, NGOs and INGOs, there has been a significant improvement in terms of the general situation and outlook. However, there is more work to be done. 

With limited resources at our disposal, we have to prioritize and first address the most pressing issues at hand in accordance with what is of primordial importance to the affected communities. As with any rehabilitation and recovery effort, common problems persist in all affected areas in my district namely: shelter, livelihood/employment, financial assistance and access to basic services. As of this point in the rehabilitation phase, shelter and livelihood are still the most pressing concerns. In Tacloban alone, there are at least a thousand families still living in tents.

For livelihood, with the exception of Tacloban, which being a highly-urbanized city is thus dependent on investment and [has] a vibrant local economy that provides people with jobs and other employment opportunities. The rest of my district is dependent on agriculture and livelihood opportunities. With the majority of the coconut trees gone, its revitalization is estimated to take somewhere between 7 to 10 years. In the meantime, these communities will need an alternative and sustainable means of livelihood.

What are the milestones? 

I prefer not to measure the progress of the rehabilitation in terms of milestones mainly because the road to recovery is really a continuous process with the end only marking the beginning of another phase of concerns according to the hierarchy of needs of our people. For instance, the end of the humanitarian phase only means the beginning of the rehabilitation and recovery phase. It would be premature to mark milestones with so much problems and issues still hounding the rehabilitation and recovery process.

What are the main challenges and obstacles? 

The main challenge for most of the LGUs in my district is really the lack of resources to address the current problems. With most of the local government units having been severely affected fiscally, there is really a need for the infusion of resources especially in heavily damaged LGUs, such as Tacloban. Remember, the LGUs are also tasked with the delivery of basic services to their constituents while rendering other governmental functions as their regular mandate and because of what happened with Haiyan, they have this additional task of rebuilding and rehabilitation.

We are not just talking about getting any help. But this is also about getting the right kind of help to where it is needed the most at the soonest possible time. That is why the Master Plan is crucial because the LGU is in the best position to assess the needs of their city or municipality vis-à-vis the vision that they have for their own areas.

It must also be stressed that time is of the essence. While the resilience of the people of Tacloban, Leyte, and all other Haiyan-affected areas is commendable and awe-inspiring, our people should not be left to suffer any longer than necessary when the power to alleviate their unfortunate conditions is well-within the discretion of our national leaders, if they really want to get it done soonest.

Are you satisfied with the way the national government is assisting LGUs in your district? 

It is not in the best interest of our people to dwell on the negative. The bottom line remains: we need to see action and results. Our people have been suffering for 9 long months now – some under deplorable conditions. While the debris has been cleared, Yolanda’s pervasive impact on their lives remains; and with each day of delay, their plight only worsens.

As far as the LGUs in my district are concerned, we have submitted our master plans before the OPARR, which was adopted and approved by the national cluster heads and awaiting action from the President. Most, if not all, of the projects included in the Master Plan are accompanied by the requisite program of works or project proposal, as the case may be.

All that is needed is the approval and release of the funding sources. Once the funds are downloaded to the implementing arm, whether through the LGU or the line-agencies, perhaps then we can expect a vast improvement on the current situation. It is important that these proposed projects be fast-tracked and implemented at the soonest possible opportunity.

The law defined roles in disaster management – LGUs vis-a-vis national government. Relative to Haiyan recovery, and in the particular case of Tacloban/ and your district, was the designation of roles effective in practice?

Admittedly, the magnitude of Haiyan was such that the current protocols and framework in place were unable to cope with the extent of what was needed to be accomplished. However, in keeping with the ‘build back better’ policy, as with our rebuilding and rehabilitation effort, lessons learned from our Yolanda experience must be integrated into adaptive measures in light of the new norm vis-à-vis the current existing legislation and framework in the context of disaster response, risk reduction, and management issues.

Our current legislation, the NDRRMC law, allows for the sunset review – which incidentally was the purpose of the joint committee hearing conducted in December last year and in January this year, where we were able to highlight some obstacles and stumbling blocks in our Yolanda experience.

We are hopeful that this is not the end and that appropriate corrective amendments and measures from lessons learned will be incorporated into our applicable laws, including protocols and the framework itself.

Has the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) been helpful in coordinating recovery efforts?

Regarding OPARR, it is a coordinating body that has been relegated to the leadership of Secretary Lacson. Ultimately, the final decision still rests with the President. We are hopeful that all that hard work put into crafting a comprehensive and responsive master plan before the OPARR, customized to the needs and distinct characteristics of the different LGUs concerned, will be finally put into concrete actions that will positively impact and improve the plight of our people in the 1st district of Leyte. Having said that, the local leadership, including this representation, continues to explore all possibilities and exert every effort to build back a better and stronger constituency.

Being mindful that in the Philippine setting, natural disasters are an unavoidable and inevitable reality, perhaps it would be helpful to address the matter (through) a separate coordinating agency and disaster/emergency management mechanism in the NDRRMC law review, exercising independence that allows for a more specialized technical expertise and training that will more importantly ensure continuity in policy determination and implementation regardless of change in administration. 

The public perception we’re getting from our interviews is that the recovery process is rather slow. What’s slowing it down, what are the bottlenecks?

To reiterate, at this point, we are primarily concerned with seeing results and getting things done on the ground ASAP. The humanitarian phase has ended and the master plans have been submitted for approval and implementation. Resources are the main stumbling block. Funding is still absent for most of the projects – shelter, livelihood, and infrastructure. In part, for those that have been funded, the bureaucracy also contributes to the delay in the implementation process. So far, no mechanism has been put into play to override built-in “safeguards” and to expedite processes during a time of emergency or crisis. This is also one of the key points which must be addressed in any amendment to the current NDRRMC framework.

How would you like President Aquino to address these recovery concerns? 

It would be a good opportunity to get a definitive action plan and realistic timeline (keeping in mind the urgency of some immediate concerns that should have been solved months ago) on the matter of the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas particularly on the matter of the much awaited release of the appropriations or funding for the implementation of the approved programs and projects based on the adopted master plans of not just Tacloban and Leyte but also of other affected provinces, cities, and towns. – Rappler.com

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