QUEZON CITY. An alliance of Yolanda survivors and their partner non-government organizations spearheaded by the Philippine-based NGOs supported by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP) raises hopes for a sustained and more effective government program for reconstruction in Yolanda-hit areas as its calls for a central reconstruction agency, a thorough accounting and evaluation of Yolanda rebuilding projects, and a mechanism for a genuine and robust people’s consultation are reportedly gaining greater traction in the Executive agencies of the Duterte administration and gathering support from the local government units (LGUS) in the so-called Yolanda corridor---the impacted provinces and municipalities by super-typhoon Yolanda.

In a press conference held today, the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), a newly-formed alliance of 163 community organizations and 9 non-government organizations (NGOs) shared its optimism for a more effective and decisive government response to the issues and concerns raised by the group to the agencies concerned under the new Duterte government. CYSP recently participated in the pre-summit for Disaster Risk Reduction and Reconstruction and Climate Change Adaptation last September 23, at Malacanang. The pre-summit attended by over a hundred agencies and planners from the provinces and municipalities of the Yolanda corridor and the CSYP as the sole civil society participants, was organized by the Office of the Cabinet Secretary, the Climate Change Commission and the Office of the Civil Defense, as well as other agencies.

The pre-summit, according to the representative of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary , came about as a direct result of the lobby and engagement efforts of the CYSP with the new government. “The pre-summit was an important and initial step that provided the survivors with a platform to continuously raise the issues and concerns , as well as proposals for a more effective and efficient reconstruction of Yolanda areas under the Duterte administration”, says Sammy Gamboa, Secretary-General of Freedom from Debt Coalition.

“The CYSP presented its assessment of the state of Yolanda reconstruction under the Aquino government, and a set of recommendations that included the creation of a central reconstruction agency under the Office of the President, a thorough accounting and evaluation of the Yolanda funds and projects, and an institutionalization of the people’s participation in the Yolanda reconstruction”, Danny Caranza, CYSP and RIGHTS Coordinator says.

“ The majority of the participants composed of local government planners generally concurred with the issueas raised by CYSP in the pre-summit such as the lack of clear status of the funding and various plans and projects in the very slow , ineffective reconstruction process, with generally poor and unsatisfactory results” ” says Joli Torrella of Urban Poor Associates (UPA) an NGO working for the rights of informal settlers.

CYSP in its presentation to the pre-summit avers that disaster response in Yolanda Avenue reveals that the current pace of reconstruction is slow and flawed and does not address the survivors’ pre-existing vulnerabilities. The group says that building back better and community resilience in response to climate change cannot be achieved if this trend will continue.

Jolito Chavez who represents KATARUNGAN Eastern Visayas, an alliance of survivors’ organizations in declared no-build/danger zones in Eastern Samar criticized the National Housing Authority (NHA) for claiming that housing reconstruction is nearly complete. “Sobrang bagal ang paggawa ng housing projects, sa ibang lugar, kagaya ng Giporlos, hindi pa nga nag-uumpisa. Karaniwan din ay sobrang layo sa hanapbuhay at walang social services tulad ng tubig at kuryente. Kailangan ding tingnan ng Duterte Administration ang kalidad ng mga naipatayo nang bahay dahil maraming substandard. Kaya kahit may tapos na, ayaw lumipat ng mga tao dahil sa mas mahirap na kalagayan sa relocation sites. Parang inililipat lang kami mula sa danger zone patungo sa death zone”, according to Chavez. (Housing projects proceeded at a very slow pace such that in other areas like Giporlos, nothing yet has been started . The sites are far from the workplaces and water, electricity and other social services are non-existent. The government should also look into the quality of new shelters as they are substandard. People are therefore resistant to relocate because of worse situation in the new sites. We are being asked to move from a danger zone to a death zone)

A leader of informal settlers says that the lack of consultation is one of the major reasons for the problems in ongoing Yolanda reconstruction projects. “Hindi nila pansin ang pangangailangan namin. Akala nila basta may structure lang pwede na. Paano naman kung wala kaming hanapbuhay sa aming lilipatan”? Estrella said. “Pwede naman sana ang in-city o on-site relocation at sana talagang matibay din ang aming bahay. Ganyan ang ginawa sa Pope Francesco Village, matitibay ang mga units at dahil sa in-city, malapit din sa hanapbuhay ang lilipatan ng survivors”, added Estrella.(They ignored our real needs. They thought that physical structures would suffice.What happens to us when there is no livelihood in the relocation sites? An in-city or on-site relocation should have been explored and the shelters should have been sturdier. This was how it was done in the Pope Francesco Village, where housing units are strongly-built and where the site is near the survivors’ areas of livelihood)The Pope Village is a housing project by a consortium of NGOs led by the CBCP-NASSA/Caritas Philippines, and a brainchild of the CCODP.

The group also expressed dismay over the government’s top-down approach to mitigation projects. “Yung tide embankment project sa Tacloban—ang 27.3 kilometro, 4-metro taas na sea wall na gagastusan ng P7.5 bilyon ay halimbawa ng proyekto na galing sa itaas: walang proper consultation, walang pasintabi sa mga apektadong mamamayan, at binabalewala ang ibang posibleng solusyon sa storm surge kagaya ng malawakang pagtatanim ng bakawan at iba pang soft mitigation strategy” ,( The tide embankment project in Tacloban—the 27.3 km, 4-meter high sea wall estimated to cost P7.5 billion is an example of a top-down project: it ignores proper consultation, disregards impacts on affected communities, and dismisses other possible solutions to the storm surge such as the widespread planting of mangroves and other soft mitigation strategy) UPA reports.

The planners and LGU participants to the pre-summit who came from the Yolanda-battered eight provinces, generally supported the CYSP’s proposals for the creation of a stronger government agency for reconstruction and an audit of Yolanda funds and projects, adds Ryan Damaso, Program Officer of Center for Environmental Concern (CEC).

The pre-summit is a prelude to a larger national summit being organized by the government on October 6-7. CYSP raises hopes towards a sustained, fruitful and institutionalized community and civil society engagement with the government on Yolanda reconstruction matters and concern, that will help bring about the much needed policy, institutional and other changes beneficial to the victims and survivors and the people in Yolanda-affected areas, asserts Fara Diva Gamalo, Secretary General of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) – Eastern Visayas and a Yolanda survivor herself.#

*The Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) is composed of 163 community organizations of survivors and 9 NGOs that are Philippine partners of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP)/ Caritas Canada. These CCODP partners at the forefront of Yolanda response and reconstruction include: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines—National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA/ Caritas Philippines), Agri-Aqua Development Coalition (AADC), Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC), Community Organizers Multiversity (COM), Focus on the Global South, Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Philippine Educational Theater for the Arts (PETA), Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services (RIGHTS, Inc.)

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