Thursday, November 27, 2014

Editorial by Ernesto T. Solidum

OPARR Ready To 
Address Yolanda Victims

The Weekly Kapihan on November 15, 2014 discussed the topic, “Typhoon Yolanda: A Year After” at NVC Carmen Hotel. The guests are Atty. Benito Salazar, Consultant Office of the Presidential Assistant on Recovery and Reconstruction (OPARR), Ms. Sorne Abada, Field Operations Head, Philippine Red Cross (PRC) and Mr. Bobby Clyde Orbista, Asst. Provincial Welfare Officer, Aklan.

A power point presentation by Atty. Salazat on super typhoon Yolanda on November 8, 2013 showed that swath of destruction covered 171 cities and municipalities in 14 provinces, caused the deaths of 6,000 people, destroyed 1.4 million houses and displace one million families. The eye of the storm made landfall at Tacloban City registered winds of 314 kilometers per hour and storm surge of 20 meters. Death toll in Tacloban reached 2,500 with many more missing.

Earlier, mass media warning of impending disaster and need to implement mass evacuation of families in coastal communities by Pres. Benigno S. Aquino apparently fell on deaf ears. The people of Samar and Leyte are used to typhoons. They thought that it was only a bluff. Only a few managed to flee to higher ground at the eleventh hour.

 Cataclysmic meltdown devoured all infra houses, buildings, power lines like match sticks. Livelihood of the people such as fishing boats, nets, fishponds, coconuts, fruit trees were obliterated or smashed to pieces.

The US Navy arrived first with its army of medical specialists and equipment to provide food relief, medical treatment and rescue operations. Massive relief and rehabilitation poured from NGO’s and GO’s in terms of monetary and material assistance. Tents and core shelters grad-ually emerged from the ruins of human tragedy.

Hope springs eternal and Filipinos are known to be resilient to adversities in life. The OPARR was created specially to address the problems of Yolanda victims. Former Sen. Panfilo Lacson heads the OPARR.

President Aquino recently approved the P167.9 billion Rehabilitation Master Plan where Aklan province will receive P8.6 billion. Earlier release from the fund is P70 million for coconut rehabilitation.

Atty. Salazar said that OPARR will include 11 coastal towns and cover 1,000 priority projects of LGU’s. The program has four components namely: Livelihood – P406 million, infra – P824 million, social services and resettlement – P1.5 billion.

The Implementing lead agency for livelihood is DTI, infra – DPWH, social services – DSWD, and resettlement – NHA. Targeted under housing are 16,000 house units considered relocation sites where beneficiaries can live on “better houses and lots”.

The mode of fund transfer will be from DBM direct to project implementers in order to facilitate early completion of projects. We need to get volunteers especially from the Tri-media and civic societies to monitor strict compliance said Atty. Salazar.

Ms. Abada mentioned that the Philippine Red Cross has handed out 2,325 units core shelters, shelter repair assistance – 7,100 units, livelihood projects – 3,412, health facilities (water sanitation) – 10 units and repair assistance to schools – 13 classrooms. These projects are located in nine municipalities and 138 barangays, reported Ms. Abada.

Confucious once said, “Give a man a fish and he will eat fish for a day; train a man how to fish and he will eat throughout his lifetime.” The amount of P406 million out of P8.6 billion budget constitutes 4.7 percent for economic recovery. It took eight months for OPARR to draft the 8,000 pages and supporting documents. Majority of typhoon victims have recovered, but OPARR is yet to implement its P8 billion recovery and reconstruction Program. Logic will be economic recovery in terms of acquiring fishing boats, nets, fish cages, planting materials, fertilizers, breeding stock in order to rise from despondency. 

Evidently, there is much prejudice against people helping themselves than the present mentality of giving dole outs  to poor families who shun hard work and personal initiative.

Relocation sites for mass housing projects must be in flood-free zones and titled properties. Here in Aklan, real estates are highly fragmented and land ownership is mostly supported by tax declaration. A few foreclosed properties by DBP, LBP, and others may be considered for purchase by OPARR but can be tricky because of the above limitation. Possible solution for instance in congested areas of Kalibo is to make available   high multi-level houses for squatter families in Laserna St. Presently, all 16 barangays of Kalibo are flood prone.

Atty. Salazar confides that $20 million additional fund for six interior towns of Aklan will come from Canadian International Aid. The rehabilitation and recovery projects of the government will end on June 30, 2016 or co-terminus with the term of President Aquino. 

With projects simultaneously done at a fast pace, there is a grave danger in building substandard infra and housing units. The biggest threat is that certain politicians will use the fund for their own benefits, 2016 being the Presidential elections. Having said that, there must be higher sense of integrity and competence among project implementers since these are humanitarian endeavors. 

Theme song entitled, “We Will Rise Again” sung by Raki Vega provided excellent reminder of travails and vicissitudes in life, one of them is brought by Yolanda. But the resilience and determination of the victims to rise from the calamity amazes officials of international relief agencies. Christian virtues of love and sharing in the face of adversity bring renewed courage and hope. /MP

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