With the third anniversary of the onslaught of Yolanda days away, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto said reconstruction pace seems to crawl based on the low utilization of the P18.9 billion appropriated this year to repair damages wrought by the strongest typhoon in history.
Recto said P18.9 billion out of the P38.9 billion 2016 Calamity Fund – officially known as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF) – was earmarked for Yolanda reconstruction activities.
The rest will be used to prepare for or respond to calamities which will happen in 2016, to which P19 billion has been allocated, and P1 billion in People’s Survival Fund.
Because P5.09 billion from the 2015 Calamity Fund was unspent, this was added to the fund’s available appropriations for 2016, raising its spendable amount this year to almost P44 billion.
However, as of end of August, only P6.9 billion had been spent, leaving a balance of P37 billion. “Even if the entire P6.9 billion was spent for Yolanda, maliit pa rin talaga,” Recto said
“This clearly indicates poor absorption by agencies, to the detriment of the people who are supposed to benefit from the prompt implementation of projects that it would fund.”
“It also means that the rehabilitation of public works, shelter, livelihood and farms destroyed by Yolanda was proceeding slow. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the anemic use of funds,” Recto said.
“Agosto na, so dapat marami ng pera ang na-obligate. Hindi rin pwede isisi ang nakaraang eleksyon, kasi exempted sa election ban ang mga rehabilitation projects sa disaster areas,” Recto said.
“This is more of the fault of the past administration for not ramping up the spending in the first half of the year when it had the funds and the authority to do so,” Recto said.
“Kung gaano kabilis si Yolanda, ganun naman kabagal ang takbo ng rehabilitasyon, kung ang ulat sa paggamit ng pondo ang pagbabatayan,” Recto said.
Under the 2016 national budget, the P18.9 billion will be distributed among 14 agencies to undertake projects ranging from the repair of airports, tourism facilities, hospitals to shelter construction to replanting of destroyed coconut farms and emergency jobs to displaced workers.
With the third anniversary of the strongest typhoon in recorded history on November 8 fast approaching, Recto said the government should be able to present “a good 1,000 days report card” on reconstruction.
“We hope that September and October were busy construction months, and that agencies were able to do some catching up,” he said.
He urged Malacanang to come up with a “catch up” plan that will erase backlogs and rev up work.
Recto said the “tepid utilization” of calamity funds, whether for Yolanda or Lawin, should be made a thing of the past.
One way of realizing this is to cut the red tape slowing down the flow of rehabilitation funds to disaster-hit areas.
Recto said “complicated rules” governing the request, release and use of national calamity funds result in the trickle down of aid to areas which need rapid restoration.
He described the “cumbersome requirements” as “inherited regulations” which must be overhauled “if we want to send as much aid to people and places which need them most as fast as possible.”