ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
More than three months after super typhoon Yolanda wrought havoc on Leyte, Samar and other provinces in Central Visayas, the devastated cities look just slightly better than when they were a few days after the calamity struck. The affected people, hundreds of thousands of them, remain homeless, without source of income, without adequate food and basic necessities, without power and with very little hope left. Those who could not stand the daily travails, have left to find better opportunities elsewhere, seeking help from relatives in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao or living in tents in refugee centers or under bridges. Even most of the debris remain untouched.
More than four months after thousands of village folk fled the fighting between MNLF rebels and government troops in Zamboanga City, refugees remain cramped in a stadium where tents have been set up, trying to survive hunger and disease. As of last count, 84 have died from various illnesses in the cramped, filthy stadium and the refuges have not been offered even hope that they would soon be relocated to a better and more permanent place.
How many more months before the national government finally realizes the despair that is prevailing over these scenes of tragedies and disasters? How many more must die before our national leaders realize that in these places, there is no room for complacency? How many more must lose hope of ever getting back their lives together before the national government actually moves in the same pace as United Nations workers do? How many more must leave before they come up with a comprehensive rehabilitation plan that is actually doable?
It seems relief and rehabilitation is not a forte of this administration.
So much time, effort and resources are being spent on exposing and investigating alleged scams that people doubt would even lead to actual charges and jail time for the perpetrators. And not a single day spent to planning the rehabilitation of the areas devastated by the typhoon, where every wasted day means additional toll to the economy, not to mention additional sufferings for the typhoon survivors and refugees.
At least, Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma was honest enough to admit that the national government has been unable to adequately address the needs of the millions of people who suffered from the super typhoon. We all know that solution wouldn’t be possible without acceptance of the problem.
However, I am bothered by Coloma’s statement that “despite its best efforts, government is unable to adequately respond to all the needs of all the affected families and individuals.” If the government actions in the first 100 days of the disaster were its “best efforts,” how else can we expect it to solve the problems of the survivors? Is Coloma also admitting incompetence on the government’s part?
President Aquino appointed former Sen. Ping Lacson as rehabilitation czar, but left the poor guy on his own. In an interview with ABS-CBN’s Ted Failon, Lacson admitted that “nothing really much has been done” because he was given “very meager resources.”
In another interview with the media in Baguio City, Lacson complained of the complacency surrounding the government efforts in rehabilitation. “I was told that the assessment [by the National Disaster Risk and Rehabilitation Management Council] will be finished by March, so I told the President in one of our Cabinet meetings that we cannot wait that long, especially the people, the survivors cannot wait that long because they continue to suffer,” he said.
More than 100 days after disaster struck, the government is still assessing the situation? It would take the government’s bureaucrats five months to assess the damage in the disaster areas? Why don’t they just adopt the assessment made by the Asian Development Bank, which was made the basis for the $500-million emergency assistance loan granted to the Philippine government?
With that $500-million loan plus billions more from other international financial institutions and pledges of aid from foreign governments, the rehabilitation efforts in the devastated areas should be moving at a fast clip by now.
The government has to move faster to start the massive rehabilitation of Leyte, Samar and the other disaster areas. Aside from giving them shelter, the survivors should be given jobs so that they can stand on their own after a few months. Once the rebuilding starts, the survivors should be given priority in hiring, especially the coconut farmers, whose threes were destroyed by the typhoon. Fishermen should be allowed to lease boats at affordable rates, until they can buy them at a later time. The repair or construction of school buildings, health centers and livelihood centers should be given priority.
But the government will have to trust the local government units because they are the ones directly in the field and would know what are needed for the rehab. For once, let’s forget politics and focus on the work at hand.
Obviously, politics is playing a major role in delaying the immediate rehabilitation of the disaster areas. Leyte is a known opposition bailiwick ruled for decades by the Romualdez clan. The government wants the private sector to take the lead in the rehabilitation because they don’t want the Romualdezes to gain credit for it. Besides, they probably think that with the province still in ruins, the people would take it against the Romualdezes and dislodge them in the 2016 elections.
Politics reared its ugly head in the very first days of the disaster when Interior Secretary Mar Roxas tried to pressure Tacloban Mayor Alfredo Romualdez to sign a document allowing the national government to take over the functions of the city. Roxas was quoted to have said “You are a Romualdez and the President is an Aquino,” implying the political feud between the two families. When Romualdez refused, Roxas was reported to have retorted: “Bahala na kayo sa buhay n’yo.”
One hundred days later, it seems the retort remains true.