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Rebuilding life

/ 12:32 AM December 12, 2013

I visited Aklan last week on the invitation of Rep. Ted Haresco to witness the groundbreaking for a new concrete bridge. The new bridge is important not only because it will improve traffic from Kalibo to Caticlan and then on to Boracay but also because it signaled new life after the devastating effects of Supertyphoon “Yolanda/Haiyan.”

There was confidence in building again for the future—a recognition that things must be different now. The rebuilding of the houses, buildings and infrastructure must be planned, and no longer using the haphazard approach of yore. That won’t be easy as the practical realities of this society inevitably creep through. There was no question that Ted and Aklan Gov. Joeben Miraflores want houses properly built and schools strongly constructed, but financial realities may defeat them.

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This is where the national government must step in and provide full funding for proper rebuilding, not just of the schools and public buildings but of the personal ones, too. For instance, the local government is providing GI sheets, 2×3 coco lumber, and a few nails for a new roof. A loosely nailed GI sheet flies off even in a modest storm. Even a well secured GI sheet is at risk.

Some typhoon-resistant buildings designed by knowledgeable architects and engineers are what’s needed. It’s something Ping Lacson may want to commission. All construction should be done by locals, and contractors should be required to hire them as a condition of being given a contract. Achieving the lowest possible cost of construction must be factored in.

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After the launch of the bridge, I, together with former finance secretary Gary Teves, who had been invited, too, attended a “Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan” conference. Already the extent of the damage has been assessed and catalogued, and the areas of priority identified. While Aklan was spared the strongest impact of Yolanda, damage was still extensive: The estimate—and I love this—was P2,811,432,119.07. I wonder what the P.07 was for. So let’s be realistic in estimates. The damage was around P2.8 billion. For a small province with a population of only about half a million, that is a lot.

There were few deaths, only 14, because the people had been warned and moved to safe locations. A credit to the governor and mayors.

For me, the worst damage was to the livelihood of the people. Fishermen lost their boats, farmers lost their crops, business people lost their sari-sari stores and car repair shops. They need these back. I would like to see this happen; it’s an area the business community can be actively involved in. Give fisherman new bancas and fish nets, give farmers seedlings and fertilizer, but move them into fast gestation, higher value crops. You can buy cheaper rice from Thailand and Vietnam. Rebuild sari-sari stores and provide the initial stock for free (consumer-products companies and owners of large supermarket chains can help here; Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola are already doing it). Help people who have proved their capability to do a job, to do it again. The local government can help by making it easy, quick and simple to register a business. With no bribe needed.

But back to the bridge. It widens the existing bridge (which will be strengthened as well) to speed up traffic on the only connection between Kalibo and Caticlan, and on to Boracay. The road is also being widened and a new coastal one is being built that will in the longer term reduce travel time. But that widened road must be usable as a road. The Department of Public Works and Highways is widening roads nationwide, but the ones I’ve seen are ones where the new lane makes a convenient parking lot or a drying place for palay, completely defeating the whole purpose of widening the road. It’s something that’s easy to stop with a little of that extremely rare commodity: political will. All it needs is a mayor and a police chief who care.

Kalibo airport is already a 24-hour open international airport, so tourists will be able to get to Boracay directly, quickly, effortlessly. That attracts. But the intent is not only Boracay but other beaches and locales, too. To make Panay a major tourist destination because Caticlan will eventually be an international airport, too. But the so-called “international airport” is an international disgrace. Passengers have to sit on the floor—yes, the floor. It’s not because there are no chairs. There’s just nowhere to put them; the building is too small. And too old. Planes have to circle for 30 minutes or so because there’s nowhere to park; the apron is too small. And there are no air bridges, so you have to walk in the rain.

The plan for a new airport has been sitting in the notoriously nonacting Department of Transportation and Communications for two years, so let’s hope Secretary Jun Abaya, who can get things done, gets it moving now. Congress should ensure that it gets into the 2014 budget. Or maybe Secretary Rogelio Singson can use the emergency powers to contract one.

There was much else we discussed but column space limits me. Let me just say I was impressed by the indomitable spirit of the people, the desire to get back on their feet quickly and resume a normal life again, after such a terrible, terrible disaster that would defeat many other people.

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One must credit Representative Haresco, the governor and the mayor with leading in this spirit of not giving up. It’s a story replicated everywhere, so we must continue to help them.

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Why didn’t President Aquino go to the memorial service for Nelson Mandela when 70 world leaders did? Mandela represented everything his mother stood for and the Philippines strives to achieve.

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TAGS: Aklan, Boracay, Caticlan, Concrete Bridge, congress, Gov. Joeben Miraflores, Kalibo, Rep. Ted Haresco, Rogelio singson
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