‘Disaster President’

PNoy draws flak over neglect of ‘Yolanda’ survivors

SCORING the government’s “criminal neglect, corruption and exploitation of typhoon victims,” a youth group labeled the Aquino administration a “disaster government” as the nation marked the second anniversary of one of the biggest disasters to strike the country.

“It has been two years now after Yolanda, but the people are suffering from the bigger disaster that is the Aquino government,” Anakbayan chairperson Vencer Crisostomo said as he and other activists lit candles to remember the estimated 7,000 people killed by the typhoon that hit Luzon on Nov. 8, 2013.

“Instead of helping the victims, the government pocketed the funds allotted for the victims and paved the way for private contractors and big businesses to profit from the misery of our kababayan,” Crisostomo said, noting that the official death toll 6,340 with 1,061 others still missing.

“The continuing neglect for the welfare of victims of Yolanda shows the heartlessness of the Aquino ‘tuwid na daan [straight path]’ government,” he said, noting that the government allowed aid donations to sit idle in trust accounts while disaster victims begged for assistance. 

The Commission on Audit discovered at least P382 million in local and foreign cash donations for the victims kept idle and locked in the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s bank accounts while P923 million were kept idle in the bank accounts of the Office of Civil Defense. 

Recently, the government admitted that funds for Yolanda victims have been kept idle in bank accounts and have yet to be released like the P18-billion “emergency shelter assistance” funds. 

“The failed Yolanda rehabilitation, aimed to benefit big business and corrupt bureaucrats, is proof of the failure of the [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation]-type model of ‘disaster management’ and ‘disaster resiliency.’ Is this what they are set to adopt for the region?” he asked. 

“Biktima na nga, binibiktima pa ulit. Hindi na nga tinulungan, ginagamit pa [Victims are being victimized again. They got no help and yet they are being used],” Crisostomo said, stressing that Aquino and [then Interior Secretary Mar] Roxas “should be jailed for their crimes.”

Senatorial candidate and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, whose district includes the regional center of Tacloban City which was flattened by Yolanda, urged that the Aquino administration immediately release more than P1 billion in disaster funds that have not been released.

He said the unused disaster fund amounted to P1.308 billion as of December 2014 and it can still go a long way to ease the suffering of people who had already been victimized by Yolanda.

It is unacceptable that the OCD, a calamity agency of the Department of National Defense, could give the “lousy excuse” that it could not release funds for victims because they cannot comply with requirements.

“Common sense dictates that people are in dire need of these calamity funds, therefore the OCD should do away with its stringent requirements,” Romualdez said.

“I propose to overhaul the present system to address the inefficiencies by making the process keep it short and simple as malasakit [compassion] to the calamity victims,” Romualdez, a lawyer and president of the Philippine Constitution Association, added.

Romualdez, head of the House Independent Bloc, had earlier lamented the CoA finding that OCD had a “very low” utilization of calamity funds which include P384.95 million in foreign and local donations and P923 million in quick relief funds, or a total of P1.308 billion, as of December 2014. 

“By its nature and character, calamity funds need not stay long in bank accounts to earn interest because these are for emergency purposes. We should remove the obstacles so that genuine help will reach the victims of calamity as soon as possible,” Romualdez said.

Even government projects that managed to get off the ground are being questioned by the very people the projects are supposed to help.

More than 1,000 Yolanda survivors held a prayer rally at the Deparment of Public Works and Highways in Tacloban City on Friday to question the P7.9-billion tide embankment project in the city because it will again displace more than 14,000 families.

“We joined the prayer rally to voice our concern on the tide embankment. We were not consulted about the project, we were just told that our houses will be affected by the tide embankment which means we have to go,” said Nestor Deveyra, 57-year-old vendor of local rice cakes. 

“But DPWH representatives cannot even tell us where we should transfer. We have been asking our mayor to provide in-city resettlement. Our jobs are here and my children, two in college and one in high school, are all studying in Tacloban. 

“If they move us away from Tacloban, it will be impossible for me to find job and I fear that my children will stop schooling. I don’t want that to happen,” Deveyra said.

Some 30 poor people together with Urban Poor Associates and Catholic priest Robert Reyes met with DPWH Eastern Visayas regional director Rolando Asis to discuss the tide embankment.

Denis Murphy, UPA executive director, said, “the government must listen to the people and must ensure that the people are part of the decision making that concerns their welfare.”

“Technology has limits. We do not solve problems through quick-fix technologies. We have to befriend, respect and defend nature. The government is rushing programs that may be short-sighted,” said Reyes, the UPA spiritual adviser. 

“We will be needing more time, than building embankments, because people now are on a defensive mode to protect us from nature. That is why we need scientists, who are not corporate in nature. Scientists who are genuinely pro-nature and pro-people,” Reyes added.

Topics: PNOY , Yolanda survivors , Funds
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