By Melissa Luz T. Lopez
Business World Online

MORE THAN one billion pesos in disaster relief funds and cash donations for victims of super-typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) remain unused, prompting the Commission on Audit (CoA) to castigate the Philippines’ social welfare agency for “inadequate planning.”

The RKK-Uno -- together with two other ships (not in this picture) -- has been washed onshore at the height of typhoon Yolanda, crushing 20 houses in Barangay Anibong, just a few kilometers away from the port of Tacloban City.
The RKK-Uno — together with two other ships (not in this picture) — has been washed onshore at the height of typhoon Yolanda, crushing 20 houses in Barangay Anibong, just a few kilometers away from the port of Tacloban City.

Five government agencies have yet to spend P1.58 billion for Yolanda relief efforts, the audit body said in its report, referring to the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Health (DoH), the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

All five were among the agencies tasked to provide relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda, that left at least 6,300 dead, displaced around 4 million, and rendered P89.6 billion in damages, according to the NDRRMC.

Donations should have been used for direct financial aid to displaced families, the 102-page audit report on Yolanda relief operations released Sept. 5 said.

“Donations received from both local and foreign sources intended for victims of typhoon Yolanda… have not been utilized to date, depriving the disaster/calamity victims of timely assistance in their lowliest times and defeating the purpose of the donations,” the report reads.

According to the report, the agencies have unused monetary donations and disaster response funds amounting to the following:

• DSWD: P782,012,090.71;

• NDRRMC: P620,399,685;

• DPWH: P121,354,587.62;

• DILG: P52,928,044.12;

• DoH: P670,983.09.

Despite being tasked as the lead agency for disaster response, the DSWD had the biggest sum of unused relief funds, the report said.

In 2013, the agency only used P3.88 million for relief efforts — a mere 0.5% of the total P740.18 million that it received from local and foreign cash donations. At least P408 million was also left unused from the DSWD’s P5.4-billion disaster management fund.

Bulk of the in-kind donations received by the agency have also not been deployed to the victims and still remain in warehouses. This led to the “spoilage and losses” of supplies, particularly of food donations which were left stored and unpacked.

The lack of storage and transport facilities also deterred DSWD from delivering goods and services to typhoon victims, the report said.

DSWD officials, including Secretary Corazon “Dinky” J. Soliman could not be reached for comment as of press time yesterday.

Eight months after Yolanda, victims remain struggling to get back on their feet, according to the report.

“The typhoon has undoubtedly left a deep and massive crater-size physical and socioeconomic destruction as well as untold emotional trauma among the people,” the report said.

Among the untouched funds include a P4.4-million donation coursed through DPWH by a South Korean company, and a P48.8-million donation received by the NDRRMC. These were on top of a P571.6-million balance in the NDRRMC’s quick response fund for 2013.

More than half of the DILG’s P76-million allocation was also left unused.

Local government units in flood-prone areas also showed a poor level of readiness for disaster response, with state auditors saying that they are only 23% prepared.

The lack of coordination and monitoring among implementing office, the CoA said, also caused the low utilization of disaster response funds. They also pointed to “inadequate planning” by the agencies, which caused the delay of service delivery to typhoon victims.

The CoA also slammed the agencies for lapses in the procurement and distribution of relief goods, which deprived victims of immediate access to much-needed goods. The National Food Authority, in particular, was scored for its much-depleted rice buffer stock during the typhoon.

“What is saddening is while there is an increasing need for the government to spend its resources, which are readily available, they can hardly trickle down to the succeeding levels of government in order to reach the victims because state actors are either too reluctant to act if there are no rules or they insist on following longstanding procedures as if there are no emergencies,” the report further said.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) will hold a road show until October to discuss the different reconstruction projects with the local government units.

OPARR Undersecretary Lesley Jeanne Y. Cordero said the road show will be conducted in 171 towns and cities from September to October.

The proposed P170.9-billion Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for areas hit by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November last year is still awaiting approval, but President Benigno S. C. Aquino III has approved the rehabilitation plans for Leyte (P39.5 billion), Iloilo (P22.8 billion), Tacloban City (P15.7 billion), Cebu (P14.5 billion), Eastern Samar (P11.3 billion), and Samar (P8.8 billion).

“For these six areas, we can already start the implementation. We’re just waiting for the disbursement from the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). We’re looking at massive construction this year,” Ms. Cordero said in an interview held in Tacloban City.

The OPARR is also forming a monitoring and validation team to ensure that “everything is accounted for.”

The creation of the Electronic Monitoring Platform Accountability and Transparency Hub for Yolanda (EMPATHY) is also ongoing, according to Ms. Cordero.

The EMPATHY electronic infrastructure will transmit information from selected sites around disaster-stricken areas to Malacañang to enhance monitoring through real-time voice, video, and textual updates.

“This is a platform to find out who is doing what, where and how far along are we in the rehabilitation process,” she added.

By June 2016, the OPARR is eyeing a 60% to 80% completion rate of reconstruction in central Philippines. — with Sarwell Q. Meniano in Tacloban

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