Eyes on relief fund

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Friday, December 6, 2013

QUEZON CITY — More than tracking where foreign aid goes as the country continues to recover from Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), citizens need to keep an eye on how government’s calamity funds are spent, a former national treasurer advised civil society organizations on Thursday.

“I am not worried about aid from foreign governments,” said Dr. Leonor Briones, lead convenor of Social Watch Philippines. “We should worry more about accountability for our government’s funds,” including calamity funds.

And more than trying to find out how aid funds were spent, citizens also need to ask government how it plans to make communities less vulnerable to the next calamity, said Malu Cagay, deputy executive director of the Center for Disaster Preparedness. She represents disaster survivors in the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

Like Briones, Cagay addressed the “Watching Where Aid Goes” forum hosted yesterday morning by Yolanda Citizen Watch, Blog Watch, #AidMonitorPH and Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines.

So far, foreign governments and international aid groups have pledged P22 billion to help Filipino communities rebuild after Yolanda tore across the central regions last November 8.

Of the pledges, some P4.6 billion were classified as cash, according to the government’s Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (Faith) website.

Out of all the pledges, some P531 million has been received, the site reported.

Build confidence

Rorie Fajardo, program manager of the Citizen Action Network for Accountability, said foreign aid should be monitored “to build confidence and pride in the Philippines and to help ensure that responses match people’s needs.”

She urged civil society groups to track not just foreign aid, but also rehabilitation funds in the 2013 and 2014 budgets, funds “set up in the Philippines by private groups and companies in the name of Yolanda relief” and funds set up by government departments for employees to contribute.

The need is for “a collective and open effort where everybody is welcome to join in and help shape and improve our collective and continuing response,” Fajardo said.

One way to do this, she suggested, is to arrange for an Internet portal that provides updated information about “the passage of money and goods from source to delivery.”

Cagay pointed out that 70 percent of the mandated calamity fund at all levels of the government is supposed to pay for prevention, preparedness, recovery and rehabilitation, while 30 percent is meant for quick responses like the distribution of relief goods.

She called on citizens to ask local governments for more information about geo-hazard maps and to make sure these are used in planning residential zones and public infrastructure like schools and health centers, otherwise the country would remain stuck in “emergency responses” rather than reducing the risks that disasters pose.

What would help? Cagay mentioned the need to “change the paradigm from top-down, centralized disaster management to bottom-up, participatory disaster risk reduction.”

This means that apart from giving typhoon survivors emergency food packs and shelter supplies, she said, they should be involved in thinking about the risks that their communities need to prepare for.


“Recovery is not about bringing back people to the same high-risk situation they were in before a disaster; it is about bouncing back and higher,” Cagay said. “It is about spreading hope.” 

Jane Uymatiao, co-founder of Blog Watch, said the calls to “crowd-source” the accounting of post-Yolanda relief and rehabilitation funds surfaced as early as three days after the typhoon struck. Using the hashtag #AidMonitorPH, volunteers from as far as Lisbon in Portugal have shared information about donations made.

One of the biggest challenges will be finding out where and how these donations were spent, said Abigail Ong, a Department of Budget and Management (DBM) project officer who is involved in the Faith project.


Eleven agencies, including the budget, foreign affairs, social welfare and socioeconomic planning offices, are part of Faith’s work in providing transparency in the movement of aid, Ong said.

Foreign aid funds intended for cash-for-work programs or shelter kits, she said as an example, are typically coursed through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Financial assistance, like the P10,000 promised to every family for every death caused by Yolanda, is managed by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

But tracking funds in the local levels, like the disbursements made by UN partner organizations and the Red Cross, is where much of the challenge lies, Ong said. Unlike calamity funds, these are not subject to government audits; nor can their disclosure be required.

Nearly a month after Yolanda struck, the NDRRMC said that some P946.28 million worth of relief goods have been distributed so far, with 71 percent coming from the DSWD. The work ahead, however, will be massive.

Yolanda destroyed about P35.2 billion worth of infrastructure and agricultural products, and either brought down or damaged more than 1.2 million houses.

As of Thursday, December 5, the death toll was 5,759, with 26,233 hurt and 1,779 still missing. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 06, 2013.

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