SONA 2015: Aquino admits need to do more after Yolanda

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III on Monday, July 27, admitted the need to do more after disasters such as Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and the magnitude-7.2 earthquake in the Visayas.

"May mga natitira pa pong gawain. May mga komunidad pa rin tayong namumuhay sa peligrosong lugar na kakailanganing ilayo sa panganib," Aquino said in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA).

(We have things left to do. There are still communities living in dangerous areas, and we need to bring them out of danger.) 

A year after Yolanda, in fact, around 14,100 Yolanda survivors remained in danger zones in worst-hit Tacloban City. (Watch more in the video below)

Aquino's critics confirm the need to shelter more Yolanda survivors. 

Days before Aquino's SONA, various groups pointed out the "dismal completion" of houses in Yolanda-hit areas, according to the news portal of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). 

These groups cited the completion "of only 2,100 houses by the end of 2014," CBCP news said, quoting groups such as Caritas Philippines, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Focus on the Global South, and the Freedom from Debt Coalition.

This was "far below the targeted 205,128 shelters."

Family feud amid Yolanda

In his SONA, Aquino also said the government needs to improve its rebuilding efforts.

"Para naman sa rebuilding, kailangang paigtingin ang ugnayan ng lokal at pambansang antas, para mapabilis ang mga tinatapos natin," he said.  (As for rebuilding, we need to strengthen the coordination between local and national levels, to speed up our projects.)

Filipinos saw this coordination problem the most after Yolanda, the strongest storm to make landfall. 

Back then, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez complained that his city had a hard time seeking aid from the national government.

A family feud complicated the issue. (READ: Politics, lack of command hound Tacloban)

Romualdez comes from the clan of former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, whose husband, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, put the President's father in jail. Aquino's father, Benigno Jr, was assassinated under the Marcos regime.

In his SONA, however, Aquino said more about the government's reported gains in disaster management.

He said "active coordination" between government units helped Bohol and Cebu rise quickly after the magnitude-7.2 earthquake there in October 2013. 

True and false claims

He added that in Tacloban and Zamboanga, which suffered a refugee crisis, the government prevented outbreaks of disease and quickly restored electricity.

His claim about having no outbreaks of disease – at least as far as Yolanda-hit areas were concerned – is true, according to the World Health Organization.

Julie Hall, WHO representative in the Philippines, said this "is quite remarkable" especially after a typhoon "of this level of devastation." 

His statement about quickly restoring electricity, on the other hand, is false as far as Yolanda is concerned.

In fact, more than 6 months after Yolanda, more than a million households still had no electricity

Thousands of families also spent Christmas in the dark in December 2013. This, despite the promise of Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla to resign if the government failed to restore power in Yolanda-hit areas by December 24, 2013.

Yolanda thrust the Philippines in its biggest reconstruction effort since the end of World War II. 

A month after Yolanda ravaged central Philippines in November 2013, Aquino appointed Panfilo Lacson to lead rehabilitation efforts for Yolanda-hit communities.

The former senator and police chief, however, lacked the power and budget to perform this duty.

Lacson eventually helped in preparing a P170.7-billion ($3.93 billion) rehabilitation plan for Yolanda-hit areas. Aquino approved this in October 2014, nearly a year after Yolanda hit the Philippines. 

Saying his office has served its purpose, Lacson stepped down in February this year. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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