PNoy avoids Tacloban

Opts Guiuan visit on eve of ‘Yolanda’ anniversary

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III will not visit Tacloban City as survivors of super typhoon Yolanda mark the first year of the calamity on Nov. 8.

Aquino will instead visit Guiuan today, one of the 171 cities and municipalities in 14 provinces and six regions in what is now known as the Yolanda corridor.

“Yolanda affected a wide area. The President chose Guiuan, which was the first point of impact in November 2013,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

“He has limited time as he is preparing for back to back APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summits. He will report to the people on what the government has done and how it will complete the work through the full implementation of the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan,” Coloma added.

Only rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson, National Housing Authority general manager Chito Cruz, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman, and Public Works chief Rogelio Singson will visit Tacloban City on Saturday to turn over 120 housing units.

The militant group Bagong Alyangsang Makabayan criticized Aquino’s decision to skip Tacloban City.

“Why is Aquino skipping Tacloban on the first anniversary of Yolanda? Is it because of the protesters that will be gathering in the city starting tomorrow? Or is it still because, as [Interior Secretary] Mar Roxas puts it, the President is an Aquino and the mayor is a Romualdez?” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said.

“Why can’t he face the outraged survivors on this important day? The victims and survivors from People Surge have an important message for the President. They should be heard, not snubbed. It’s bad enough that they have suffered from the criminal neglect of the regime; they now have to contend with a regime that cares little for their grievances,” Reyes added.

The party-list group Bayan Muna earlier filed House Resolution No. 1638 seeking a probe on the slow rehabilitation efforts as well as on the actual death toll related to the disaster.

Coloma, however, assured Yolanda survivors that the government is doing all that it can to “build back better.”

“Now that the CRRP has been completed, government is prepared to work with civil society and all the stakeholders in enabling those who were affected to rebuild their lives,” the Palace official added.

Lacson said the CRRP calls for a relocation of about 205,128 families away from unsafe areas and into safe areas. Of the permanent housing units that need to be built in safe zones, 1,252 units have already been completed while 7,377 units are undergoing land development and housing construction.

“Also 37,500 housing units have been bid out and are already awarded. These units are to be completed by November 2015. Meanwhile, 30,700 housing units already have identified sites with proposed builders, and are scheduled for bidding in November 2014. These housing units are set to be completed one year from the awarding of the projects. Another 43,171 are scheduled for bidding around November or December 2014,” Lacson said.

As for the infrastructure damaged by the super typhoon, Lacson said the government’s ongoing and completed projects against targets are at 30 percent of national roads, 57 percent of damaged bridges, 37.4 percent of flood control structures, 51.7 percent of new classrooms, 39 percent of sea ports, 88 percent of airports, 88 percent of municipal halls, 82 percent of civic centers, and 79 percent of public markets.

“All electric distribution systems have already been repaired. We have also made progress in reconstructing infrastructures in the agricultural sector, one of the main sources of livelihood in the affected regions. All damaged post-harvest facilities and irrigation systems have already been reconstructed,” Lacson added.

But in a report released Thursday, Oxfam, the international humanitarian and development agency, said “close to a million people continue to live in inadequate shelters and are still struggling to find the resources to resume their livelihoods” a year after Yolanda.

“As so many of those targeted for resettlement continue to wait while living in inadequate and unsafe shelter, they often remain unsure of what basic services, such as water and education, will be in place. They are concerned about their ability to earn an income, as resettlement sites are further from their source of livelihood,” Oxfam country director Justin Morgan said.

“Recovery must be premised on the priority needs of those most affected by the typhoon. In the context of large-scale emergencies, government should adopt a more flexible approach that expedites government administrative procedures without compromising transparency and accountability. It should be able to explore mechanisms beyond business-as-usual,” Morgan added.

On Wednesday, People Surge co-convenor Efleda Bautista criticized Soliman for reporting during a special Cabinet meeting on Yolanda that all survivors have already been transferred from the so-called tent cities and evacuation centers to temporary shelters.

“Maybe she has not visited San Jose (in Tacloban) yet. There are still survivors living in tents there,” Bautista said in a phone interview. “We are survivors. We do not manufacture hocus pocus data. We are the victims yet they are insulting us with their lies. You can’t blame us for being angry because it’s already been a year,” Bautista added.

Thousands of Yolanda survivors will mark Nov. 8 with protests demanding accountability from the Aquino administration.

“Thousands are expected to join the protest actions on Nov. 7 and 8, one year after Yolanda, and one year after the Aquino government’s gross criminal neglect of the victims of the storm. More than remembering those who perished in the storm, we are called upon to join the survivors’ fight for pro-people rehabilitation and reconstruction,” said Reyes in an e-mailed statement.

“The victims of Yolanda are justified in expressing their outrage over the Aquino government’s failure to provide adequate permanent housing, sustainable livelihood, and other basic social services,” Reyes added.

Reyes maintained “the victims are justified in condemning corruption and inefficiency in the conduct of relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work since the storm hit.”

Looking at the amount of foreign donations which have been poured to the areas hit by Yolanda, Reyes said “there is strong domestic and international pressure on the Philippine government to deliver the basic needs of the people one year after Yolanda.”

Reyes said Tacloban City will be the site of the two-day protests, while mass actions will also take place in the provinces of Roxas, Aklan and Northern Iloilo, which were also badly hit the storm.

Reyes said they are closely working with People Surge, the International League of People’s Struggles, Tindog Network and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment for the international and national actions.

Earlier Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez noted that only 400 out of the needed 14,500 permanent houses for displaced victims have been built.

“That is about 2.75 percent of the total permanent houses that need to be built,” Reyes said.

“The rehabilitation framework of the Aquino government is one that depends on public-private partnerships or privatization, further marginalizing the victims. Agriculture, which is the primary source of livelihood of the majority of the population, was not given priority at the onset,” Reyes said.

“In its study, National Economic and Development Authority estimates that the investment requirements for agriculture until 2017 to be around P18.7 billion despite the total damage to agriculture being around P31 billion and future losses amounting to P30.8 billion based on NEDA’s own estimates.

People Surge estimates that the total damage to agriculture in Eastern Visayas would reach up to P64 billion. This includes coconut production losses valued at P41.958 billion, P6.428 billion damage to the fishing industry, P5.695 billion damage to banana plantations, P3.462 billion damage to palay (unhusked rice), and P6.5 billion damage to livestock and root crops, abaca, corn and vegetables,” Reyes added.

Reyes said the big real estate developers, mining and construction firms have divided the disaster areas and the devastated communities.

“They have identified the areas of investment that are profitable, a criteria that does not necessarily go hand in hand with the actual needs of the people,” Reyes said.

Reyes acknowledged the resiliency of the survivors amid the apparent government negligence.

But the Department of Social Welfare and Development said on its website that “Yolanda made [the] Samar community stronger” through a DSWD program that emphasized the integrated delivery of social services.

Typhoon survivors, the DSWD said, “did not allow the disaster to overwhelm them, instead they used it as a springboard to grow stronger as a community.”

Assistant Secretary Javier Jimenez, newly designated department spokesman, said they have done their best to provide the people of Eastern Samar with all the assistance. – With Rio N. Araja and Mel Caspe



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