PHILIPPINES - Militant lawmakers in the Philippines said Malacanang should apply for a debt relief, saying the money saved from debt servicing would mean a lot in the relief and rehabilitation efforts in disaster-hit areas including the provinces recently ravaged by Supertyphoon "Yolanda."
Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate said in a joint media statement that the Aquino administration should "ask for debt moratoriums at the minimum or a debt write-off at the maximum so that the country would be given ample funds and time to rehabilitate."
The lawmakers said that this year, the total foreign borrowings have hit 2 trillion pesos (S$57.2 billion) and the budget for debt servicing is 333.9 billion pesos.
"We should review the national budget and see if we can free more funds intended for debt servicing so that these can be rechanneled to the rehabilitation of devastated areas. Cases in point are the debt management fund which is 85.18 billion pesos and the international commitments fund which is 4.8 billion pesos," Colmenares said.
He said that based on his calculations, the national government would be able to raise 125 billion by suspending its foreign debt obligations, which "would go a long way in the long-term rehabilitation of areas affected by calamities."
Colmenares said the savings would be so huge that it would not only benefit Yolanda victims but also those affected by the Bohol earthquake and typhoon "Pablo."
"We ask foreign and local banks to write off the interest payment of 333.9 billion pesos for the year and to declare a moratorium on the principal payments. The international community should understand that we need all the funds we have to help our countrymen rise up as soon as possible and we hope that other countries will support our call," Colmenares said.
Zarate said he also welcomed the putting up of a rehabilitation fund as proposed by leaders of the Senate but that it should be scrutinised to ensure it would not become just another source of pork barrel.
He said the rehabilitation work needed an allocation of at least 100 billion pesos.
"Aside from the rehabilitation of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure this fund must also be used for housing and livelihood projects for the comprehensive effort to help our countrymen," Zarate said.
He said the auditing for the fund should also be very strict to ensure that it will go to the people and not to the pocket of some lawmakers.
"At any rate we must ensure that this proposal will not be used to make another form of pork barrel because many unscrupulous politicians are now using the Yolanda disaster to justify and still retain the graft-ridden pork barrel system," Zarate said.
ICRC reaches remote areas
As this developed, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it has started reaching remote areas in Samar-particularly Guiuan, Mercedes and Salcedo-where Yolanda swept away shoreline communities.
Pascal Mauchle, head of ICRC delegation in the Philippines said that as of Tuesday, the aid group has already provided food assistance to more than 50,000 people.
"This is only the start," he said.
Mauchle said ICRC planned to reach Homonhon and Suluan-two small isolated islands near Guiuan-by boat to serve nearly 9,000 people more.
"We'll distribute food and other essential items including tarpaulins, blankets, mats, towels, jerrycans and hygiene items for 8,500 people," he said.
Mauchle described Guiuan, where nearly 48,000 people lived before Yolanda, as among the hardest-hit places in Visayas, where "most structures were massively damaged and the population was cut off from vital supplies."
"Over the past week, ICRC staffs have been working around the clock in Samar to get some basic infrastructure operating. They have also assessed the most pressing needs: food, safe drinking water and basic health care," Mauchle said.
Aside from food, Mauchle said the ICRC and the Philippine National Red Cross have started distributing medicines such as antibiotics and painkillers to devastated areas in Visayas.
"For its relief operation in response to Typhoon Haiyan in Samar, the ICRC has launched an initial appeal for CHF15 million (over $16 million) to aid 180,000 people for a period of three months," he said.
The Japanese government, on the other hand, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said it recently turned over relief items worth 60 million yen (US$600,780) to the towns of Basey and Guiuan in Samar; Palo, Tanauan and San Isidro towns, and Ormoc and Tacloban cities in Leyte.
The relief items are in the form of 2,000 sleeping mats, 620 plastic sheets, 500 tents, 20 generators, 20 power cord reels, 20 water purifiers, and 69,980 bottled water, a JICA statement said.
The distribution of goods to other remote towns will continue for the rest of the week, according to JICA chief representative in the Philippines, Takahiro Sasaki.
"We are determined to help the typhoon victims get back on their feet and recover from this tragedy in ways we can," Sasaki said.
He said that besides the basic needs, the Japanese government dispatched medical personnel from the Japan disaster relief medical team to provide medical assistance to the victims.
"Japan and the Philippines are both facing extreme weather and disaster realities. And we will try to help the Philippines address long-term efforts to address disaster management," Sasaki added.