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Consolidating Consensus, Advancing People’s Struggles and Building Alternatives
Almost two years after Yolanda , the world’s strongest typhoon to make landfall in recent memory and created the world’s biggest displacement and mass evacuation in 2013----the efforts to recover and rebuild people’s lives continued to move at a snail pace, and still failing to reach and assist millions of the impoverished and needy victims and survivors—as they are largely left to fend for themselves, with the promised government resources and assistance, either hardly reaching or largely excluding them.
Almost two years after Yolanda, and the last year of the Aquino administration---a failed and flawed reconstruction program that failed to reach the majority poor and needy and failed to live up to its promise of “building back better” is the cursed legacy that this government will leave behind to the millions of Yolanda survivors who continue to fight for their survival, their human rights and for justice.
The reconstruction blueprint called the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan for Yolanda (CRRP) promised to “build back better” and took four months to develop after the super typhoon struck.. But this plan languished on the table of President Aquino for 11 months, before it was finally signed for implementation. The total estimated cost for reconstruction for the next two years was pegged between P168 to P170 billion, but the national government reportedly allocated an initial P47.12 B for Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery from which only P27B was said to have been released as of February 23, 2015. The government has so far failed to account billions of grants and donations from various governments, UN and other governmental organizations, and international humanitarian agencies as well as domestic donors that it received starting as early as the Yolanda relief assistance phase, until today.
New, but unnecessary loans and burdens on the people
The Aquino government also incurred new loans for the Yolanda reconstruction in the total amount of P126.183 Billion ($2.94 billion), without the consent of the people, even as it continued its long-standing policies for the past 3 decades of automatic debt servicing that eats up 25% to 50% of the annual national budget for debt interest payments alone. In 2013, 18% of the national budget went to service the debts that included those that are tainted with fraud and other irregularities, and hardly benefited the people. In 2014, 16.7% or P377.6 B was earmarked for debt servicing out of the P2.265 trillion national budget. This alone, is more than enough to bankroll the much-needed resources for Yolanda reconstruction, without the need for new loans or debts. The additional loans made by the government for Yolanda reconstruction means more burden for every Filipino taxpayer from whose every peso of tax payment , six centavos is already lost for debt servicing. Debt watchers who launched a global campaign for debt cancellation for the Philippines, including a UN Special Rapporteur on the Debt and extreme Poverty---asserted that since typhoon Yolanda, the Philippines has been sending $22,000,000 out of the country everyday in debt servicing. This amounts to more than 20% of the government’s income.
It is not surprising therefore, that no less than the former Office of the Presidential Assistant for Re habilitation and Reconstruction (OPARR) admitted a slow, delayed and abysmal implementation of the Yolanda reconstruction projects and activities. In 2014, of the target 116.3 km national roads for repair, only 26 kms were completed. Out of 90 target flood control structures to be constructed or repaired, only 2 were completed. Only 101 classrooms were completed of the target 1982 new classrooms to be constructed .Of the target 90 municipal halls to be repaired; only 34 were completed. 29 public markets were repaired from the target 77. Emergency shelter assistance to totally damaged houses were given to 14,096 families from the 449,127 target for 2014.
Build back better? Or business as usual?
Almost two years after Yolanda, the vast majority of victims and survivors in the devastated areas continue to languish in either tents or still-damaged dwellings, or substandard and overpriced bunkhouses and temporary shelters waiting to be transferred against their will to relocation areas that violate the evacuees’ right to adequate housing. Around 3,000 residents in so-called danger zones in Tacloban City continue to be hounded by forced evictions from their current dwellings, despite the reprieve they obtain from the city government, instead of being given in-city permanent reconstructed shelters. Landless fisherfolks and farmers in Sicogon island in Northern Iloilo, and entire communities in Manicani island , Eastern Samar, respectively---continue to be threatened by land grabbing and eviction, and large-scale mining and destruction of their communities and livelihoods.
Poor households and families continue to be impoverished as hunger, lack of jobs and livelihoods continue to be reproduced and perpetuated in many areas—as widespread poverty and inequality continue to persist and are being reproduced. Agricultural income in Yolanda-affected areas has reportedly dropped by 50 to 70% after Yolanda, and has hardly recovered until now. A year after Yolanda, at least 1 million Yolanda survivors continue to live in uncertain and inadequate shelters. And, the age-old issue of land (land tenure for shelter in the urban areas, and land for agricultural production in the rural areas) ---has continued to reassert itself as an intractable social justice issue in the Yolanda-devastated areas. The United Nation’s Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its survey of the Yolanda survivors’ unmet need, revealed the following priorit needs and demands: early recovery and livelihood (73%), shelter (58%), child and family protection (55%), education (40%), health (38%), food (35%), among other needs.
In terms of climate resiliency and local disaster readiness, only one island (Camotes) out of scores of provinces and hundreds of municipalities in the Philippines has reportedly so far developed its local climate adaptation plan.
The Struggle for Climate Justice Continues
The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) asserts that the struggle for justice for Yolanda is also a struggle for social justice, human rights and climate justice. FDC vows to keep faith with the people , particularly the Yolanda victims and survivors in their fight for human rights and justice, even as their hopes with this government to help them recover and “rebuild back better” are increasingly dashed and turned into rage and resistance.