Tacloban rehab: Slow and furious

Posted at 07/23/2014 11:15 PM | Updated as of 07/24/2014 9:31 PM

8 months after, many Yolanda survivors still in tent cities

TACLOBAN, Leyte - It's a city fighting back, trying to recover what it lost.

In the new Tacloban, the airport is bustling again. Just nine months ago, the city was left in ruins.

November 8, 2013 is the day super typhoon "Yolanda" -- one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded -- made landfall, devastating over a hundred cities and municipalities across the Visayas.

In Tacloban City, 'Yolanda' left thousands of people dead and many more homeless.

The devastation came on the heels of President Benigno Aquino III's promise in his 2013 State of the Nation Address (SONA) that new geohazard mapping and assessment programs would keep Filipinos away from harm during calamities.

In the aftermath of the typhoon, signpost painter Cesar Cayanong brought hope to his fellow Taclobanons with bright messages posted outside his home.

Today, thousands of cadavers have been buried, and the debris cleaned up.

Cayanong is still painting. But this time, his are strokes of frustration.

In his new painting, foreign aid is seen flying toward Yolanda survivors while government aid is trudging along a straight and narrow path at a slow pace with a symbol of corruption blocking its path.

"Nakakatuwa nga na nakakaiyak. Maraming mga promise ang gobyerno pero parang hindi ko nararamdaman yung tulong," Cayanong said.

STILL IN TENT CITIES

His sentiment is shared by many in Tacloban, especially those still living in tent cities.

Even those already in bunkhouses built by the National Housing Authority (NHA), like Alexander Docena, are still reeling from the calamity.

Docena said the emptiness of his room at the bunkhouse is a constant reminder of what he lost to the typhoon -- his mother, his wife and their four children.

He and many of his neighbors are still waiting for the government to provide better shelter for them.

"Itong bunkhouse, mabuti pa nga ang mga kulungan sa mga senador eh, maganda kumpara rito," he said.

FOREIGN AID EXPECTATIONS

Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez admitted rehabilitation efforts have been slow.

"Yung mga tao dito nagrereklamo dahil number 1, eh lumabas naman sa national media yan na maraming donasyon, bilyon-bilyon. Expectation nila na makita naman nila yung mga sinasabing impact projects or impact changes and they have not seen that," he said.

According to the United Nations (UN), it has received only half of the $800 million pledged by other countries for the rehabilitation.

Romualdez said the city government has submitted a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for Tacloban.

But without the President's approval, no fund would be released to make that plan a reality.

For now, typhoon-hit areas make do with the Department of Social Welfare and Development's (DSWD) continuing programs and the P4 billion distributed by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to rebuild public structures such as municipal and city halls and public markets.

"It will not be frustrating kung alam natin na walang pera, pero sila rin naman ang nagsasabi sa national na sobra-sobra yung pera at nandidiyan na. So anong problema?" Romualdez said.

COMPARATIVELY FAST?

But for rehabilitation chief Panfilo Lacson, things are on track.

Lacson said he submitted the comprehensive plans from various local government units (LGUs) to the President last July 1.

Aquino though has yet to approve those plans.

Lacson said relocation of the survivors is a tedious process, especially since builders want to ensure that the new houses stand on safer ground.

"I can understand also yung impatience ni Mayor Romualdez dahil matagal na rin talaga nila na-submit yung rehabilitation plan, na-vet na. Kasi tinamaan din nitong mga issues na katakot-takot. Masyadong maingat na rin ang national government sa pag-release ng budget ng pondo. And we cannot also blame them," he said.

He said even if funds have yet to reach the LGUs, the national government has been working hard, probably harder than most people think.

He cited the Department of Health's (DOH) P1 billion funding to fix damaged rural health units, and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources' (BFAR) efforts to provide motorbancas to those who lost their livelihood.

There are also several ongoing projects funded by the P8 billion donated by the private sector.

"Nine months is really too long for a survivor. May katwiran sila. Pero kung titingnan mo yung pangkalahatan, yung macro, masasabi ko hindi tayo delayed," Lacson said.

Compared to other calamity-hit countries, Lacson said the government response here is faster.

He cited Haiti, which still has 200,000 people living in tents, four years after a powerful earthquake, and the United States, which achieved full recovery four years after hurricane Katrina's devastation.

But for Yolanda survivors like Cayanong and Docena, aid is long overdue.

All they can do, however, is wait and hold on to one thing that Yolanda' never managed to destroy: their hope.