Tuesday, May 27, 2014

No thanks to government

This is my column today, May 27,  2014.


I know Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma was just doing his job when he asserted yesterday that government is on track in so far as rehabilitation of Yolanda-ravaged areas is concerned.  He even cited a World Bank report which supposedly said it was happy with the way the rehabilitation programs have been conducted by government. 
I have great respect for Coloma and I think he is one of the few remaining people in government with solid credibility on account of the fact that he has no vested interest.  He is an academic and business leader who has no political ambitions.  It is very obvious that the poor guy only wants to serve.
But Coloma’s defense of the government’s continuing dismal failure to respond effectively to the needs of Yolanda victims must be rebuffed.  Actually, a separate news item yesterday already did so.  Budget Secretary Butch Abad was quoted in reports as saying that more than half of the pledges for the Yolanda rehabilitation program from foreign donors have yet to materialize.  In effect, he was saying that government does not have the money yet.  Ergo, the rehabilitation program is stalled.
Criticism against the slow pace and the absence of a comprehensive and strategic rehabilitation plan for Yolanda-ravaged areas is not really news; everyone has been complaining about these things for months now.  Before Rehabiliation Czar Ping Lacson got sidetracked by the Napolist Scandal, he was also bellyaching about how certain government officials and departments were dragging their feet on the the rehabilitation program.  Even the President himself apologized to students in Manila for the slow response.
I don’t know why people in government seemed to have changed tunes all of a sudden.  It is possible that the sudden revision of talking points have to do with the runup to the State of the Nation Address or perhaps because of the foreign media attention caused by the World Economic Forum and other recent events.
Government can cite all the fluff, statistics, and data it wants but all these will not negate nor refute actual experience on the ground.  As C.S. Lewis wisely said, a man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.  I am not sure how many times Coloma and other members of the Aquino government have visited Tacloban since that fateful day of November 8, 2014 when the supertyphoon brought Tacloban City and many towns in the Visayas prostrate on the ground, but I have personally been travelling back and forth to Leyte at least twice a month in the last six months and know for a fact that the very much hyped-up rehabilitation efforts have yet to be seen, felt, smelled, and touched.
I have talked to victims of the super typhoon, to community leaders, to local officials, to priests and nuns, etc.  I have wept with families who have lost everything including family members who have not been found yet.  I have helped put together funds for various small community projects, helped put together medical missions, even organized a small project to buy modest gifts for graduates of a public elementary school in Tacloban that lost more than 20 percent of graduating class to Yolanda. 
Oh sure, the cities and towns in Leyte and Samar have been slowly getting back on their feet.  Many buildings and houses have been renovated, there is electricity in most places, and many of the business establishments have started to reopen.  But I am not sure government can really take credit for the small signs of recovery.  Most of the help come from family members and private organizations.
First, because large areas still remain a silent but powerful proof of government inaction—the debris of the massive destruction can still be seen to this day.   Second, because thousands of people still live in tents and makeshift houses.  Most of the bunkhouses were allegedly appropriated by government employees and their relatives; not that there were many bunkhouses to begin with—everyone admitted that the numbers were not adequate to house the victims.  Third, there is hunger and desperation etched on people’s faces.  Source of livelihood is still uncertain.  Fourth, in all of my visits to Tacloban, I have passed through the same airport terminal that has barely seen any improvement in the last three months; so much so that passengers kid about how the ruins are being preserved as some kind of a tourist attraction.  And this is replicated many times over in many places and centers.
Yes, Tacloban and the cities and towns are hobbling again—slowly and gingerly.  Filipinos are resilient despite lack of determined government support.  Let’s not add insult to injury by taking credit for their valiant efforts to help themselves.

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