How politics affected PH's Yolanda recovery

Ramon Casiple
A view shows residential areas devastated by super Typhoon Haiyan, in Tacloban city, central Philippines, in this November 11, 2013 file picture. Typhoon Haiyan wiped out or damaged practically everything in its path as it swept ashore on Nov. 8, 2013, with seven-meter storm surges destroying around 90 percent of the city of Tacloban in Leyte province. Mayor Alfred Romualdez said on October 28, 2014 that fewer than 100 of 14,500 promised permanent homes had been built and that thousands were still living in danger zones. He blamed the lack of suitable land where houses which could withstand 250-kph (155-mph) winds could be built but said he hoped the 14,500 homes would be completed by 2017. To match story PHILIPPINES-TYPHOON/ REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/Files (PHILIPPINES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER MARITIME)

President Benigno Aquino III signed the Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) last October 29, 2014, a year after the super typhoon battered central Philippines. The president approved ₱167,864,788,553 of the ₱170.7 billion submitted by Secretary Panfilo Lacson.

The approval came after much haggling, bureaucratic infighting, and public and media pressure. The 18,400 projects listed in the CRRP came from submissions of local government units in the 171 affected cities and municipalities in 14 provinces and 6 regions in central Philippines.

This is an impressive amount, and rightly so. However, is it comparable to the “national master plan” envisaged to be necessary for climate adaptation, disaster mitigation, and sustainable development? The answer, unfortunately, is no.

Typhoon Yolanda represents what scientists have called the “new normal” in our country’s typhoon experience, as part of the impact of the global warming trend globally. At least once a year, there is the strong possibility that a strong super typhoon such as Yolanda may happen in the Philippine area of responsibility. There are also other disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis, and floods that the Philippines is prone to undergo.

Has the CRRP taken this into account? Its objectives and content belied this. Most of the plan’s projects are quick fixes and answer only the immediate requirements in the fields of infrastructure, social services, resettlement, and livelihood. Of these, infrastructure and resettlement may cover some of the long-term impact of disasters, especially in devastated areas where hard survival lessons were learned.

Politics, or more precisely, 2016 politics intervened in the rehabilitation planning and execution.

First, there was the appointment of Secretary Lacson, a popular figure and who had been touted by the administration as the “rehabilitation czar.” His power, however, has been severely limited to coordination. Line agencies retained their control of funds and their disbursements. There is the lingering suspicion that he was given the almost impossible task in order to act as the scapegoat for the failings of the Aquino administration and deflect the criticisms on the handling of disaster response to Yolanda. Not accidentally, he is also seen by many as a possible candidate in the 2016 presidential contest.

Second, control of funds politically means the ability to project electoral goodwill for the prospective 2016 presidential and local candidates, particularly the administration candidates. Favored candidates and localities will probably get the lion’s share of the funds.

Third, the indubitable end to the term of President Aquino in 2016 and the absence of a sustainable and strong political party system, preclude the long-term planning beyond 2016 and the strategic allocation of funds. The administration instead opted for quick and highly-visible results determined mostly at the line agency and local government level.

All these point to the continued vulnerability of Yolanda-affected areas to super typhoons and other disasters. It is still to be proven if the enormous funds will be spent rightly or even at all in the coming year as politicians maneuver for the 2016 elections. Meanwhile, we all are prevailed upon to prepare and save ourselves.