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Worms infest food aid

By Marvin T. Modelo, Maricel V. Cruz and Joyce Pangco Pañares

Rotten relief shocks Yolanda survivors

TACLOBAN CITY—Elation turned to horror for typhoon survivors in Barangay Gacao in Palo, Leyte, when maggots crawled out of the food packs that were distributed to them as relief.

Reports of the distribution of rotten food followed two other incidents in the province in which food aid that had gone bad was reported buried.

Barangay Chairman Panchito Cortez said he saw residents converging on the barangay hall waiting for food packs delivered by the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office of Palo.

When they opened the boxes, however, worms as big as grains of rice crawled out of tetra packs and cup noodles. Biscuits were expired, and even the bottled mineral water looked murky, Cortez said.

Cortez said the goods were received by Councilwoman Maria Anna Docena, and included 50 boxes of instant coffee, five sacks of assorted biscuits, cup noodles, instant viand in tetra packs and five boxes of mineral water.

Cortez said he immediately went to the Palo town hall and confronted MSWD officer Rosalina Balderas, who admitted that the goods came from their office.

She said she didn’t know the food was already spoiled and infested with worms, Cortez added.

Revolting. Government social workers and
residents inspect the food aid that turned
out to be crawling with maggots at the
village hall of Barangay Gacao in Palo,
Leyte. MARVIN MODELO
In a recent interview with the Manila Standard Today, Balderas admitted that truckloads of expired and spoiled food aid were dumped and buried in an open dumpsite in Barangay. San Jose on Feb. 5 and March 6.

Balderas said that biscuits, cupcakes, canned goods, and even rice were declared by their office as being unfit for human consumption.

Palo, Leyte Mayor Remedios Petilla, in an interview with a newspaper (not with Manila Standard Today) admitted that four sacks of rice, four sacks of assorted biscuits, one-fourth sack of canned

goods, three sacks and two boxes of used clothing, three sacks of used shoes and 10 pieces of instant noodles were indeed buried in the dump but not truckloads as was reported. She branded the report as “baseless, unfair and malicious”.

Mayor Petilla, a former Leyte provincial governor and former representative of the first district of Leyte, is the mother of Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla and incumbent Leyte governor Dominic Petilla.

In the House, calls for an onsite investigation of the dumping of food aid gathered steam.

Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian, an administration ally, supported calls by opposition lawmakers to investigate the reported dumping, saying this could tarnish the country’s reputation in the international donor community.

“Even if the House is on a recess, a committee probe the alleged dumping can be launched to shed light on the issue. This is not only of national interest as it does not only affect our fellow Filipinos who are victims of the typhoon. This also affects the countries and international institutions who reached out to us in our time of need. What would donor countries think of the Philippines?” said Gatchalian.

Gatchalian recalled the World Bank’s recent report tackling food loss, which showed that one-quarter to one-third of all food produced globally is either thrown away or lost while being transported to market.

Quoting World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim, Gatchalian said the amount of food lost or wasted was shameful because millions of people around the world go to bed hungry every night.

The investigation, the Valenzuela lawmaker added, should lead to prosecution of the people responsible for the blunder and an improvement in logistical support in times of disasters.

“With the unprecedented volume of donations, DSWD should have planned better logistical support. Or the more pragmatic approach is to just give away the donations to whoever needs it. With all the aid coming in, we have a moral obligation to feed and help the victims of Yolanda.”

Earlier, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon called for a probe into the dumping of food aid.

Also on Wednesday, Buahy party-list Rep. Lito Atienza called the attention of the DSWD on the increasing number of street dwellers in Metro Manila.

“What are you doing with the street dwellers and why are they not getting a share of the CCT [conditional cash tranfer, the government’s dole program]? Let us see some swift action done in Metro Manila, especially with everything you have in your bag, the P66-billion CCT in particular,” Atienza said.

The growing number of street dwellers, he added, was proof that the DSWD had failed miserably in making use of its P66 billion dole, which came from taxpayers’ money.

“I have asked our barangay coordinators to look into and verify the list of recipients submitted by the DSWD, but sad to say that majority of them are non-existent. The so-called recipients list must have come from the White Pages of the directory,” Atienza added.

Atienza vowed to scrutinize the DSWD’s proposed budget for 2015 to ensure the same mistakes are not committed again.

“Secretary [Corazon] Soliman has a lot of explaining to do,” he said.

President Aquino’s rehabilitation czar, Secretary Panfilo Lacson, said the administration has slashed by more than two-thirds the budget needed to rebuild areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda because costs have come down.

“You can say it is a pleasing problem because the cost has gone down, but the magnitude and urgency for the rebuilding is still there,” Lacson told the Manila Standard in a phone interview.

“The disparity can be attributed to two things: one, the contribution from the private sector, from multilaterals, and other donor groups is very evident. Two, when the first estimate was made, it was based on the cost of damage. When our economic team re-ran the figures, it was already based on actual needs assessment,” he added.

From an earlier estimate of P360.9 billion, the figure is now down to P106 billion.

Earlier, the government also lowered the budget for the rehabilitation of the areas affected by typhoon Pablo in 2012 from P36 billion to P11 billion.

The Department of Agriculture said the agri-fishery sector alone would need P18.9 billion for recovery and reconstruction, including farm clearing and cleaning, cutting of felled coconut trees, seeds and fertilizer distribution, farm tools distribution, provision of banca and other fishing gear, and desilting of irrigation canals.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said since the start of the year, the government has already released P30 billion for rehabilitation and reconstruction in Yolanda-hit areas.

“We will aim to disburse all this year, as much as possible in the first semester,” Abad said.

“But you know the challenge of these obligations and disbursements remain, so what we’re trying to do now is try to look at the different modalities of releasing the money directly to the communities, and I think that is really going to be the challenge for the rest of the year,” he added.

The government has P23 billion in reconstruction fund from 2013; and P20 billion in reconstruction fund and P80 billion in unprogrammed funds in the 2014 budget.

“We passed the budget for 2014 (into law) before Yolanda hit several areas in the country. So many of the programs that were supposed to be implemented in the four regions hit by Yolanda could no longer be implemented, so we can now realign those funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction,” Abad said.

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