By Hannah L. Torregoza
(Editor’s note: Manila Bulletin visited Tacloban to check on the state of normalcy – and the lingering grief – three years after super-typhoon “Yolanda” brought death and destruction to Central Visayas. Here is the first part of the series which concludes on November 8, the third year anniversary of the super typhoon.)
Three years after supertyphoon Yolanda, the man who was appointed “rehabilitation czar” to help bring “normal” into the lives of people in the Yolanda Corridor, thinks back on work done and turned over. And coming from that experience, he shares some insights that can push government action on disaster preparedness and rehabilitation.
Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson was given the enormous task to lead the government’s rehabilitation of all cities and provinces in that 50-km radius of the destruction of Yolanda. The Yolanda Corridor, as they called it, covered 171 cities and municipalities, 14 provinces and six regions. To be exact, the 14 provinces, aside from Leyte and Iloilo, are Palawan, Masbate, Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Negros Occidental, Cebu, Biliran, Eastern Samar, Western Samar, Southern Leyte and Dinagat Islands.
The area is so wide, it boggles the mind how an agency set out to even start on a plan to get rehabilitation moving. But they did, drafting exactly 18,648 programs, activities and projects for the Yolanda rehabilitation.
“They” was the agency that Lacson headed – the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) created by then President Aquino on Dec. 6, 2013, a month after Yolanda swept across the corridor. Its mission was to take the lead in supervising and coordinating all recovery and reconstruction programs for Yolanda affected areas.
A year after, in February, 2015, Lacson resigned, turning over the 18,648 programs, activities and projects for the rehabilitation work.
His reason: “I didn’t have implementation authority but with the comprehensive plan we gave, all they had to do was implement it. We listed down 18,648 programs, activities and projects, each and every item with a corresponding funding. But the problem was implementation,” Lacson told Manila Bulletin in an interview.
He said he may have done more if he had the authority to implement projects.
P571-B damage and losses
His brief stint must have given him extreme stress that started with the enormity of the problem. First, the initial damage and losses were pegged at P571.1 billion, according to the Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY 1) released by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) on Dec. 18, 2013. Second, recovery and reconstruction requirements were estimated at P360.8-billion.
Private sector support
To face that big problem, Lacson invited the private sector’s support.
“If not for the private sector we wouldn’t have made it. I argued with the President in my first Cabinet meeting (with him), I told him, we need to involve the private sector. Otherwise, the rehabilitation would be very delayed,” Lacson said.
Then he gave the private sector choices from the 24 Areas of Intervention and Development (AID) which had grouped the 171 devastated cities and municipalities. Did they want to come in as development partners or as sector partners, each role coming with a list of tasks and responsibilities.
For example, the development partners like the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation helped in Cebu, while the Solaire Bloombery Foundation was for Leyte.
Sector partners supported one or more of four priority sectors: Health, education, housing, and livelihood through rehabilitation projects in their given sector like the Tzu Chi Foundation for Livelihood Projects.
Private sector response was generous. By Oct. 30, 2014, private donors had adopted 18 out of 24 AID or Yolanda areas.
Meanwhile, the government agencies were divided into five clusters, each assigned a specific area of concern – resettlement, livelihood, social services, infrastructure and the support cluster.
The resettlement cluster was headed by the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC); the livelihood cluster, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI); the Social Services cluster, by the Department of Social Works and Development (DSWD); the infrastructure cluster, by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH); and the support cluster, by the Department of Budget Management (DBM) and NEDA.
Lacson once cited the DBM for being slow to release funds desperately needed to rehabilitate the areas. In previous interviews, the senator lamented bureaucratic red tape hampering Yolanda rehab efforts.
During the rehabilitation efforts, OPARR also worked with key government agencies, like the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), to undertake programmatic recovery and rehabilitation planning.
Help from UNDP, USAID
Meanwhile, the OPARR was assisted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which provided technical assistance, and the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID), which financed the necessary staff requirements.
US, UK, EU respond
At this point, Lacson said he cannot understand why President Duterte has made pronouncements against the US, UN and European Union who were at the forefront and were the “first responders” in bringing back to life Yolanda-stricken areas.
“Well, EU, for example, United Kingdom – sila pinakamalaking may na-contribute (they were the biggest contributors), followed by the US, and the whole of European Union,” Lacson pointed out.
“I don’t know what’s in the President’s mind pero yun, malaking utang na loob dapat nating tinatanaw yun sa mga allies natin (we have a big debt of gratitude which we should be grateful for). Especially the US, UK, and the whole of EU. Sana i-acknowledge man lang natin sila (We should acknowledge them). Ang laki ng naitulong nila eh (They helped a lot). It runs to billions in pesos,” he groaned.
Lacson said the USAID also sponsored the training of 161 planning officers as part of OPARR’s capacity building program granted to the affected LGUs.
“Kaya without the foreign support, yung foreign financial assistance, and technical support, lalong walang magagawa. Kaya nga saying (We couldn’t have done anything without the foreign support, financial assistance and technical support). I just hope that the (incumbent) President realizes we owe something to the countries of these people. And they should be properly acknowledged instead of cursed,” he said.
To fast-track rehabilitation efforts and ensure the convergence of plans of national agencies and local governments into the master plan, Lacson initiated the “Phased Implementation Approach” by calling on LGUs to submit their respective Local Government Rehabilitation and Recovery Plans (LRRPs).
To ensure transparency in the rehab efforts, OPARR began working on its official website, beginning Feb. 2014. The site, eMPATHY, or the electronic Management Platform: Accountability and Transparency Hub for Yolanda was a tool for easy monitoring of rehab projects both from the government and non-government sectors alike.
Unified multi-hazard map
Also during his stint, OPARR entered into a memorandum of agreement with the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) to provide geospatial information and a unified multi-hazard map. This was done in June 17, 2014. The implementing agencies were to use the unified multi-hazard map in identifying safe relocation, resettlement, and reconstruction sites in the Yolanda Corridor.
From relief to rehab phase
Eight months from the day the supertyphoon swept away many lives, the declaration that the Philippines had successfully transitioned from the relief phase to the rehabilitation phase was made by DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman, along with officials of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).
For OPARR, the transition was a remarkable feat, considering it was made within an eight-month period. By global standards, it was faster than the average 12 months that most countries usually declare the same after mega-disasters.
8,000-page master plan
It was only on August 1, 2014 that OPARR submitted the master plan for rehabilitation to the President. Two months later, or on Oct. 29, 2014, President Aquino approved the CRRP – an 8,000-page, 8-volume master rehabilitation plan which contains all projects, programs, and activities (PPAs) to be implemented in 171 cities and municipalities affected.
Turning over the master plan
When Lacson stepped down as Yolanda rehab czar in February, 2015, the OPARR was dissolved, and the master plan of the comprehensive rehabilitation and recovery program was turned over to the NEDA and DBM.
Rehab funds in the budget
Now back in the Senate as a member of the 17th Congress, Lacson said he intends to ensure that the government under the Duterte administration has incorporated sufficient funds to maintain the rehabilitation plans for Yolanda victims in its proposed 2017 P3.35-trillion national budget. The Upper Chamber is currently scrutinizing the government’s National Expenditure Program (NEP) for next year.
Well, I hope they implement or they get hold of the CRRP that we submitted. That one is properly vetted, with consultations with the LGUs, private sector, Cabinet secretaries, various bureaus – lahat may mga cross-cutting policy issues pa kaming in-address dun (All had cross-cutting issues policy issues which were addressed there),” he said.
And as a lawmaker, Lacson said he intends to revisit a sunset provision in the NDRRMC Law or Republic Act No. 10121.
“If I had my way, and that was my recommendation to President Aquino before, we should put up a permanent agency to address itong mga first responders, tapos rehabilitation – lahat (the first responders, then rehabilitation and then everything). Not necessarily a Department but put it under the Office of the President (OP),” he explained.
And with climate change now becoming a natural occurrence, Lacson said it is imperative his suggested provision to be included in the NDRRMC law is incorporated in the law.