Solons weigh in on Yolanda

Oversight panel to assess Palace’s rebuilding efforts

THE Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on public expenditure will be convened this month to compel the government to account for how much it has done for  the Yolanda-devastated areas, Senator Francis Escudero, co-chairman of the joint panel, said Sunday.

Help the victims! Hundreds of children and
child rights advocates slammed what they
called the government’s neglect of the victims
of super typhoon “Yolanda” at the Bantayog
ng mga Bayani in Quezon City on Sunday.
Manny Palmero
Escudero also confirmed that Congress has slashed the P140 million “publicity budget” of the Social Welfare and Development Department to help the United Nations raise the $788 million needed for rehabilitation.

Escudero, also chairman of the Senate finance committee, said cuts were made to increase the number of beneficiaries under the administration’s dole program, the 4Ps.

“A cut was made because the calamities might have pushed more people to the poverty threshold,” Escudero told the Manila Standard.

Escudero said he wanted to find out how much of the 46 percent of the $788 million disbursed by the UN came from the Philippines.

Senator Ralph Recto, a member of Escudero’s oversight panel, said the DSWD publicity budget was reduced from P141 million to P40 million and that the budget for training, from P533 million to P218 million.

The cuts, Recto said, were mainly used to accommodate more 4Ps beneficiaries estimated at 20,000 in Yolanda-affected areas.

Escudero said the oversight panel will look into how much the government has done four months after super-typhoon Yolanda wrought havoc in Eastern Visayas.

“The joint congressional oversight committee on public expenditure intends to look into this at the end of the first quarter. The hearing will take place sometime this month to see or check where we are after one quarter,” Escudero said.

Escudero said the panel would summon all agencies involved in the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations to find out also where the money donated by foreign governments and international community went.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Palace will not stop the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee.

“That is their prerogative. They are acting well within their duty to do so,” Coloma said.

Escudero’s Senate contingent includes Recto, Senators Loren Legarda, Sergio Osmena III, Teofisto Guingona III, Grace Poe, Vicente Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan as members.

The House contingent will be led by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House committee on appropriations, and Reps. Rahman Nava, Ma. Zenaida Angping, Thelma Almario, Dakila Cua, Rolando Andaya Jr., Eric Singson and House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora as members.

On March 8, exactly four months after Yolanda, Gabriela and militant groups will mark International Women’s Day with week-long rallies in Manila, Davao, Iloilo, Baguio, Cebu and Tacloban to hold President Aquino accountable for the “gross neglect and failure” to address Yolanda, Pablo and the Zamboanga siege disasters.

“On March 8, it will be exactly four months since Yolanda, six months since Zamboanga and two years since Pablo, [but there’s still] no livelihood, no sustainable rehabilitation, no return to normalcy. Where did the money go? Where’s the rehab czar?” Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said, referring also to presidential assistant on rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson.

“Only this week was electricity restored in some Pablo areas while death and disease still hound the Zambo evacuees cramped in the sports stadium,” Ilagan said.

Over the weekend, Benedictine nun Edita Eslopor, Filipino stage actress-singer Monique Wilson and women rights worker Joan Salvador joined forces for a public indignation rally in Tacloban City after witnessing what they called the “criminal neglect” of the Aquino government.

“Why are we here? We are here so that we can show our strength, that we can rise up and fight against the ineptness of the Aquino administration,” said Eslopor, who heads the People Surge alliance of Yolanda survivors.

She led a delegation of survivors who tried to see the President last month to deliver a petition for immediate relief.

“I am not used to going to Malacanang. I am a nun and I was with typhoon victims that time when we went there on February 17. I thought that President Aquino would accept us. I thought that the President is sympathetic , malambot ang puso (soft-hearted) to the women and victims. But I was wrong.”

“We were deeply hurt by what he did... He is not true to his word that we are his bosses. He didn’t even bother to give us a drink of water during our visit. This shows the President has no mercy towards women and children,” Eslopor told a crowd of 500 at the UP Visayas-Tacloban campus Saturday.

Eslopor also narrated how Aquino insulted the typhoon victims when his passing convoy threw menthol candies to a waiting crowd of survivors and protestors during the President’s visit in Tanauan, Leyte on Feb. 25.

“The President keeps on insulting and ignoring the typhoon victims. Instead of answering their demand for a P40,000 immediate financial assistance, Aquino threw pieces of candies at them. This is a blatant insult to us,” Eslopor said.

Wilson also denounced Aquino for being heartless in his “criminal neglect” of the typhoon victims.

“It’s been four months since typhoon Yolanda, yet the victims continue to beg for what is due to them. This is injustice. Why do the victims have to protest for their food, medicine, health care, shelter support and other assistance when we know there are available funds for them?” Wilson said, also stressing that they “will not stop protesting against Aquino’s injustice towards women, children and victims of typhoon Yolanda.”

Joan Salvador, secretary-general and the international relations officer of women right group Gabriela, also enjoined the public to show support for the upcoming nationwide protest against Aquino in line with the International Women’s Day on March 8.

Salvador earlier said about 10,000 women in Metro Manila will join the protest near Malacanang. – With Ronald O. Reyes and Joyce Pangco Pañares

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