Rehab plan rejected

By Ronald O. Reyes, Macon R. Araneta, Maricel V. Cruz and Joyce Pangco Pañares

People Surge boycotts aid forum, tags it as ‘useless chatter’

THE alliance of storm survivors People Surge on Thursday boycotted the Yolanda Transparency Forum in Tacloban City organized by the government and the Asia Foundation, saying the event was “useless chatter.”

Public displeasure. Protesters pelt with rotten
tomatoes the images of President Benigno
Aquino III, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon
Soliman and Presidential Reconstruction
Assistant Panfilo Lacson at the Mendiola Bridge
in Manila.
“We have already studied the subject of the forum—the Aquino government’s Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda or RAY—and we reject it as anti-people, pro-big business, debt-driven and prone to corruption,” said Sister Editha Eslopor, People Surge spokesperson.

“We caution fellow survivors and friends that we should not legitimize a flawed reconstruction plan and we should guard against those who will attempt to use us to do so. If the Aquino government cannot even do the basics of providing relief... and other short-term needs of the survivors, how much more for the long-term recovery?”

Eslopor said the forum would be “useless chatter” because “the contents of the Aquino government’s RAY were clearly against the interests of the people.”

“For example, the RAY proposes about P18 billion for the recovery of agriculture in all regions affected by Yolanda, when the agricultural damage in Eastern Visayas alone was P65 billion. How would the majority of the people, who depend on agriculture, be able to recover with the scant attention paid to their main means of livelihood?”

“The Aquino government also diminishes its efforts and gives undue importance to the private sector involved in the post-Yolanda reconstruction. But it is the national government’s responsibility to

lead the reconstruction, and in the final analysis, many private companies involved are not in there for humanitarian reasons but for profit. While the government abandons its responsibility, it is thus also giving opportunity for massive corruption to arise among the high officials and the big business friends of the government,” Eslopor said in a statement.

Eslopor maintained her group “would rather rely on the movement of the people to demand accountability rather than on any pretenses at transparency by the Aquino government.”

“The accusations of corruption and the complaints by the people who are not receiving aid continue to hound the Aquino government despite its attempts to feign transparency,” she said.

Mark Simbajon, convenor of People Surge, also reiterated their call for Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to resign, saying they were failures and lacked credibility.

“These three are all shameless. Soliman wants to speak of transparency when her own department is involved in various anomalies. The same is true of Lacson and above all, Petilla, who until now has not been able to restore 100 percent of the electricity in the typhoon-stricken areas as he promised,” Simbajon said in an interview.

Manila as Typhoon Yolanda survivors in Tacloban
City (below) stage their own protest rally to greet
Soliman, who was in the city on Thursday.

Senator JV Ejercito, who was in Tacloban welcome Junior Chamber International president Shine Bhaskaran on his visit to the city, said Aquino should waste no time in providing relief and rehabilitation.

Ejercito added that President Benigno Aquino III should take criticism constructively to improve his performance.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada, meanwhile, said Soliman should be held liable for the rotten goods distributed to typhoon survivors.

In a forum Thursday, Estrada said Lacson should expand his mandate to include the investigation of Soliman to establish her liability over the rotten food aid.

“Somebody must investigate. That’s Senator Lacson because he was appointed by the President. I hope Lacson expands his mandate. If he will not, then, who will investigate?” asked Estrada.

The senator said it was a case of command responsibility. “That’s her (Soliman) command responsibility. She’s the head of the agency,” he said.

“Did she not know that there were (relief) goods stored in Leyte?” he said.

He said all relief, either coming from foreign or local donors, pass through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Typhoon survivors in Leyte on Wednesday reported receiving food aid packs teeming with maggots. Earlier, others reported that rotten food aid was being buried or burned.

“She must be held liable for the rotten goods that should have benefitted the victims,” Estrada said.

He also hit Soliman for failing to monitor the relief stocks.

“Does it mean that relief goods were stored there without the knowledge of DSWD officials, [and that is] the reason why they expired?” he said.

He recalled that immediately after Yolanda struck, many congressmen approached Soliman and asked that relief be given to their constituents. But Soliman failed to do so, and the food aid simply went bad in warehouses.

“I know that because I was in Palo, Leyte, during those times,” said the senator.

In the House, a member of the independent minority bloc demanded that Soliman go on leave for gross incompetence.

Abakada party-list Jonathan de la Cruz, a member of the bloc, said it was time for Soliman to be “taken off her chair and back to Earth.”

But House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. and some administration allies were quick to defend Soliman, who had consistently denied allegations of rotting relief for the Yolanda victims.

“I certainly think she is doing a good job, based on what I saw and given the enormity of the situation. I would call on the local executives involved to work their ass off instead of looking for scapegoats,” Belmonte told the Manila Standard.

But De la Cruz also demanded a full blown auditing of all financial assistance provided by all donors for the victims and survivors of the super typhoon that hit Tacloban last November.

“At the very least, she should take a leave of absence,” De la Cruz said.

Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the call for Soliman to step down was in order.

“Her resignation is a call to be supported. The People’s Surge has been demanding this. Her incompetence and bias are so shameful,” Ilagan said.

She said she saw for herself the struggle of the Taclobanons during her visit in the typhoon flattened areas last March 7 and 8.

Given all their complaints, Ilagan said, it was obvious that the government has not been doing enough to address their day to day needs and provide them with their needed day to day essentials.

House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Cibac, Ako-Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, Paranaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, and opposition Rep. Silvestre Bello III of 1-BAP rallied behind Soliman.

At the same time, Belmonte urged both the national and local government as well as the Yolanda survivors to work together.

“After all, they are in the best position to do something. As I said, the victims should be part of the rehab efforts so that it does not foster a culture of dependency,” Belmonte said.

Tugna said Soliman should also be given due process, and a proper and thorough investigation on the reported rotten relief should be conducted.

“There should be a proper determination of the allegations of incompetence against Secretary Soliman. Absent that, it will be a violation of her right to due process,” Tugna said.

Bello, a former justice secretary and member of the House minority bloc, said Soliman is “one of the few performers in the Aquino administration.”

“She did well during the Yolanda calamity, but she did not get enough support from the other agencies like [Department of Interior and Local Government, Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy],” Bello said.

Tambunting shared a similar view. “Secretary Soliman was right there in the calamity-hit areas for weeks. The needed relief was just too much for anyone to handle excellently.”

Batocabe said only President Benigno Aquino III could and should decide on Soliman’s fate.

The Palace on Thursday said Soliman has already initiated an investigation of rotten food aid being distributed to typhoon survivors.

“According to Secretary [Soliman], she is currently investigating the incident and will let us know,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

Manila Standard made repeated calls to Soliman but she did not take these.

Barangay Gacao 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, maggots 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.

Balderas said she did not know the food was already spoiled and infested with worms, Cortez added.

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