Budget chief denies not releasing Yolanda funds

MANILA, Philippines – Budget Secretary Florencio Abad on Monday, August 3, denied the claim of former rehabilitation chief Panfilo Lacson that the government failed to completely release funds to rehabilitate areas hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Abad said the government released P89 billion ($1.95 billion*) in programs for Yolanda-hit areas as of June 30.

He said this money mostly went to the emergency shelter assistance program and the relief operations of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The DSWD received P30 billion ($656.16 million).

He said the National Housing Authority also received P22 billion ($481.19 million) for its own construction activities.

Abad said the rest of the funds for Yolanda-hit areas will be released in the second half of 2015.

He stressed that the P167-billion ($3.35 billion) funding requirement for Yolanda-hit areas is not really meant to be released at once, noting that Yolanda rehabilitation is a 3-year program from 2014 to 2016.

"Naging bahagi naman si Senator Lacson ng gobyerno, at nakita niya mismo kung gaano kahirap bumuo ng isang reconstruction and rehabilitation program," Abad said on the sidelines of a forum organized by Rappler and the Building an Inclusive Democracy (BID) consortium. (WATCH: Aquino's Last Mile: Ramping up and sustaining 'Daang Matuwid')

(Senator Lacson became part of the government, and he himself saw how difficult it is to put together a reconstruction and rehabilitation program.)

Abad released this statement after Lacson said he is "taking DBM to task so they will release the P80-billion ($1.75 billion) budget as programmed for 2015 to rebuild the Yolanda corridor."

'Government has not rebuilt enough'

In a text message to Rappler, Lacson said, "Sadly, as reported, DBM has so far released only a total of P84 billion ($1.84 billion) over a period of two years, but not exclusively for Yolanda, as it covers other areas hit by different typhoons and other calamities, which explains why they have not rebuilt enough."

He referred to a statement by Chaloka Beyani, a United Nations special rapporteur, that the Philippines has not done enough to rebuild after Yolanda. Beyani pointed out that thousands have remained in shanties without power or water for nearly two years. 

Lacson said, "The UN special rapporteur has the right as well as the justifiable reason to say that the government has not rebuilt enough to alleviate the sorry state of the typhoon victims."

He added, "The government must have the initiative and should be proactive in dealing with a crisis like Yolanda, and not merely react to criticisms as they come." 

The destruction caused by Yolanda prompted the country's biggest reconstruction effort since the end of World War II. 

President Benigno Aquino III appointed Lacson to lead rehabilitation efforts a month after Yolanda ravaged central Philippines in November 2013, 

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

Lacson eventually helped in preparing the 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.

The former rehabilitation chief is now eyeing the Philippine presidency in 2016. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

*$1 = P45.72

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.