MANILA – Leyte 4th District Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez on Thursday said politics and inefficiency are hampering the distribution of relief operations in the province as some mayors refuse to give out relief goods to non-supporters.
Speaking to ANC’s Headstart, Gomez said Ormoc City as the distribution hub is supposed to service the entire western part of Leyte comprising 19 municipalities.
However, she noted that only 3 C-130 planes can land at Ormoc airport per day. Each plane can load about three truckloads of relief goods. “So in one day that’s 9 truckloads per day for 19 municipalities. That is not enough,” she said.
The congresswoman questioned the system of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to give the relief goods to mayors. She said that in theory, the system is correct since the mayors are supposed to know the needs of their constituents.
However, since there are not enough goods, the mayors have to choose which families will get aid.
“Just because the plan in their minds is perfect doesn’t mean the application on the ground will also be perfect because what happens is the goods are distributed so thinly when it gets to the municipality. Maybe one municipality will have one truckload after being without relief goods for 4 days. So ano ang gagawin ngayon? Pipiliin kung sino ang bibigyan. Mas magulo. For relief operations to be really effective and to be felt, it has to be massive e. Dapat sabay sabay ang dating ng goods na en masse talaga. Talagang nalulunod yung lugar ng relief,” she said.
Gomez cited several instances where political affiliations were used in choosing which persons receive aid. She said local leaders would sometimes single out persons who cannot get relief goods “because you’re using the umbrella of a rival.”
In another municipality, a town councilor had to go to the distribution hub directly after the mayor refused to give rice to the barangay.
“Mam, wala talagang bigas. Gutom na gutom na yung mga tao sa barangay. Ayaw bigyan ni mayor,” she recalled the councilor as saying.
She said she told the councilor to go directly to DSWD to explain the situation and ask for 1-2 sacks of rice. She said the councilor’s request was refused “because it needed the endorsement of the mayor.”
“I understand the rules but there also has to be flexibility in a crisis like this. Kapag may taong gutom, ano ba naman yung isang sakong bigas?” she asked.
She added: “I am not just talking about my district. It is reflective in all the other municipalities. May pulitika talaga. We have to remember, kakatapos lang ng barangay elections. Pagdating mo sa barangay level - sino yung namamahala ng relief goods? You rely on the local leaders and the barangay captains.”
Inefficiency, refusing offers of help
Another flaw in the current system, Gomez said, is that the local leaders are relying on the voters’ list to distribute the goods. This means that non-voters could end up with nothing.
“This is not an election. We are in a crisis. We have our own lists and coordinators and we go per household. We have the number of household per barangay and the discrepancy is big. Just because hindi ka botante, hindi ka na pwede tumanggap ng relief goods. You are just as much a victim as thenext person,” she said.
The congresswoman said the better system would be to ask local coordinators about the actual number of households per barangay. She said all the goods she has distributed to her district came from private individuals and NGOs.
“When we do go to a barangay, we will not attempt to go na kulang kulang ang relief packs for the number of households. It is very important that when you go to a barangay, bilang mo kung ilang households and you have more than that number in terms of relief packs para lahat pantay-pantay, lahat makakatanggap. Dapat walang color coding, walang pulitika,” she said.
The congresswoman confirmed that the flow of goods from the distribution centers is moving too slowly especially to mountain barangays where accessibility is still a problem.
However, she also noted that local officials sometimes do not take offers of help by other groups.
She noted one instance where a US Navy commander offered to air drop goods in Leyte but the offer was not taken up.
“He went to city hall and told the mayor and the local officials there that he had 3 choppers that they could use. It was at their disposal. Just tell him where he needed the goods dropped. Three days passed but they never took the chance, they never took the privilege of having choppers. It was at no cost to the government. All they had to do was bring the goods... and they would air drop in those barangays na hindi naaabot,” she said.
“I don’t know the sense behind it. For me, I am guessing maybe it is an issue of control. Maybe their idea of effective relief operation is the people knowing it came from them but in a crisis it is not about the politician or who gave the goods. It is really about the people being helped. There has to be that selflessness, that even if the people don’t know where the goods came from, it is enough that those people are helped,” she said.
Release emergency funds
In the interview, Gomez appealed to the national government to give emergency funds to the local government units so that mayors will not have to be reliant on the relief goods being given out.
She said that with the Supreme Court ruling striking down the priority development assistance funds of lawmakers, even she cannot give funds to the mayors in her district.
“It is very difficult for me as a representative because I go around the district and at a time like this, mabibwisit lang sila pag nakikita na wala kang maiaabot. Not many people will understand also na wala kang PDAF especially the mayors dahil sila din ang pine-pressure ng tao,” she said.
She also said she is reserving some of the offers of help for the longer process of rehabilitation and rebuilding of homes in Leyte's 4th District.