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The Visayas in 2013: Growth and daunting crises

Manila Bulletin

PONDERING WHAT LIES AHEAD IN THE NEW YEAR — A man in a town in Leyte sits on a chair, the darkness surrounding him lit by wood fire, illuminating the debris of houses destroyed by super typhoon Yolanda. Officials involved in rehabilitating areas damaged by the typhoon say it will cost billions of dollars and will take years to revive communities damaged when Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) swept in from the Pacific Ocean last November 8, 2013, hitting Guiuan in Eastern Samar first, before ravaging Tacloban, Leyte’s capital city, next. The casualty count so far puts the number of fatalities at over 6,000, with close to 2,000 people still missing. (Afp Photo/Noel Celis)


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The country now faces the arduous task of post-calamity rehabilitation. Government, in mid-November, put up the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FaiTH), an online portal which gives transparency, and the public, access to check on and track the flow of total cash donations and other aid received from donors overseas.

To date, the portal records P23.798 billion ($538.978 million) in total foreign aid pledged, broken down into P2,800,149,541.20 in cash, and P20,997,886,527.88 in kind. In terms of actual cash received, FaiTH accounts for P592.580,631.40 ($12,337,478,00.00).

Substantially much now depends on the success of former Senator Panfilo Lacson who was appointed by President Benigno S. Aquino III last Dec. 10 as Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery in realizing his mandate to rebuild areas devastated by the 2013 calamities. His tasks, other than addressing what needs to be done where it concerns damage wrought by the massive earthquake and monstrous typhoon that happened in October and November this year, also includes rehabilitating Zamboanga after the drawn-out armed conflict last September between a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front and government troops and the Philippine National Police, caused deaths on both sides and among civilians, and displaced over 100,000 people in that city.

It is a gargantuan task which Lacson hopes to finish some 80 percent of by June 16, 2016 when President Aquino ends his term.

Aquino has just signed the 2014 General Appropriations Act (GAA) which, according to Senate President and Iloilo native, Sen. Franklin Drilon, gives Lacson the go-ahead to get started in implementing his mandate. The GAA includes a P20- billion rehabilitation fund and another P80 billion under the unprogrammed fund, serving as standby resources for spending foreign grants and aid in cash for Yolanda typhoon victims.

Added to these is Congress’ P13 billion calamity fund allocation and a quick response P4.8-billion fund on top of the already approved P14.6-billion  supplemental budget, an extension of the validity of the remaining P12 billion in the calamity fund for 2013 to be extended to 2014. All these adds up to some P145 billion in total funds to be made available in 2014 for government’s – Lacson’s – efforts in overall rehabilitation of calamity areas.

In a media forum early this month, after signifying willingness to accept the President’s offer for him to assume the so-called rehabilitation czar portfolio, Lacson said there are enormous challenges in the job he is taking on, foremost among which are, “politics,” and the “dynamics” that need to be deftly handled and mobilized if he is able to realize his objective, that is, “to get things done.”

For the sake of the Visayas, nay, the country, and the hundreds of thousands who lost loved ones, property and livelihood, not a few wish all those involved in the daunting task ahead- including Lacson – all the success and luck they need to realize their objectives. (With inputs from Mars W. Mosqueda, Malou Mozo, and Phoebe Jen Indino)