From the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery

“Six months after Yolanda, the challenge remains daunting. Without mental reservation, I dare say, we are on track in giving back normalcy to the lives of the survivors,”  Secretary Panfilo M. Lacson responded when asked about the progress of the rehabilitation efforts. Lacson was appointed by the President as the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (PARR) last December 10, 2013.

The Post Disaster Needs Assessment or PDNA is required by the NDRRMC Law to be the basis for PARR’s preparation and submission of a Master Plan for rehabilitation.  However, Lacson believes this should not delay rehabilitation efforts.

Pending submission of the PDNA by the Office of the Civil Defense, PARR simultaneously undertook several efforts.  This includes the formation of cluster groups consisting of government line agencies to consolidate the plans and programs of the public sector. There are five clusters each headed by a cabinet secretary  namely: (1) Infrastructure, headed by Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson; (2) Resettlement, headed by Vice President Jejomar Binay in his capacity as  Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council Chairman; (3) Livelihood, headed by Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Gregory Domingo; (4) Social Services, headed by Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman; and (5) Support, co-chaired by Department of Budget and Management Secretary Butch Abad and National Economic Development Authority Director General Arsenio Balisacan.

Along with the PDNA, the consolidated clusters’ action plans and programs will form part of the Master Plan.  The Infrastructure cluster has already submitted their action plan and program to PARR.

Lacson advised the provincial governors and the Tacloban City mayor to come up with their own provincial and city rehabilitation plans.  Subject to vetting by PARR and the Cluster Groups, Lacson intends to submit to the President for his approval and eventual directive to the National Government Agencies to commence full and massive implementation in the areas along the Yolanda corridor that are prepared to absorb the resources.

Cebu and Leyte have already presented their Provincial Plans on April 25 and 26, respectively.  Tacloban City is scheduled to present their plan on May 10.  The Provinces of Biliran and Samar have submitted their Provincial Plans and are due to present them within May.

Eighteen (18) local government units (LGUs) and six (6) line agencies have submitted information to PARR about their projects.  588 projects are in the pre-pipeline, pipeline or validated stage; 130 projects are on-going; and 28 projects have been completed.  From the private sector, forty eight (48) companies and non-government organizations (NGOs) have submitted data to PARR showing that 1,338 projects are in the pre-pipeline, pipeline or validated stage; 275 projects are on-going; and 195 projects have been completed.

Public and private sector efforts

Lacson described the public and private sector collaboration in the rehabilitation efforts as “Very encouraging.”

On housing, more than 200,000 housing units need to be resettled and/or rebuilt.  Of these, 182,843 are currently in the pipeline, both by the National Housing Authority and private sponsors. As of today, there are 14,873 ongoing constructions while 130 units have been completed by private donors and turned over to beneficiaries.

On education, 5,333 classrooms have been committed out of 18,456 classrooms that need to be repaired and rebuilt.   The private sector has completed 51 units, and is constructing 165 others.

On health, there are 224 validated projects to rebuild and repair health centers and hospitals.  The Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center in Tacloban will be co-funded by ICTSI’s P250 million donation to the Department of Health (DOH).  On 22 April 2014, the DOH, City of Tacloban and the SM Foundation signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA), with PARR as witness, for the rehabilitation of the Tacloban City Hospital. The Red Cross has also signed an MoA to repair 35 barangay health units.

On livelihood, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has distributed materials for 12,000 fishing boats. Private sector groups have donated 877 fishing vessels.

According to Lacson, “among the immediate priorities of PARR are providing jobs and livelihood programs for the Yolanda survivors, as well as stabilizing the prices of commodities in Yolanda affected communities.”

In line with this, PARR held a consultative meeting with a conglomeration of affiliated and independent unions in the public and private sector, as well as from the association of informal workers in the transport and agricultural sector, composed of Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLINK), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), National Confederation of Labor (NCL), and Nagkakaisang Progresibong Manggagawa (Sentro).  These groups coallesced into Tingog or “The Voice”, whose aim is to pursue a collective agenda for Yolanda-hit areas.

In compliance with President Aquino’s directive, PARR launched an expanded operation that aims to convert six (6) million felled coconut trees into usable lumber while putting the rest of the seven (7) million felled trees located in unreachable terrain into “controlled decay” to prevent rhino beetle infestation.

As of May 2, 2014, chainsaw operations in three (3) Yolanda regions resulted in 277,039 cut/processed trees that yielded 26.078 million board feet of coconut lumber.  Aside from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), the DND/AFP shall provide additional manpower and equipment; and the DSWD shall fund the Cash for Work component of the initiative.

The DTI will take the lead on how to market the coco lumber to be generated by the program. Other companies and organizations that pledged to support in the clearing operations include oil companies, such as Petron and Shell, United Nations Development Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization and the American group named Team Rubicon.

LGUs’ infrastructures

“In recognition of the need to empower LGUs, PARR recommended the direct downloading to the LGUs the needed funds to rebuild municipal town halls, public market and other civic centers,” Lacson said.

Following such recommendation, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary made releases in the amount of P600 million for such purposes.

Other efforts

Through PARR’s coordination efforts, the Yolanda Multi-Donor Fund was created under the Philippine Disaster Relief Foundation (PDRF).  The Yolanda Multi-Donor Fund is managed by members of the private sector, which include CEOs from top Philippine Corporations.  The Yolanda-Haiyan Multidonor Fund under PDRF now amounts to $1,041,130.77 or P46,373,055.62.

PARR Secretary Lacson clarified that “PARR does not hold or manage any funds.  However, donations made by private sector participants which are coordinated with PARR enables us to facilitate the efficient allocation of resources to Yolanda affected communities, especially to those areas that are not getting enough attention or aid.”

Challenges

During a recent Resettlement Cluster Meeting, PARR discovered that there is a lack of available lands for housing units that need to be delivered to Yolanda-affected families.  There are only 26,155 generated lots against a total of 216,966 housing units needed to be built. The balance of 190,811 lots will require another 1,169.8 hectares. According to Lacson, “PARR is trying to address this shortage problem by proposing for the issuance of Presidential Proclamations over lands under public domain for resettlement.   PARR is also recommending the allocation of funds for the acquisition of private lands through expropriation or direct purchase.”

Through the collaborative efforts of different agencies, which include: PhilVolcs, NAMRIA, Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), PARR is preparing multi-hazard maps covering the entire Yolanda avenue.  “In order to be more accurate the available thematic hazard maps will have to be increased in scale from the present 1:50,000 to a more ideal 1:10,000.  With these maps as bases, we will give primacy to the LGUs concerned to declare the safe zones, high risk zones and the controlled zones,” Lacson said.

PARR also met with Tanggol Kalikasan, representatives from Kaisahan and Legal Rights and National Resources Center Inc, Environmental Legal Assistance Center, NGOs for Fisheries Reform Inc, Save the Fisheries Now Network, and the Alternative Law Group to discuss issues particularly on the “no dwelling zone” policy.  Lacson said that, “we think it is impractical to adopt a strict “no build zone” policy.  Hence, PARR recommended distinguishing zones into safe, high risk and controlled—based on the circumstances of each area.”

As if the resource and operational challenges to rehabilitation efforts are not enough, another obstacle appears to have emerged from people with selfish agenda—with some propagandists staging protests or rallies, or circulating false information.

Lacson takes a strong stance against this, saying: “while we welcome constructive criticisms toward our efforts to rehabilitate the Yolanda stricken areas and seek to hasten the process of helping the victims get back on their feet and live normal lives, we are likewise cynical of those whose agenda includes misleading our people to believe that government is not sensitive enough to alleviate the suffering of the survivors.  We detest politicians and political groups who strive to put blinders in exploiting the vulnerability of victims of Yolanda.  We appeal to them not to subdue their conscience while advancing their selfish political agenda at the expense of government and eventually the people along the Yolanda avenue.”

Asked whether these challenges affect PARR, Lacson firmly responds “I remain undeterred in accomplishing a thankless, yet noble task given to me by the President. Needless to say, the sacrifices that I and my staff and all the nameless volunteers and donors will reap the reward of sleeping soundly at night knowing that we shall have become part of a difficult task of rebuilding and rehabilitating the areas hit by the worst disaster of all time.”