Is the Philippine government's calamity fund drying up?
When President Benigno Aquino III's spokesman Edwin Lacierda declared last week that the government had "lots of money" to respond to the emergency caused by the earthquake devastation in Central Visayas, he was apparently kidding.
The Aquino administration has a total of 461.4 billion pesos (S$13.2 billion) it can tap in case of calamities and related emergencies, based on this year's national budget.
Part of the total package is the annual calamity fund of 7.5 billion pesos (S$215 million), which is listed under "special purpose funds," a set of lump-sum appropriations described by critics as presidential pork barrel.
During his state visit to South Korea late last week, however, Aquino told reporters that only 1.37 billion pesos (S$39.4 million) was left of the calamity fund. But survivors of the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 180 people and destroyed centuries-old churches in Cebu and Bohol provinces on October 15 have complained that they have not seen government presence in their towns since the quake struck.
In Bohol, epicentre of the earthquake, entire towns had no electricity and water and residents claimed they received no help from the government during the first two days of the emergency.
When help finally arrived in one village on the third day, the aid consisted of two sacks containing 20 packages of rice and groceries, not enough for the 600 people in the community.
Authorities explained that the destruction of roads and bridges had made it difficult for the government to reach remote towns and villages. They said some repaired bridges and roads were reopened to traffic on Friday, speeding up delivery of relief to devastated towns.