PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to help Tacloban get back on its feet as former mayor Alfred Romualdez slammed the remnants of the Aquino administration for “misleading” the public into believing that the city misspent close to P1 billion in ‘‘Yolanda’’ funds.
Duterte met with Romualdez and his wife, Tacloban City Mayor Cristina Romualdez, in Malacañang last Wednesday and was briefed on the status of the thousands of Yolanda survivors, who up to now remain in bunkhouses or are living with their relatives.
Romualdez said thousands of victims of Super Typhoon ‘‘Yolanda’’ remain homeless because the permanent homes built for them by the Aquino administration were substandard and did not have provisions for power and water.
“Shortly after the meeting with President Duterte, a misleading article came out online and the slant was obviously to discourage President Duterte from helping the Yolanda survivors and to make the people of Tacloban hate us,” Romualdez told the Manila Standard.
Romualdez said compared to other towns and cities whose officials were allies of former President Benigno Aquino III and were given financial assistance 45 to 60 days after Yolanda flattened Eastern Visayas, Tacloban was given assistance 14 months after the killer typhoon struck.
Romualdez said there was no way the city of Tacloban could have misspent the funds because it was the national government that pre-approved the list of recipients and allocated and released the P700 million for emergency shelter assistance (ESA) and the rest of the close to P300 million went to infrastructure projects.
“All we did was implement the national government’s directive based on the pre-approved list provided to us. And we finished the task in about two weeks. We worked as hard and fast because the ESA had already lost its meaning of being an emergency because it came 14 months after the fact while the other presidential allies got it in 45 days. The delays or any misappropriation cannot be attributed to us,” Romualdez said.
He said the ESA funds were released by the Aquino government “close to elections.”
Contrary to reports, Romualdez said the city held an “exit conference” with the Commission on Audit, which cleared the city of any misappropriations or wrongdoing.
Romualdez said the President deemed it urgent to find out what happened to the rehabilitation efforts on Yolanda as the chief executive made it a point to insert the schedule in between two important meetings—with US official John Kerry and the first National Security Meeting.
The President, whose roots are from Samar-Leyte province, assured the Romualdezes that help will come.
Romualdez said he informed the President that the Yolanda survivors were still living in “no build zones” because the permanent homes were without water.
Duterte, he said, was made aware that Aquino has refused to guarantee a P3 billion concessional loan offered by the World Bank to Tacloban City to rehabilitate and reconstruct the city after Super Typhoon Yolanda.
World Bank and government documents show the package was 90-percent grant and 10-percent loan for the rehabilitation of Tacloban City, meaning the government would pay less than P300 million of the total funding of P3 billion.
Aquino’s refusal to give a sovereign guarantee that only he can grant prompted the World Bank to withdraw the offer, Romualdez said.
He said the fund would have paid for the rehabilitation and construction of hospitals, public markets, a multi-purpose evacuation center, the city hall and shore protection, dike construction and rehabilitation of drainage systems, among others.
The loan was offered by the World Bank in early 2014, the former mayor said.
On July 24, 2014, World Bank senior urban specialist Christopher Pablo wrote to Romualdez updating the mayor on the status of the loan.
“We have informed LBP [Land Bank of the Philippines] of your interest and their Lending Center will be in touch with your office shortly and advise you on the documentary requirements,” Pablo told Romualdez, adding that funding could begin by August 2014 once the financing arrangements were finalized with the Finance and Budget departments.
Pablo said the LBP was also coordinating the Public Works and Highways Department for technical assistance to local government units.
“As soon as this formal agreement between the DPWH and LBP is reached, Tacloban may coordinate with LBP on specific engineering support that could be sought from DPWH,” Pablo said.
Romualdez immediately formed the World Bank Task Force composed of select employees of the city government who would spearhead all activities related to the World Bank loan such as securing the necessary requirements, coordinating with World Bank and other banking institutions.
All the required documents were submitted to the LBP, the World Bank and the Office of the Presidential Action on Recovery and Rehabilitation headed then by former Senator Panfilo Lacson Jr.
From Jan. 7 to 8, 2015, the World Bank team from Manila, headed by Pablo, paid a courtesy call on Romualdez and conducted site inspections, Irene Chiu, World Bank Task Force chairman, said.
But on Aug. 25, 2015, the World Bank’s Pablo told Romualdez the national government failed to comply with the requirements, including a sovereign guarantee, and that it would have to cancel the program.
Duterte vowed to look into complaints that politics had hampered rehabilitation efforts in Tacloban, Romualdez said.
“The national government agencies refused to provide the homes with water amenities because the water utility was controlled by President Aquino’s allies. Who would live in a house without water?” Romualdez told Duterte.
Romualdez said the permanent homes have become white elephants.