Aquino admin overwhelmed by foreign aid | Inquirer Opinion
Analysis

Aquino admin overwhelmed by foreign aid

/ 02:26 AM November 25, 2013

Two weeks after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” reduced Tacloban City to a rubble, reminiscent of the devastation of Hiroshima by the atomic bomb in 1945, the Philippines was swamped by an outpouring of foreign aid on a scale that choked its capacity to distribute relief goods to the storm’s hapless victims.

On the weekend, President Aquino’s administration rattled off to the disaster-stricken Filipinos a triumphalist announcement that world leaders had offered to help in the reconstruction of devastated communities in central Visayas (mainly Leyte, Samar and Panay islands).

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A Malacañang spokesperson boasted that the President had talked to a number of world leaders, including the heads of state (no less) of Mexico, Australia, Japan and Israel, as well as US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.

“All of them always ended [the call] saying that if there’s anything else that we can do to help you, we will be happy to be help,” said the spokesperson, adding that Mr. Aquino was “very thankful for all the expressions of all our neighbors [who] have been very quick to offer help.”

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It was not because the President sought their assistance that they pledged to help in concrete terms. Their action was spontaneous after they understood from reports mainly from foreign journalists who parachuted into the disaster areas days ahead of the President.

Mr. Aquino flew to Tacloban City three days after Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) had flattened the city, only to berate local officials for not doing their job of providing relief to their constituents.

He also disputed reports from United Nations field workers (who where the first to provide relief goods and services to the victims before the central government agencies could establish their presence) that some 10,000 people had died in Tacloban.

From Day One of Yolanda’s landfall, it has mostly been foreign aid that provided relief to Filipinos. By contrast, what the government put into the pipeline of aid was a pittance.

Epic proportions

The international community, through video footage taken by independent foreign journalists on the ground, quickly grasped that the typhoon had visited the Philippines with a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions.

The crisis immobilized Philippine government response to its stricken people’s basic needs—water, food, clothing, shelter, medicines and medical care.

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Thus, it was utterly irrelevant and insensitive for the administration to crow about the humanitarian generosity of many of the world leaders who instantly offered and pledged aid. They saw the government’s infrastructure, and national and local governing apparatus as having been wrecked by the tsunami-like impact of Yolanda.

Capacity devastated

In some ways, it can be said that the supertyphoon devastated the capacity of a government to provide basic services to its distressed people.

Speaking of donor fatigue to developing societies, rich countries this time opened their purses because the Philippine calamity was an extraordinary once in a lifetime event that required massive assistance to enable this country to recover from the havoc wrought on its economy by the typhoon and rescue its teeming poor from going deeper into poverty.

The concern of the donors is now over their donations meant for rehabilitation going into the pockets of corrupt bureaucracies and politicians.

Bank commitment

The World Bank announced on Saturday that it had offered $480 million in additional financial assistance to help in the rehabilitation of communities ravaged by the typhoon. The amount is in addition to the $500-million credit line that the bank has made available to the Philippines, bringing the lender’s package for disaster relief to nearly $1 billion.

“With overwhelming demands, the relief, recovery and reconstruction effort will take time,” said World Bank’s Kim. “The World Bank Group is committed to support the Philippine government’s efforts to rebuild people’s lives no matter how long it takes.”

The World Bank said Kim discussed the additional financial assistance with Mr. Aquino in a phone call to the President last week. Kim told him that the $480-million concessional loan could be delivered in a “few weeks.”

According to the World Bank, the additional assistance will fund the National Community Driven Development Project, which can be used for emergency response. The project can immediately support typhoon-ravaged communities rebuild livelihood-related infrastructure, such as water, rural roads, schools and clinics.

 

Absorptive capacity

As international aid commitments flowed in, it was not clear how the government can handle these inputs and whether its bureaucratic machinery has the absorptive capacity to deliver these assets to the devastated regions, for which there are now bottlenecks blocking their speedy distribution.

All what we can hear about the capacity of the government to clear the choke points in the distribution system is an appeal from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for greater patience and public understanding amid persistent complaints about the slow provisions of relief to typhoon survivors

Relief items donated by civic groups and business organizations are bottled up in the DSWD for repacking for redistribution—a process in which the department has been allegedly relabeling the goods as a largesse from government.

The DSWD is reported to be embroiled with the Department of National Defense over who is in charge of relief distribution following the slow response of the military in providing immediate assistance in communications, and facilities and transport of basic relief goods and services.

The first thing Mr. Aquino did when he appeared in Tacloban was to pick a fight with the mayor for failing to help his people when disaster struck.

The President went to Leyte in search of a scapegoat. The blame game continues to be relentless.

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TAGS: Aquino administration, David Cameron, Jim Yong Kim, Relief goods, tacloban city, Yolanda aid, Yolanda Survivors, Yolanda Victims
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