Ping bares aid kickbacks

Local officials linked to fund irregularities

REHABILITATION czar Panfilo Lacson on Monday warned he would file charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against unscrupulous local government officials who tried to profit from the government’s efforts to rebuild areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda.

Speaking at the “Kapihan sa Manila Hotel” forum sponsored by the Philippine Medical Association, Lacson said he has received reports about irregularities in the disbursement of rehabilitation funds in Leyte and Samar.

He said he is still gathering evidence of the reported kickbacks, and had consulted with the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police on possible charges.

“The rehabilitation is not yet going full blast, yet some people are already looking for loopholes,” he said.

Lacson made clear the anomalies did not involve relief, which is under the jurisdiction of the Social Welfare and Development Department.

In an interview at radio dzBB on Sunday, Lacson said his mandate is to ensure that funds are funneled to the right projects in areas affected by Yolanda like Leyte, Samar, Iloilo and Northern Cebu.

While he would not handle funds, Lacson guaranteed he would not allow anyone to take advantage of them through kickbacks and commissions.

The former senator is also tasked to unify the efforts of government and other agencies as over-all manager and coordinator of the rehabilitation, recovery, and reconstruction efforts.

In the same forum, Lacson reiterated the importance of private sector participation, the elimination of red tape and what he called “analysis paralysis.”

“I am coordinating with the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and its member agencies and consulting with the concerned local government units to formulate appropriate plans and programs for the rehabilitation, recovery and development of the affected areas, including an over-all strategic vision and integrated short-term, medium-term and long-term programs, which shall be submitted to the President for approval,” he said.

A civil defense official said Sunday relief teams were still finding eight to 10 bodies a day, more than a month after super typhoon Yolanda ravaged the central Philippines.

The number of casualties, which the government placed at 6,069 dead and 1,779 missing, is almost certain to rise, said Rey Gozon, civil defense director for the areas hardest-hit by the killer storm.

“For our region, we are still collecting bodies. We are getting an average eight to 10 additional bodies every day,” he said.

He also expressed doubt that many of the missing would be found alive, saying so much time had passed since the storm struck with peak winds of 315 kilometers an hour on Nov. 8, flattening whole towns mainly in the central islands of Samar and Leyte.

The latest official count puts Yolanda nearly on par with a 1976 tsunami in the southern Philippines, generated by a major undersea earthquake in the Moro Gulf, which left between 5,000 and 8,000 people dead.

The Yolanda toll has also already surpassed Tropical Storm Uring (international name Thelma), which unleashed floods that killed more than 5,100 people in the central city of Ormoc in 1991, previously the country’s deadliest storm.

The government said more than 4 million people lost their homes to either Yolanda’s winds or tsunami-like storm surges, and some would continue to need food aid as well as shelter and jobs.

President Benigno Aquino III has said the country will need nearly $3 billion to repair the damage.

In a speech on Sunday, just after returning from a visit to Japan, Aquino said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told him that Tokyo would be increasing its typhoon reconstruction standby loan to the Philippines from $100 million to $500 million.

This is on top of a $66 million grant already provided by Japan for immediate typhoon relief, he said.

“This visit showed what a good friend and ally the Japanese nation is,” said Aquino.

In the central island of Leyte which suffered the worst damage from the storm, 1,200 Japanese soldiers had provided relief aid including food, water and medical care, backed up by Japanese naval vessels.

Other multilateral and official aid agencies and private organizations have also been active in the storm-ravaged area where debris and garbage still litter the streets and the stench of death bodies lingers in the air.

On Sunday, members of the Taiwan-based Tzu Chi Foundation handed out financial aid to residents of the stricken city of Tacloban to be used in repairing their homes and rebuilding their lives.

Angeline Asoy, 31, a housewife with six children whose home was washed out by the storm, burst into tears when she received a blanket and P15,000 pesos from the Buddhist charity group.

“We will use the money for materials to build a new house,” she said.

On Dec. 17, the Catholic Church in Eastern Visayas will mark the end of 40 days of prayer and mourning for those who died in the super typhoon.

In Tacloban City, a 10-kilometer candle lighting is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. starting from the airport in San Jose area to Anibong district, and all coastal villages in the city.

The number of people affected by super typhoon Yolanda has climbed to 16 million and the number of those who were displaced rose to 4 million, the NDRRMC said Monday. With  Ronald O. Reyes, Florante S. Solmerin, AFP


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