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Three years after ‘Yolanda’

THREE years after super typhoon “Yolanda” hit Eastern Visayas, leaving 6,300 dead, over 1,000 missing, and over 28,000 injured, it continues to be in the news – not so much for the devastation that it left as for the official failings that continue to be investigated to this day.

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said Monday that at least 200,000 victims of Yolanda appear to have been excluded from the government’s Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) program at that time due to politics. These 200,000 victims, she said, had lost their homes in the storm surge that roared into the land, then swept back to sea. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) issued a memorandum declaring that families earning more than R15,000 a month, were living in areas tagged as danger zones, or had received help from non-government sources were not eligible for the DSWD cash aid. Then the aid was coursed through local government officials and many victims complained they were excluded because they were not part of the officials’ political groups.

On the same day that Secretary Taguiwalo reported on the 200,000 who were complaining against the former DSWD officials, Sen. Ralph Recto charged that the work of reconstruction and rehabilitation of properties damaged by Yolanda has proceeded so slowly all these years that of the almost P44 billion made available by the government, only P6.9 billion had been spent as of last August.

The National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has joined in the discussion with a call for an audit of all the funds received by the government from donors all over the country and around the world. Fr. Edu Gariguez, executive secretary of the CBCP’s social action arm, said he believes the funds for Yolanda were not fully utilized and just lie deposited in banks somewhere.

Yolanda was the strongest typhoon ever to hit land. It caused so much loss of lives and destruction of property because of the storm surge for which the people were not prepared. The total damage was placed at nearly P100 billion and it was only after a year that the government was able to draw up a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

But it seems that that ambitious rehabilitation and reconstruction program was not carried out. Only 10 percent of the projected 210,000 homes have been built. Hundreds of thousands of people have not recovered from their shattered lives. Between now and the third anniversary of Yolanda on November 8, the nation would appreciate a comprehensive report on what has been accomplished so far, with an audit report on all donations, and an assurance that the new administration will do very much better in the task of helping the thousands of Yolanda’s victims who suffer to this day.