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Life goes on for ‘Yolanda’ survivors despite inadequate gov’t aid

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Protests over the non-release of shelter assistance for survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” have plagued the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III. Survivors are hoping their problem would be addressed by the government, under President Duterte’s leadership.  CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Protests over the non-release of shelter assistance for survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” have plagued the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III. Survivors are hoping their problem would be addressed by the government, under President Duterte’s leadership. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

TACLOBAN CITY—Armen Jane Cabias and her family have bounced back from the devastation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), which left at least 6,000 dead, hundreds of thousands homeless and millions of people jobless three years ago.

“We have to move on (and) enjoy what we have right now. It’s back to normal for all of us here. But we can’t forget what happened to us due to Yolanda,” she said.

Even as communities in Tacloban City and other areas ravaged by the storm continue to recover, survivors cling to one hope—government aid for those who are building new homes or repairing damaged ones.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it had released P21 billion for the Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) as of Aug. 15.

ESA, one of the programs that the Aquino administration designed for Yolanda survivors, offered P10,000 each for families who need to repair homes and P30,000 each for families who need to build new houses.

The DSWD had released P14 billion for 468,258 houses destroyed and P6.6 billion for damaged ones.

But at least 123,000 families (83,000 in Western Visayas and 40,000 in Eastern Visayas) are still seeking help because they had been excluded from the list of beneficiaries.

Assistant Social Welfare Secretary Aleli Bawagan said about P2.5 billion is needed to help these people.

Shortfall

She said the agency will try to provide help to survivors whose claims can be validated but paying all the claims is beyond the capacity of the DSWD which has only P35 million left for ESA.

Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo had requested other agencies for funds.

The response, however, is far from encouraging. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) recently rejected the DSWD’s request for P1 billion for ESA beneficiaries in Western Visayas, according to a DSWD statement.

Bawagan said the DSWD is finding it difficult to make ends meet for Yolanda survivors when another supertyphoon, “Lawin,” struck and left massive damage in northern Luzon.

Yolanda survivors have blamed the exclusion of tens of thousands of families on DSWD Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 24 issued by former Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman.

The memorandum shuts out from ESA survivors who have monthly incomes of more than P15,000 and who, prior to Yolanda, lived in areas classified as danger zones after the storm struck.

Bawagan, who led a team that assessed ESA implementation in Western and Eastern Visayas, said one of the problems seen in ESA fund distribution is the “wide discretion given to barangay officials in identifying and selecting beneficiaries.”

“In some cases, two beneficiaries are in the same household while individuals with [damaged] houses received P30,000 intended for those with [destroyed] houses,” she said.

Left out

Aside from survivors shut out by Soliman’s memo, thousands of others had been disqualified from receiving ESA funds because they were either living in remote villages or had been driven out of their communities by lack of work as a result of Yolanda’s devastation.

The Ombudsman had suspended several local officials for alleged irregularities in ESA fund distribution while others are facing cases, according to Bawagan.

“We encourage survivors to hold their local officials accountable,” she said.

In Western Visayas, Kusog sang Pumuluyo, a Panay-wide alliance of Yolanda survivors and their supporters, called on the national government to allot funds for those deprived of shelter aid.

The group also pleaded for funds to give survivors jobs.

Fr. Marco Sulayao, the group’s spokesperson, said the group also wants an investigation of Soliman and former President Aquino for “criminal neglect.”

Problems hounding Yolanda are keeping Taguiwalo’s hands full even as she has to deal with the needs of survivors of Lawin.

Three days after Lawin struck, Taguiwalo ordered P5,000 released to each family who lost their homes or need help to repair these.

Lessons learned

Bawagan said the prompt release of aid to Lawin survivors was the result of lessons learned from how the previous administration handled Yolanda survivors, leaving hundreds of thousands still without aid three years after the monster storm struck.

“What is important is that we released the funds whether the houses were damaged or destroyed,” said Bawagan.

The balance for Lawin survivors would be released after an assessment by the DSWD on extent of damage to houses.

The DSWD, Bawagan said, would not rely merely on lists to be given by village officials for the release of shelter aid for Lawin survivors. It would require documents and pictures attached to claims.

Aid in the form of food would come in sealed boxes with lists of what they contain, she said.

Each relief box usually contains 6 kg of rice, eight sachets of instant coffee, three cans of sardines and three cans of corned beef, which is expected to last for up to three days for a family of five.

The boxes are packed through a mechanized system designed by the United Nations World Food Programme and initially implemented by the Aquino administration.

Bawagan said recipients of relief boxes should report any tampering or pilferage which could be detected by checking actual contents with the list on the box.

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