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Lawmakers seek faster release of Yolanda funds

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers yesterday called for faster release of funds for communities devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda in November.

They made the appeal a week after concerned officials informed the joint Senate-House of Representatives oversight committee on public funds that only less than P4 billion has been spent to help these communities.

“My observation is that the procedures are really long and would require many steps before funds are actually released,” said Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, chairman of the House appropriations committee.

Ungab said the joint oversight committee, which he co-chairs with Sen. Francis Escudero, is studying how the flow of funds could be speeded up.

Escudero has lamented that of the more than P100 billion Congress had appropriated for Yolanda-devastated areas, only about P3.7 billion has been spent.

Six months after Yolanda struck, public schools in these communities are still awaiting repairs.

A funding request for P2 billion for the repair of these schools, including state universities and colleges (SUCs), is now with the Office of the President.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has informed the joint oversight committee that it sent the request to the Office of the President in the latter part of last month.

DBM Undersecretary Luz Cantor said they forwarded the request after receiving details of the needed repair work and cost estimates from the Department of Education and the concerned SUCs.

The information prompted Davao Oriental Rep. Thelma Almario, a vice chairperson of the House appropriations committee, to blame the slow government response to the rehabilitation requirements of Yolanda-devastated communities partly on President Aquino’s office.

She said funding requests for such critical jobs as school repairs should be attended to immediately.

Ungab cautioned Almario against blaming the Office of the President.

“It could be that the delay was on the part of the agencies and schools requesting for the funds,” he said.

Ungab said it has only been about two to three weeks since the DBM sent the request to the President’s office.

Some oversight committee members commented that by the time the funds would have been released, the summer-season window for repairs might be over and classes might have already started.

Of the P2 billion, P1 billion would go to the repair of public elementary and high schools, while the remaining P1 billion would be spent for the rehabilitation of damaged facilities of SUCs.

Other agencies told the oversight committee that they were waiting for the master reconstruction plan being drafted by the office of former senator and rehabilitation czar Panfilo Lacson before spending the money released to them.

Last week, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad announced that a total of P32.2 billion has already been released as of the middle of this month to areas affected by Yolanda.

He said of the amount released, P5.4 billion went to the National Electrification Administration for restoring distribution and transmission facilities and P2.2 billion to the National Housing Authority for the construction of permanent housing units.

Some P2.01 billion was released to the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) for repair of municipal halls, public markets, civic centers and police stations, and P467 million for rescue, recovery and relief operations.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) received P1.07 billion for relief operations, while the Department of Health got P1.8 billion, including P500 million to repair the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) was given P833 million for various infrastructure-related efforts, while the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources received P1.71 billion for the distribution of fishing boats and livelihood support.

The Department of Agriculture received P14.6 billion for crop, livestock and fisheries-related activities, as well as repair of farm infrastructure, while the Departments of Justice and of Labor and Employment got a combined P50 million for efforts to identify victims and provide emergency employment.

Abad admitted the releases did not include funding for damaged schools and SUCs.

“With more releases on the way, agencies involved should be able to move quickly to help affected communities recover from the disaster,” he said.

“The President was very clear about the administration’s goal of restoring normalcy in Yolanda-stricken communities. The delivery of aid services and the reconstruction of damaged infrastructure continues to be a priority for this government,” he said.

A group of scientists also assailed the government for neglecting the rehabilitation of agricultural lands in typhoon-affected areas.

“If systematic government support was launched by the government early on, our farmers could have started planting by mid-February and could have started harvesting corn, rice, vegetables, radish, beans, peanuts, fruit vegetables and other crops by May and June,” said Finesa Cosico, secretary-general of Agham or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.

Agham generated a crop-planting calendar for farming communities hit by Yolanda. Crop calendars serve as a tool to promote local crop production by providing information on the agricultural profile of a certain area and the planting, sowing and harvesting periods of crops planted in that area. – With Rhodina Villanueva

 

 

 

 

 

ADVOCATES OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY AGHAM BILLION BUDGET SECRETARY FLORENCIO ABAD BUREAU OF FISHERIES AND AQUATIC RESOURCES COMMITTEE COMMUNITIES OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT UNGAB YOLANDA
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