• Reading time:8 mins read

101 days after: Little done, no real plan for Tacloban

The ABS-CBN media behemoth would be doing real public service if it broadcast again, or release a transcript, of broadcaster Ted Failon’s excellent—but depressing—special report on Tacloban that was aired on Saturday.

I can understand Mr. Failon’s passion for the topic as he was born and grew up in Tacloban, which he had seen first-hand destroyed by super-typhoon Yolanda, thousands of its residents killed, whose corpses littered the city for months and buried in mass graves, a macabre testimony to government’s incompetence to even take care of the dead.

Failon’s coverage was aired on the eve of 100th day after the super typhoon struck, or nearly more than three months after. What’s happened? The gist of Failon’s report:

After the clean-up of debris and corpses, after all the drama of the donors extending their helping hands—literally, through donations of kind, and pledges of reconstruction money—the poorest of “Taclobanons” and even the middle-class there are mostly still without work, barely surviving through their small businesses, staying in make-shift shelters, or have given up, abandoning the city to move to Cebu or Manila.

An unusually long February 3 article on Tacloban in the New York Times was entitled “Months After Typhoon, Philippine City Suffers From an Exodus of Jobs.”

Its gist: “Nearly three months after some of the strongest sustained winds ever recorded drove ashore a wall of water up to 25 feet high, this once-thriving university city and provincial capital shows relatively few signs of economic recovery despite an international rescue effort.”

Yolanda damaged or destroyed 33 million coconut trees in Eastern Visayas. So far, no plan on how to replace them. AFP PHOTO

Yolanda damaged or destroyed 33 million coconut trees in Eastern Visayas. So far, no plan on how to replace them. AFP PHOTO

“At night, it is mainly plunged into darkness, and the few temporary houses completed by the government have been declared too cramped for human habitation.”

Luiza Carvalho, United Nations resident humanitarian-aid coordinator, pointed out last Saturday that “millions of survivors” of the country’s deadliest typhoon were still without adequate shelter, and that this “need is critical.”

At least former Senator Panfilo Lacson, whom President Aquino designated as his point-man and rehabilitation czar for Tacloban and other Yolanda- hit areas, was honest to admit to Failon in his interview, that “nothing really much has been done” in his job since he “was given meager resources.”

Lacson after his keynote speech at as the Philippine Military Academy Alumni’s reunion in Baguio City, in a similar vein replied to a reporter’s question on how far he has accomplished in his job: “It’s not even 10 percent.”

What’s worrying though is that he seems to refer to that “10 percent” not to the task of rehabilitating the typhoon-devastated areas, but just to the work of “coordination”:

Massive Coordination

“The coordination continues. There is massive coordination . . .” he said.

Three months after Yolanda hit, and they’re still coordinating?

Indeed, the national government is still doing research on how bad the typhoon’s damage was and assessing what’s needed by Visayans hit by the typhoon. This had irritated Lacson.

“I was told that the assessment [by the National Disaster Risk and Rehabilitation Management Council] will be finished by March, so I told the President in one of our Cabinet meetings that we cannot wait that long, especially the people, the survivors cannot wait that long because they continue to suffer,” he told reporters in Baguio.

What is worrying, local officials from Tacloban told me, is that media has not only been losing interest in Tacloban’s and other Visayan areas’ suffering. It is also projecting—apparently under Malcañang’s orchestration—that “everything there is alright now.”

“Notice those photos and videos of a brightly-lit church in Tacloban and restaurants in Tacloban opening for business?” one official remarked. “That church had only two nights with its lights on, and less than five percent of businesses before have reopened.”

In his report, Failon interviewed a businessman who gave detailed statistics that showed that only a tiny fraction of businesses, even of sari-sari stores have reopened in Tacloban.

Failon also had on camera the owner of one of the groceries looted in the chaotic days after the typhoon, who angrily complained that his store and his office above it were looted of its computers and even office fixtures, that he won’t ever open the store again.

“Lacson might not have anything left to rehabilitate in the coming months,” a Tacloban official said in black humor, claiming—as the New York Times article had partly pointed out—that there has been an exodus out of Tacloban.

“People who have the money, distant relatives elsewhere, or who can’t find jobs have left the city,” he said. “Our population is probably half it was before Yolanda.”

The New York Times article even reported that “even students [in Tacloban] have left.” “More than a third of the 1,370 students at the University of the Philippines campus here have transferred to other campuses. An additional 130 dropped out, some because they could no longer afford to attend,” the article reported.

“Enrollment has dropped by a third at the 1,900-student ACLC College, which teaches mainly computer skills, but has been reduced to classroom lectures because its computers were destroyed in the storm.”

“The flight of those most able to find opportunities elsewhere is leaving behind a city of the poor, including those left destitute by the typhoon,” it read.

More than three months after the most powerful typhoon hit the country, creating one of the worst devastations ever, there is no real plan for the rehabilitation and recovery of Tacloban and other Visayan areas hit.

Aquino and his top officials have referred to what they claim is the government’s master plan, titled “Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda,” which they often refer to as the “RAY” plan, published by the National Economic and Development Authority December 16, 2013.

It is a short 21-paged document with 17 pages devoted to an assessment of Yolanda’s economic and social impact, much of it lifted from the Asian Development Bank’s documents for the $500 million “emergency assistance’ loan.

Motherhood statements

What stands for a plan are in three and half pages of mostly motherhood statements that are the titles of its short parts: “Phased, Cumulative and Flexible Response” “Outcome-driven Implementation”, “Partnering with the Private Sector.”

What is astonishing is that even the NEDA’s economists didn’t even come up with a structural study of what needs to be done for Tacloban.

A real plan for Tacloban and other typhoon-ravaged Visayan areas would focus on the need to address the decimated coconut industry there which is its economic base.

Except for national metropolises like Metro Manila and Cebu which are based on the entire national economy,  Philippine cities depend on the agricultural sector surrounding it, which produces most of the wealth in the area that the city extracts in so many ways. For Tacloban and other Yolanda-hit areas, it is the coconut industry, with Eastern Visayas being the second-highest coconut producer in the country.

According to estimates by the Philippine Coconut Authority, 33 million coconut trees in Eastern Visayas along the path of Yolanda were damaged, with 15 million totally destroyed. The cost of replacing 15 million trees (at P1,000 to P5,000 at the first year) would be P15 billion to P75 billion. Where and how would government get these gargantuan funds from? Where would it get the P5 billion yearly to sustain those new trees?

And there’s worse news: It would take six to nine years before these trees will bear fruit, and generate income for the farmers. How would these farmers, who are responsible for the living requirements of about 800,000 million Visayans, earn a living before the trees bear fruit? And remember that it is a chain of production and distribution of wealth from coconuts, from the farmers to the traders to the wholesalers, whose profits eventually are used to purchase pizza pies, groceries, cars, and houses in Tacloban.

Does Lacson even realize this? I’m betting though that it won’t be three months before he resigns his rehabilitation-czar post. I would think that by now he has realized that Aquino was merely humoring him by appointing him there, as it was out of the question for him to be interior or transport secretary, the posts he applied for.

Everyone in government knows that without “signing authority” for funds, you’re just an impotent fixture in the bureaucracy.

The PCA though isn’t sleeping on its job in assisting the ravaged coconut industry in the Visayas. For two months now, prominently posted in its website is an article entitled “PCA Assists Farmers in Typhoon Ravaged Areas, “ the only article in its site dealing at all with the Yolanda aftermath. The article’s lede sentence:

“PCA Administrator Euclides G. Forbes has ordered the immediate purchase of 100 chainsaws to be used for the current clearing operations in the coconut provinces devastated by typhoon Yolanda.”

No wonder Yolanda, I was told, is a bad word in Malacanang that no one now dares to bring the topic up with the President.