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Palace no quick response to plea

Storm victims’ urgent appeal for cash relief under study

LAWMAKERS on Friday supported the petition of more than 10,000 victims of super typhoon Yolanda who signed a petition urging President Benigno Aquino III to provide them P 40,000 in immediate financial assistance, and lambasted the government’s inability to speed up rehabilitation efforts.

In separate interviews with the Manila Standard, opposition Reps. Luz Ilagan of the Gabriela, Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna and Jonathan dela Cruz of Abakada said the plight of the thousands of survivors was disheartening.

Ilagan also blasted President Aquino for once again dragging his feet on the Yolanda problem.

“Clearly, this is another case of ‘Noynoying,” Ilagan said, using the derogatory play on the President’s nickname to refer to the act of sitting idly and doing little when drastic action is required.

Ilagan said the petition was an “indicator of incompetence, neglect and lack of compassion” on the part of the Aquino government for the Yolanda victims and survivors.

“Add corruption,” Ilagan said. “It is not a question of funds. Billions have poured in and have been pledged as aid to the survivors. How were these used? Where is the rehabilitation plan and program that should already be in place?” she asked.

The Yolanda victims and their supporters, led by community leader Patrick Escalona, demanded the Palace release the money on or before Feb. 14, saying they needed help desperately.

The Palace on Friday said it would study the petition.

“It will have to be discussed by the relevant agencies with the President on how feasible that would be,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

“As to the cash component, there may be limitations on that. We try to make do with the attendant benefits, meaning the socialized housing and other programs that try to address their needs,” Valte added.

The Manila Standard tried to reach presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery Secretary Panfilo Lacson but he did not take calls or answer text queries.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. questioned the petition and cast doubt on the number of signatories.

“I don’t think 10,000 people got together and signed (the petition). If that’s so, who organized the appeal and what was his angle?” Belmonte told the Manila Standard in a text message.

Ilagan also slammed the Palace’s so-called Day of Prayer.

“All Malacanang can plan is a day of prayer. The Yolanda victims have been praying for action from the government. The Aquino administration should now act on these pleas, and not victimize the

survivors further with shoddy and shabby bunkhouses,” Ilagan said, referring to allegations that the temporary housing for the typhoon survivors was substandard.

Zarate said Noynoying was already the President’s habit in dealing with the country’s problems.

He lamented that the victims had to still resort to a petition to get action.

“All the government’s explanation cannot really hide the fact that more than two months after Yolanda, majority of the victims are still begging for the much needed help, not only for their day-to-day survival but more importantly for desperate ways to rebuild their lives,” Zarate said.

He said the desperation of the Yolanda victims and other survivors of the calamities proved the Aquino administrations utter and continuing failure to respond to the problem.

“It is high time for the survivors to take a direct action,” Zarate said.

Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, an administration ally, appealed to the government to grant their petition for the immediate financial aid.

“I support such a proposal considering that there are victims who can rebuild their homes faster than what the government and other organizations can,” Batocabe said.

He said what the government needed to do was set strict guidelines so that the aid went to the rightful beneficiaries.

Abakada’s Dela Cruz added: “It is truly sad that we have come this pass. We advised long ago that funding is not the problem in the rehabilitation effort but the manner and capacity of our executive agencies to undertake such a critical work.”

In the petition, Escalona said the victims saw no sign of improvement.

“Our children cannot go to school yet. We know there are funds for the victims but we don’t know where the government’s rehabilitation program is headed,” he said.

The petitioning victims said the money they are requesting will only suffice for two months for a family of six.

And “given the lack of government control over prices, the prices of basic commodities have increased by as much as 50 percent to 100 percent in the typhoon-hit areas like Tacloban City” Escalona said.

“It means that the P40,000 in immediate relief could hardly compensate for the basic food and non-food needs of a six-member family even for a month,” Escalona added.

But according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, there was a “big disparity” between what foreign donors said at the height of the relief operations after super typhoon Yolanda struck and what they are delivering now by way of cash.

Only about 21 percent or P592.5 million out of the P2.8 billion cash pledge from foreign donors have been remitted to the government, the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub or Faith website showed.

“I think many of them made those statements so that they can actually influence (those) back home because you have to show the situation here,” Abad said.

Of the P23.79 billion pledged by local donors, P20.9 billion were in kind while P2.8 billion was in cash.

“Knowing the fiscal process, it is also possible that most of their (foreign donors’) funds have already been committed since the calamity happened during the latter part of the year,” he said.

“A lot of the fund raising would have to be done at the start of this year, when new funds are available. So that may likely explain the huge disparity between what we read in the papers during the height of the relief operations, versus what is now appearing in the Faith website,” Abad added.

Abad earlier asked Cabinet members to identify projects that can be deferred so that the budget can be re-aligned for reconstruction.

The 2014 budget only included the following funds for the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in areas hit by recent calamities: P13 billion calamity fund, up from last year’s P7.5 billion; P20 billion rehabilitation construction program; and P80 billion for construction projects under the unprogrammed fund. With Joyce Pangco Pañares

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