$8.17-B ‘Yolanda’ plan baffles UK

Manila, Philippines -- The $8.17-billion package that the Philippine government is asking from the international community for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas affected by super-typhoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) is so large, according to the top British diplomat in Manila, that it requires careful thinking.

“You can’t rush something and recreate the same problems,” said British Ambassador Asif Ahmad when asked by reporters in an interview at his residence in Makati City on how the UK will contribute to the Philippine government’s Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) which was launched by President Benigno S. Aquino III last Dec. 18.

[caption id="attachment_64994" align="aligncenter" width="500"] ‘YOLANDA VILLAGE’ – After the super typhoon devastated their area, survivors in Anibong, Tacloban City, renamed their barangay ‘Yolanda Village.’ where ships rammed by the storm surge ended up near their ruined houses. The UK government has expressed reservation over the huge amount of aid the Philippine government said it needs to rehabilitate what was destroyed by the killer typhoon. (Cheryl Baldicantos)[/caption]

RAY is a strategic plan to guide the recovery and reconstruction of the economy, lives, and livelihoods of people and communities in the areas affected by Typhoon “Yolanda.”

Based on the plan, the Philippines will need a total of $8.17 billion for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the devastated areas. About $0.78 billion will be spent for critical immediate actions, $2.05 billion for short-term interventions throughout 2014, and the rest, about $5.34 billion, for medium-term needs from 2015 to 2017.

However, Ahmad pointed out that providing food, shelter and sanitation is a very different phase from restoring the economic and social conditions of the affected areas at the very least to their pre-typhoon levels and to a higher level of disaster resilience.

In fact, during a recent meeting between officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and donor partners, he said he raised two things relative to the government’s call for additional international financial assistance.

“First, can the Philippine government give us an idea what are their priorities and to what extent will the government raise the funds either through taxation, soft loans, grants or borrowing?” said Ahmad. “Second, how will the government coordinate with the international community?”

“Basically,” he explained, “if the government will build back better then we need to know what would make it better.”

These are just some of the issues that donor partners want the Philippine government to spell out.

“They talk to each other, they are offering each other proposals,” he pointed out. “There is also the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) own proposal which we also want to take into account.”

At this point in time, he said discussions are still ongoing but admitted that the British government is taking the appeal seriously.

“When we look at all of that, we will endorse and recommend to all our government to join in,” the British ambassador assured. “And this is actually quite soon.”

As of now, though, an audit is being undertaken by UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) regarding the financial aid that the British government has so far extended to the victims of the killer typhoon.

Naturally, as UK’s representative to Manila, Ahmad said he is accountable to what his government has done in the Philippines and how they are using British public money in so far as humanitarian aid for “Yolanda” victims is concerned.

Nevertheless, he stressed that the British government is prepared to “put a little bit of money just to help the agencies with the relief work because the demand is still there.”

But the biggest tranche will be for the trust fund and will be announced in London in due course, he said.

“The British government’s concern is not whether to join but how much we will put into it,” he stated. “I am sure other countries like the European Union, Australia and Canada will look at how they too can join this endeavor.”

People Power

Meanwhile, President Aquino said he is now seeking people power in fighting the “last vestiges” of corruption and rebuilding the communities ravaged by the recent calamities.

In a message to mark the 28th anniversary of the People Power Revolution tomorrow, Feb. 25, the President remembered the “true might of a people united in purpose” during the EDSA revolt in February 1986 while highlighting such similar strength in the face of calamities last year.

“Twenty-eight years ago today, the Filipino people came together to end the tyranny of dictatorship without spilling blood. It was a historic moment for our national identity and an enduring reminder of the true might of a people united in purpose,” the President said.

“The last vestiges of a culture of self-interest, however, linger; to this day we fight to restore integrity and accountability as the bedrock principles of our government,” he said. He noted that his administration has started to back honor and dignity in public service while seeking confidence to achieve “even greater heights of prosperity.”

Nearly three decades since the EDSA revolt, the President said the world has again borne witness “to our strength in the face of adversity” following the onslaught of super-typhoon “Yolanda.”

“Compassion and solidarity guide us; though we mourn, we strive to build our communities even better than they were before,” said the President who will mark EDSA Day in disaster-hit provinces on Tuesday.

Aquino emphasized that the nation’s struggle for inclusiveness and a just and equitable prosperity is still relevant. “Let us work together to build sturdier foundations and create greater opportunities for our collective advancement. May our deeds embody the excellence and victory we seek, and allow us to fulfill our collective aspiration of a peaceful, robust, and progressive Philippines,” he added.

Breaking the annual tradition to celebrate EDSA Day in Metro Manila where the revolt occurred, President Aquino is scheduled to celebrate on Tuesday the EDSA anniversary rites with the calamity survivors in the Visayas.

The province of Cebu will be the President’s first stop on EDSA Day before travelling to calamity-hit Guiuan, Eastern Samar and Tanauan, Leyte, to hold town hall meetings. He will also visit typhoon-ravaged Tacloban before flying back to Manila. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)

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