Five years have passed since the strongest typhoon in history smashed into Eastern Visayas and yet to this day, the victims of the tragedy are still hounded not only by the images of the deluge and the ruins of its aftermath, but also by the greater disaster of inequity and injustice foisted upon them.
As another anniversary of the devastation wrought by super typhoon “Yolanda” came to pass yesterday, survivors could only recall with vividness how they came close to starvation, as food supplies were washed away by the flood, forcing them to literally wail for help as choppers hovered overhead. Reports emanating from the disaster areas said it took several days before relief goods and medical personnel began arriving in the desolated places.
When government officials arrived much later, they kept hopes up for the promised assistance, while those who were still able wandered around in search of missing family members. When the deluge cleared somewhat, around 7,000 people were believed to have perished, mostly from Leyte and Samar, while damage to infrastructure and other sectors was estimated to have reached more than P89 billion.
While bearing the pain of their loss, what probably inflicted greater hurt on the survivors was how the relief and rehabilitation efforts were conducted by those in authority.
Figures gathered over a year after the calamity were reportedly used to campaign for aid from donors worldwide. Sad to say, however, hundreds of millions of pesos in funds intended for the relief and rehabilitation of disaster victims allegedly did not reach the intended beneficiaries.
No less than Sen. Panfilo Lacson, appointed by then President Noynoy Aquino to be the overall manager and coordinator of the rehabilitation and recovery efforts, lamented the lack of government budgetary support in helping the distressed communities get back on their feet even as billions of pesos in donations poured in from around the world.
He recalled funding bottlenecks that hampered his work, especially in Leyte and Samar, which were the hardest hit provinces. A year later, he tendered his resignation, complaining how the budget department, then headed by Secretary Florencio Abad, “released funds in piecemeal and trickles.”
An investigation, we believe, is therefore in order on how the multibillion-peso funds allotted for rehabilitation and reconstruction were spent during the term of former President Aquino, whose tepid response in the aftermath of the super typhoon can aptly be called criminal negligence and a slap on the faces of thousands of “Yolanda’s” victims.
The Duterte presidency should consider this seriously and hold those responsible answerable to the people. It should also ensure the culpability of Aquino and his minions who cold-bloodedly pillaged public funds intended for the victims.
Irregularities were likewise reported during the implementation of the Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) initiated by the previous administration, such as rotting relief packs in Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) warehouses, absence or delayed distribution of Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) and overpriced bunkhouses.
Despite the massive fund flow of P90 billion released by the Aquino administration in 2015, the DSWD, during the time of Judy Taguiwalo, still sought additional fund to be given to 200,000 ESA beneficiaries as there was scarcely anything left in the combined government and private donations.
If we may recall, during the presidential campaign in 2016, then candidate Rodrigo Duterte had asked Liberal Party standard bearer Mar Roxas, who was Aquino’s Interior secretary during the tragedy, to explain how the billions of pesos given by foreign donors were spent.
Sad to say, the Aquino administration’s silence on the matter proved deafening.
According to the records of the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, the Philippines received a total of $386.2 million in foreign aid, 86 percent of which, or $330.8 million, were received by non-government organizations and multilateral agencies.
Out of the total amount, about $26.9 million in cash and $28.5 million in non-cash donations were received by the national government.
When the nation remembered the third anniversary of the tragedy in 2016, close to 6,000 families in Tacloban had yet to be given permanent housing. Turf wars among the local governments were seen as the cause of delay in the completion of the housing project.
Of the more than 14,000 families needing housing units, only about 8,000 units had been constructed and over 5,000 awarded and turned over to beneficiaries. Half of the 8,000 were constructed, completed and turned over only during the Duterte administration.
This only shows the Aquino administration turned over half of completed units more than two years after “Yolanda,” while the Duterte administration did it in only two months.
To this, we could only say, it’s because he’s an Aquino and the man at the helm now is a Duterte.