'Gov't to account for every cent of Yolanda aid'

By Aurea Calica, The Philippine Star

Posted at Mar 15 2014 10:18 AM | Updated as of Mar 15 2014 06:18 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The government is “ready to account for every centavo” donated to victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda, President Aquino told a group of high school students from Tacloban City on Thursday.

In a forum with students of Hope Christian High School in Sta. Cruz, Manila, Aquino said his administration would not give local and international donors any reason to doubt how the government was spending their money.

The school has 180 students “adopted” from Tacloban City, one of the hardest hit by Yolanda in November last year.

“I would suggest that you go to the websites so you can look for the figures at your leisure, instead of just mouthing it off right now,” Aquino said.

He clarified that not all donations pass through government as institutions like the Red Cross and the United Nations accept and distribute donations.

On Monday, the government said it would update its website put up to track foreign aid for Yolanda amid continuous public interest in relief efforts as well as demand for transparency and efficiency.

Aquino said the public could check the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub or FAiTH website to see which countries gave donations and where these funds went.

“I assume that there are some links that will tell you exactly how those organizations utilize the funds that came their way,” he said.

Earlier, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters in a press briefing that after a meeting with government officials last week, Malacañang decided to update the government’s FAiTH website to include information on which pledges translated to actual donations.

“The original plan was just to track government donations. But right now, we will also track where the pledges of assistance with the multilateral organizations go just to show a clear picture,” Lacierda said.

“We need to also know how many of the pledges have been converted to actual, for instance, donation,” he said. “We also need to confirm with the foreign embassies how much of their pledges of assistance have been converted into cash or non-cash assistance already.”

At present, the FAiTH website shows P24.6 billion ($551.9 million) worth of pledges – P3 billion ($69.1 million) in cash, and P21.5 billion ($482.8 million) non-cash.

It also says the total cash received by the government amounted to P643.2 million ($13.3 million).

Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said it has received this week more donations from the international community for recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has formally turned over to DSWD $1 million donation from Pakistan.

The DFA also turned over the donation of Dian Haseng, spouse of the Indonesian ambassador in Nigeria.

The donation was specifically for the rebuilding of mosques in Muslim communities in the areas affected by Yolanda.

Funds released

As donations continue to pour in, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has released P19.405 billion for the rehabilitation efforts, according to a report submitted to the House appropriations committee.

In a related development, Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said President Aquino was just being humble and honest in admitting that the government was slow in responding to the devastation caused by Yolanda.

“He must now assess and look at the government’s engineering brigades and upgrade their equipment and capabilities. Our public works and highways district and regional offices should be provided with proper equipment to be able to respond to natural and man-made calamities,” he said.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, an appropriations committee vice chairman, told reporters yesterday that of the amount Malacañang has released, P1.068 billion was for additional quick response fund (QRF), while P18.337 billion went to the recovery and rehabilitation program.

Of the amount allocated for the program, P6.218 billion was for the repair of public infrastructure and government facilities, he said.

Some P111.2 million was released to the National Food Authority, P500 million to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, P3.9 billion to the National Electrification Administration, P101.2 million to National Power Corp., P1.5 billion to National Transmission Corp., and P77 million to Local Water Utilities Administration.

Evardone said the Department of Health received P1 billion for health services.

Updated assessment

Presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery Secretary Panfilo Lacson, for his part, said he is ready to submit to President Aquino a “post need disaster assessment” (PDNA) of devastated areas.

In a radio interview, Lacson said the damage was projected at only P100 billion, or much lower than the P306 billion estimate in December last year.

“There was a significant reduction in the need and damage assessment because of the help of the private sector and the NGOs,” Lacson added. “I am merely coordinating the efforts and activities of the line agencies, private sector, multilateral, bilateral and all stakeholders to ensure there will be no gap or overlap in the development.” With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Rainier Allan Ronda