Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Sunday blamed the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for not releasing fast enough the P167.8-billion budget approved by President Aquino for the rehabilitation of areas devastated by Supertyphoon "Haiyan" nearly two years ago.
The Aquino administration's efforts came under spotlight after Chaloka Beyani, a United Nations special rapporteur, said in widely publicized remarks that the government had not done enough for those left homeless by the supertyphoon internationally known as "Haiyan."
Roughly 2,000 families have been forced to remain in evacuation camps and shanties in appalling conditions without electricity or water since Yolanda swept through Eastern Visayas on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving more than 6,300 dead and 1,000 missing and uprooting 4.1 million people.
Official government records showed only 2.5 percent of the targeted 21,012 permanent housing in the worst-hit Eastern Visayas region were ready as of June. The National Housing Authority reported only 542 houses were completed. About 4,900 houses are in different phases of construction. In two towns on Samar island and six towns on Leyte island, not a single house had been built 20 months after the typhoon struck.
"I could not agree more on the report of the UN rapporteur that government efforts were not good enough," said Lacson, who served as presidential adviser on the rehabilitation and recovery in areas devastated by the supertyphoon. He said Beyani's assessment was "an understatement."
In blaming the DBM, Lacson cited a report by civil society group Social Watch that the government had released only P84 billion for the rehabilitation of provinces struck by calamities, including Yolanda.
Lacson resigned in February after submitting a comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery plan for which Aquino approved a budget of P167.8 billion.
Without sweeping authority to carry out the massive task and control over the purse, Lacson quit, saying other agencies were better equipped to handle the job.
14 provinces, 6 regions
The budget covers reconstruction of 14 provinces in six regions. For 2014, the DBM released over P50 billion and was set to release another P80 billion this year and P35 billion for 2016, according to Lacson.
"The department can still catch up because the year has not yet ended," he said.
But Lacson said that based on Social Watch's report, the DBM had released only P84 billion since last year.
This means that for this year, less than P34 billion went to rehabilitation efforts for Haiyan victims, Lacson said, pointing out that the DBM releases also covered other provinces hit by calamities.
"I am blaming the DBM because its job was to release funds and the budget here was approved by the President. The department should comply. So why did it not release the funds?" Lacson said.
If the DBM released less than P34 billion of the approved P80 billion for the rehabilitation efforts this year, this showed it was "lagging behind its schedule," he said.
Lacson said that before he stepped down as presidential adviser, he reminded Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to ensure that he would allocate the P80 billion in Haiyan funds set for this year and that Abad told him he would look for funds to allocate it.
But Lacson said he told Abad there was no need to do so because he had learned from the Office of the National Treasurer that the government had P350 billion in savings from last year's 2014 national budget.
Lacson recalled that the DBM initially failed to include an allocation for Yolanda's rehabilitation when the 2015 national budget was firmed up by the executive.
No budget item
He recalled that during a "budget call" in May 2014, which he attended, he realized there was no budget item for the Haiyan rehabilitation.
"I told Secretary Abad to put in even P1 for Yolanda rehabilitation because there is a Supreme Court ruling that said a budget cannot be augmented if there was no budget item for it," Lacson said, adding that Abad told him he would put a P1-billion item for rehabilitation and he did so.
"My conclusion at that time was that the rehabilitation was not important. Because how could you forget to put an item for rehabilitation for Haiyan if it's important. And to think we were then in the thick of rehabilitation efforts," he said. He noted the UN concern on the government's slow rehabilitation efforts, pointing out that the United Nations mobilized international assistance for the initiatives.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma on Sunday said the government was continuing to focus on building permanent, safe and decent homes for the Haiyan victims.
"Government agencies like the Departments of Social Welfare and Development, Public Works and Highways and National Housing Authority, as well as concerned local governments, have not stopped responding to the needs of the people in a bid to help bring back normalcy to their lives," Coloma said in an interview over state radio.
He said there would be additional funding for Haiyan rehabilitation efforts in the Palace-proposed P3-trillion budget for 2016.
"We assure the UN that the government will step up its determination to complete the rehabilitation efforts so as to ensure that those displaced would transfer to permanent and decent human settlements away from danger zones. It was also our objective to provide them with livelihood and jobs so they could arise from this calamity," he added.
"While the government is to be commended in terms of its immediate responses, its attention to ensuring sustainable durable solutions for IDPs (internally displaced persons) remains inadequate to date," Beyani said in a statement posted on the UN website.
Beyani was in the Philippines in late July to check on the government's handling of people displaced by Haiyan and by fighting between the military and Moro rebels in Mindanao.
Aside from falling short of safety standards, the wood-and-tin "bunkhouses" leave women and girls vulnerable to sexual abuse and early pregnancy, Beyani said.
The box-like shanties also rob the storm survivors of their "privacy and dignity" as they struggle to rebuild their lives, he said.
"Many families remain housed in collective 'bunkhouses' that do not meet necessary minimum standards for the provision of basic needs and services," he told a news conference in Manila last week.
Haiyan, the most powerful storm ever recorded to hit land, wiped out entire communities when it struck the impoverished central islands in November 2013.
Roughly 2,000 families remain in bunkhouses as well as in palm-thatch temporary homes, said Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman.
The government aims to move 70 percent of the 2,000 families into permanent concrete homes by yearend, she said.
"We are aware of the need to fast-track the permanent shelters, but there are constraints," Soliman told Agence France-Presse.
She said the lack of power and running water in some areas was due to local governments' unpaid utility bills. An increase in land prices also delayed the construction of permanent homes as land owners cashed in on government demand, she said.-With wire reports