Yolanda survivors, militants doubt ‘sooner rather than later’ pledge
ONE day after refusing to meet with survivors to super typhoon Yolanda, President Benigno Aquino III assured the public the government will expedite the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in calamity-affected areas.
“Continuing our rehabilitation efforts is our number one priority. We are devoting our resources to guarantee not the mere subsistence of the survivors, but their genuine recovery,” Aquino said during the 3rd Euromoney Philippines Investment Forum 2014 Tuesday.
“We will complete the rehabilitation and improvement of the affected communities sooner rather than later; and all of you will see those areas brimming with more opportunity than ever before,” he added.
The Palace, however, remained lukewarm to the petition of members of People Surge, an alliance of Yolanda surviors, for the release of P40,000 in cash assistance per family and the revocation of the no-build zone policy along coastal areas.
The militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan expressed doubts that Aquino will be able to make good of his promises.
“His statement is hard to believe. That is an empty boast that would at the same time insult the victims,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said in a text message.
In his speech, the President vowed that the government would empower the calamity survivors by giving them livelihood opportunities.
“This is how we approach the task of relief and recovery. It is not simply about distributing goods or putting up shelter; it involves coming up with strategies to revitalize the economies in the local communities, to create jobs, and to encourage productivity in the areas in the soonest possible time,” Aquino said.
“This is the idea behind our government’s campaign to build back better. The damage wrought by Yolanda has only motivated us to take an even more proactive approach,” he added.
Aquino said the proactive approach will go beyond restoring normalcy.
“We are building more resilient houses and communities in safer places; and we are rebuilding damaged infrastructure to make them not only sturdier but in tune with the needs of an evolving economy. The end in sight: to have these communities surpass how they were before Yolanda--whether as a place to live, a place to work, or a place to set up a business,” he said.
“The road ahead promises many challenges, but we are convinced that with the backing of our people, and with the right partners in the private sector, we will prevail,” Aquino added.
Eslopor of People Surge, however, said the government’s approach was wrong.
“The President’s response is not what the victims need,” Eslopor said. “They are enforcing a privatized rehabilitation framework and not what would alleviate people from pre-Yolanda poverty. We challenge the President: if he is sincere, he must scrap their anti-poor rehabilitation framework.”
On Sunday, presidential assistant on rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson denied the government had been slow in responding to the needs of the calamity survivors.
“If we go by the experiences of other countries that were hit by similar calamities, we are not slow. Bandah Aceh for example was hit by a deadly tsunami in December 2004. They had not started to implement their rehabilitation blueprint until after Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto was appointed rehabilitation czar in April 2005,” Lacson said.
“(Hurricane) Katrina (in the United States), Haiti (earthquake) and other rehabilitation efforts in the other parts of the world took even longer periods to accomplish their reconstruction work. Having said that, the government is exerting all efforts to speed up the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts by applying some out-of-the-box approaches without sacrificing the call of Pressident Aquino to build back better,” he added.
Lacson was appointed less than a month after super typhoon Yolanda devastated 171 cities and municipalities on Nov. 8, mostly in Eastern Visayas.
“We are improvising a bottom-up approach to expedite the process of the post disaster needs assessment (PDNA) in accordance with United Nations protocol. We do this by going down to the local government units and not wait for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council to finish the PDNA,” he said.
“Still, close consultation and coordination with the critical national line agencies will be done before implementing the LGU-prepared rehabilitation and development plans based on their individual needs assessments,” Lacson added.
Eslopor, however, insisted that Yolanda survivors had good reason to criticize the Aquino administration.
She said that despite the billions of pesos in donations and three months after Yolanda struck, calamity victims are still suffering.
“They have no food to eat, no shelter above their heads and no livelihood to help them survive. This government has apparently forgotten and forsaken them,” she said.
In the House, two leftist lawmakers said the President’s statements implied that Yolanda survivors had not choice but to wait for the much-needed help from the government, no matter how slow it is.
Reps. Luz Ilagan of Gabriela party-list and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list said that Aquino’s “sooner than later” pronouncement was an admission of administration’s snail-paced response to the problem.
“This government is quick to accommodate the wishes of its corporate and millionaire’s ‘exclusive growth’ patrons, yet it is very slow in responding to the needs of the Yolanda victims, some of whom are already dying slowly,” he said.
Abakada party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, a member of the House independent minority bloc, said he was saddened by the President’s statements, which showed insensitivity.
“What can I say? This slow boat operation is not what we expected from an administration which touted its pro-active stance, even boasting a zero casualty paradigm,” Dela Cruz said.
But Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, an administration ally, defended the government’s rehabilitation efforts in Leyte and Samar, which were flattened by Yolanda.
“I think the administration is doing its best to implement rehabilitation efforts under the most trying circumstances. The challenge now is to cut bureaucratic rigmarole to enhance the absorptive capacity of the agencies in charge of rehabilitation while, at the same time, ensuring transparency and accountability,” Batocabe said. With Maricel V. Cruz
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