A month after Yolanda

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Saturday, December 7, 2013


TACLOBAN CITY -- Some parts of the city are still dirty, with debris and garbage dumped on the streets, replacing what used to be bodies of casualties. Residents in nearby towns resort to burning trees that have been felled just to have light at night. A few businesses have re-opened while those that used to occupy stalls in the public market are now plying their wares in the streets.

It has been a month since super typhoon Yolanda’s winds, rain and the storm surge brought catastrophic damage to a huge part of Eastern Visayas and some towns in northern Cebu. Those who survived her fury are still in the dark, literally, as they slowly pick up the pieces to bring a semblance of normalcy to their lives.

CH’s initatives

Since the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council formed Task Force Normalization, the Tacloban City Government has been conducting regular meetings with residents and stakeholders to help the city get back on its track.

In its meeting last Friday, an attendee wanted to know how to go about complying with City Hall requirements so she could resume her business operation when her documents were washed away. Another asked how soon street lights could be reconnected and when the City would clear up the streets and the public market so vendors wouldn’t have to ply their wares on the road.

Mayor Alfred Romualdez asked them to give the City a week to collect the garbage and appealed to construction firms to lend their dump trucks to the City to speed up the process. He said the City will take care of the fuel and allowances of the truck drivers.

He also said the City will defer all increases in local taxes that it had imposed, adding that the City will work out a payment scheme for delinquent taxpayers.

The mayor, however, warned business owners to deal with City Hall directly and not to resort to using fixers to speed up transactions or face penalties.

Curfew will still be imposed in the city and residents have been asked to be vigilant and avoid violating any laws.

Business woes

Despite these measures, members of the local business community are still apprehensive.

While they admit that peace and order have normalized and essential basic services are available, they still have concerns that need to be addressed to resume operations.

Andrew Ng, secretary of the Leyte Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), told Sun.Star Cebu that the ideal thing for government to do would be to declare a tax moratorium, something which Romaldez said is difficult to grant and is not even recommended.

Lamenting the “lack of support” from both the local government and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Ng said that what businesses need now are loans so they can resume operations and pay off payables. The LCCI, however, is meeting with BSP to raise their concerns.

“Government can’t give relief goods all the time. We are not asking for dole-outs but we need help also,” he said.

Optimism

Some LCCI members, he said, haven’t opened shops yet for two reasons: security, especially after the looting, and inability to pay after their entire inventory was looted. He said LCCI has two members who have decided not to return to Tacloban.

But Ng said they are optimistic that by January, “everything will be okay.”

Oliver Cam, owner of Welcome Home Pensione, shared Ng’s sentiments.

Cam said the apprehensions are unavoidable, even if peace and order have normalized and essential basic services are available.

He stressed the need for help “from the national level.” By that, Cam meant assistance in case businesses will consider declaring a total loss, or granting them zero-interest loans.

They would also prefer lifting the 12-percent value added tax in affected areas, he said.

Cam said that what has happened so far are business operators individually asking banks for a moratorium on loan payments or for a loan restructuring.

Tiny homes, for now

The Tacloban City Government is assisting about 55,000 families affected by Yolanda. They stay in 28 evacuation centers where they receive relief goods from government and private donors.

To address the need to provide safer homes, the City is constructing temporary shelters--bunkhouses, tents and school buildings--in schools and selected areas.

The bunkhouses, measuring 2.4 meters wide and 3.6 meters long, are being built jointly by workers from the Department of Public Works and Highways in Regions 10 and 11 and from a construction company in Agusan, whose owner agreed to send them here to help out, free of charge.

These groups aim to finish construction in time for Christmas.

Getting better

Ted Jopson of the City Housing and Community Development Office said the City is focusing on two types of shelter for the survivors: temporary, especially for those living within the no-build zones, and permanent, to be established in northern barangays.

For now, what the City has 10 hectares of land that can accommodate 1,500 houses. It has identified another 40 hectares but a topographic survey still needs to be conducted in these areas to make sure these are not vulnerable to landslides.

Jopson said temporary shelters will be set up in all of the city’s public elementary and high schools, which have yet to open because authorities are still validating the number of affected students and teachers. In some towns, though, classes have resumed and conducted in shifts. 

There’s still so much to be done, Mayor Romualdez admitted. “But every day is getting better. Let’s learn from the past and make ourselves stronger,” he said.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2013.

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