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Lawmakers’ poser: Where did money go?

Rehab efforts ‘can’t be felt, seen’ in Yolanda-hit areas

An administration senator and the head of the independent bloc at the House of Representatives on Thursday demanded that concerned government agencies account for the billions of pesos supposedly spent for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Yolanda-stricket areas.

Senator “Chiz” Escudero, who heads the Senate Finance Committee conducting the hearing on the P23.4 million supplemental budget, said he would ask where the P137 billion in 2013 and 2014 went.

“Had we spent that much for the Yolanda affected areas?” Escudero.

Situation bleak. Senator JV Ejercito (third from
right), Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez
(left), Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (third
from left), Rep Alfred Benitez (fourth from left),
and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte
(fifth from left) visit super typhoon Yolanda’s
survivors inside a tent in San Jose, Tacloban
City to assess their situation. Ver Noveno
“Quite frankly, I don’t see, it, I don’t feel it and certainly the  people in Region 8 don’t see it and feel it either,” he added.

Escudero said P37 billion was allocated for post-Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction in 2013 while P100 billion was included in the 2014 national budget.

He added that the agencies should first explain where the money went before his commmitee would tackle the supplemental budget submitted by Malacanang.

Independent bloc leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, on the other hand, said he would examine in particular documents coming from the Departments of Budget and Management (DBM), Energy (DoE), Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Interior and Local Government (DILG) and Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the National Housing Authority (NHA), to ascertain where the budget, including foreign donations, went.

Romualdez, along with other members of the bloc, made the statement despite the claim of presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, former Senator Panfilo Lacson that Leyte got the biggest budget from the government coffers among those affected by the typhoon.

Romualdez said the group will also ask a formal explanation from these departments itemized breakdown or accounting of the ‘Yolanda’ funds.

Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz noted that the Romualdez’s group and several other lawmakers have already filed resolutions seeking a full auditing of the Yolanda funds; and yet the agencies concerned seemed to be not responding to the call.

Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay) party-list Rep. Lito Atienza reminded the public that ‘Yolanda’ funds, as reported in the media, were “in the tens or hundreds of billions”, including donations and aid from the private sector and international communities.

Atienza said Congress alone approved  14.6 billion supplemental budget for ‘Yolanda’ and other victims of calamities last year.

“But up to now, he said Congress has no idea about the breakdown of how the funds were spent,” Atienza said.

Escudero, meanwhile, also questioned if there is a need for a supplemental budget and why the DBM did not include the amount in the 2015 proposed national budget in the first place.

But Senate President Franklin Drilon  said he sees no hindrance in the passage  of the supplemental budget next month, because there is a carryover next year.

He said there is no  need to justify that the fund was used up.

“The supplemental is for future needs. This is not a condition that the previous appropriation has been exhausted, because it is possible that in the inadequacy of budge, a new appropriation is being requested,” he added.

Lacson, meanwhile, insisted that Leyte has received a funding of P8.09 billion, which was the biggest among the areas battered by Yolanda.

Of the  total amount, Lacson said P3 billion went to infrastructure projects; P 367.44 million for social services; P 4.01 billion for resettlement; and P 714.73 million for livelihood assistance.

“Based on these figures, Tacloban City has received the most funding support from the national government for its rehabilitation needs,” Lacson said.

He noted that the P8.09 billion funding translates to half of Tacloban City’s requested and approved total funding requirement estimated at P 15.73 billion.

“Through this funding support, several projects are already ongoing or have been completed. Among these are the ongoing repair of Tacloban Base Port and Daniel Romualdez Airport which is targeted to be completed by the end of 2014,” Lacson said.

The repair of the city hall, civic center and public market, funded through the Department of Interior and Local Government, are all ongoing, Lacson added.

Lacson said the DSWD has begun distributing Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) to affected households with partially and totally damaged houses in safe areas of Tacloban City. ESA distributions will amount to P 315.55 million.

Lacson said various livelihood efforts have also been implemented, including Cash for Building Livelihood Assets (CBLA) assistance to 9,725 families; employment program for 1,151 beneficiaries; and repair or replacement of damaged fishing boats for 547 fishermen.

“All targeted 14,433 permanent housing units for Tacloban City are already funded with the total amount of P 4.01 billion. As of today, 1,124 housing units have been completed and 5,526 are being constructed with target completion in 2015,” he said.

“Tacloban is only one of the 171 cities and municipalities directly affected by Yolanda.  We are ensuring that all areas in the Yolanda corridor will get the assistance they need,” Lacson added.

Lacson’s claims, however, were decried by a group of Yolanda survivors as “too late” and were mere “publicity stunts” during their presentation of a “dismal state of homelessness” at the Senate on-sit hearing at the University of the Philippines-Tacloban

The survivors under the People Surge Alliance trooped to the public hearing hosted by the Senate Committee on Urban Planning, Housing and Resettlement on Thursday at the UP Tacloban College headed by Senator Joseph Victor G. Ejercito, Senator Bongbong Marcos, Rep Alfred “Albee” B. Benitez Negros Occidental, 3 Chairman, Housing and Urban Development,Rep Ferdinand Martin “FM” Romuladez, Leyte, Lone District and Rep. Jose Christopher Y. Belmonte, Quezon City,

“It is disgusting that President Aquino and his rehab stooge Panfilo Lacson came out too late with their rehab master plan 10 months after Yolanda’s landfall, and approved this only as a political gimmick in time for the Yolanda anniversary. Now they are doing the rounds of shelter turnovers that are mere PR stunts aimed at defusing the anger of Yolanda survivors,” said Dr. Efleda Bautista, chairperson of People Surge.

In a position paper submitted to the Senate Committee, the People Surge cited recent studies by non government organizations on the current state of rehabilitation in Eastern Visayas. Citing data from the independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, a total of 1,200,000 homes were destroyed or damaged.

there are still over 250,000 families or more than 1,300,000 people living in evacuation centers, tent cities, bunk houses, and settlements in ‘no-build zones.’ The national government was able to construct only 364 homes in Tanauan and Tacloban, Leyte.

The group also cited in the paper the findings of the Center for Environmental Concerns Philippines in a rehab study covering upland, lowland, urban, and coastal ecosystems. A specific and serious shelter concern raised was the No Dwelling Zone (NDZ) policy, which seeks to prohibit residential infrastructure within 40 meters from the coastline. Residents across 33 barangays in Tacloban City attest to not being informed or consulted regarding the NDZ, and are presented with no feasible relocation alternatives.

The survivors’ alliance called for a genuine pro-people reconstruction program to be ensured by the state responsibility and not delegated to private profit-motivated interests. They_ demanded for a housing program with ensured access to livelihood and social services, resiliency standards-, and people’s control and participation. They also reiterated their demand for the scrapping of the No Dwelling Zone policy.

In the same committee hearing at, OPARR Undersecretary Leslie Cordero admitted that Tacloban residents will have to wait for three years before the National Government could finish the 14, 433 total number of housing needs for the city alone.

Cordero cited the same figures released by Lacson, but with  more details that include budget by tranches coming from the National Housing Authority (NHA) amounting to P13Billion; P80.31B to be released on  the year 2015 and P25.92Billion for 2016 respectively.

               

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