The real score
Let’s recap again the magnitude of destruction wrought by “Yolanda” last year: According to data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, the supertyphoon left 6,293 dead, 1,061 missing and 28,689 injured, 1,140,332 houses destroyed or partially damaged, 13 million coconut trees felled, P19.6 billion worth of infrastructure damaged, and some 200,000 families forced to live in tents or temporary bunkhouses.
President Aquino in his State of the Nation Address last Monday said his administration “wasted no time in responding” after Yolanda flattened much of Eastern Visayas in November 2013. That portion of the speech immediately raised eyebrows, because even if Filipinos are known to quickly forget, the devastation of Yolanda, coupled with the government’s widely criticized response to it, is difficult to erase from memory.
No sooner had the President made his baffling claim than it was debunked by various fact-checkers, who simply checked things on the ground. As late as last week, about 15,000 survivors are still cramped in tents, in constant danger of exposure to the elements. More than 1,000 of them had to flee again to evacuation centers in the runup to Typhoon “Glenda” two weeks ago. The master plan for the rehabilitation of the survivors that Mr. Aquino mentioned in his speech? Not only was it signed only three days before the Sona, it was also “woefully out of date,” said a consortium of international aid agencies.
When the Sona was being drafted, what were the President’s advisers thinking when they included apparently inflated assertions, perhaps even misstatements, in his most important address of the year, particularly at this time when his trust ratings had been badly eroded by the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program? Who vetted the figures, numbers and statements in the Sona? What sort of information did the President’s advisers and speechwriters have on hand, that the assertions they would make out of such data would exhibit great disparity from what the survivors and the rest of us know?
The phased rehabilitation plans for Tacloban City, Samar, Eastern Samar, Cebu, Iloilo and Leyte, to which Mr. Aquino said he had given the go-signal, were submitted to him by Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson on July 1, and were signed only on July 25. Since no budget could be released before the projected P170.7-billion plan was approved by the President, the months in between have been a patchwork of ad hoc services and rebuilding activities in wheezes and spurts, all designed to ameliorate—but not address in any definitive, institutional way—the future of the devastated communities. Whatever large-scale rehabilitation efforts are in the pipeline, they can begin only now—eight months after Yolanda.
That disheartening timeline alone belies the claim that the government acted with dispatch in the wake of the disaster. Eight months to draw up the first blueprint on how to rebuild a crucial economic hub—the Eastern Visayas region, home to more than 16 million people, contributes about 17.4 percent to the country’s gross domestic product—is unconscionably long. Yolanda’s impact was felt by as many as 171 local government units; if it took all this time to come up with a rebuilding plan for the six worst-hit areas, think of the others in the long list, which conceivably can end up waiting for years before the resources of the national government are able to reach them.
Of course, approval is one thing, and implementation is another. Given the glacial pace that the government has exhibited so far, the onus is on it to show that it can fast-track redevelopment in the affected areas. In terms of providing classrooms alone, some 2,313 new rooms have to be built and 17,757 others repaired. The thousands of families still living in tents need to be moved to safer and more permanent housing. The larger community will have to be provided social services and livelihood opportunities. And with Tacloban and other coastal areas now on the frontline of a terrifying new era of supertyphoons, local government units have to commit to upholding new zoning laws and better-designed security precautions to minimize future casualty risks.
Fudging these hard truths is not the way for any responsible president to go. Is Mr. Aquino so badly served by his officials that he is not being told the real score? Or is the government actually flailing in the dark?
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