Group: Philippines loses focus on sustainable development goals

THE Philippines committed in 2015 to achieve the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) by 2030, but the country seemed to have lost its focus on the goals this early.

Rina Reyes, a leader of the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) and Rights Network, said the government “must first take care of the risk reduction management” to achieve the goals joined by other 192 United Nations member countries.

These 17 goals are: no poverty, no hunger, good health, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, clean energy, good jobs and economic growth, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, protect the planet, life below water, life on land, peace and justice, and partnership for the goals.

“Any development should start with the Yolanda victims. Disaster can have devastating impact on development,” said Reyes.

She said there is a strong link between the sustainable development goals and disaster management, adding that “communities can lose their home, people can lose their livelihood, and families can lose their loved ones.”

“Moreover, the poorest members of the society are, most of the time, the least prepared to cope with disaster and the one who are most impacted by them,” she told SunStar Philippines.

While the Philippines affirmed its commitment to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030, the country seemed to focus primarily on six goals: Quality Education (Goal 4), Decent Work and Economic Growth (Goal 8), Reduced Inequalities (Goal 10), Climate Action (Goal 13), Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (Goal 16) based on “The 2019 Voluntary National Review of the Philippines.”

“Note that, only one goal, Climate Action (Goal 10), is a current focus of the government out of the four goals which concern the risk reduction within the SDGs. Needless to mention how much the risk reduction is particularly important in the Philippines, just by examining the situation post-Haiyan and should be a priority in the development of the country,” Reyes said.

“It doesn’t mean per say that the Filipino government doesn’t tackle the risk reduction management, but it doesn’t appear to be the principal goal for now when we look at the focus area for achieving the SDGs,” she added.

According to Reyes, it is important to keep in mind that even if the government currently focuses on those six goals, all of the 17 SDGs must be achieved by 2030.

“Now if we look at the situation in the Visayas and Samar region, the two most regions most impacted by the Super Typhoon Yolanda in a post-Yolanda setting, what can it tell us about the Filipino’s achievement of the SDGs?” the Haiyan leader asked.

Hollow rehabilitation

For some of the 2013 Typhoon Yolanda victims, they said the rehabilitation was “hollow and useless.”

“How can they manage to trick us that everything is back to normal again. This is an insult. If only they could see for themselves the real condition of small children and families in the relocation sites,” said Vincent Basiano, who leads a group of storm victims in their fight for decent housing and livelihood in Tacloban City five years after Yolanda.

Sarah Dela Pena, 37, said they continue to live near the sea, which claimed over 5,000 lives, stressing their new relocation site “is equally dangerous and far from our livelihood.”

“There is no water and electricity there. We don’t want to die in our relocation site. At least her near the sea, we find food, we live,” she told ucanews.com in a report.

“Year after year, the same issues on Haiyan rehabilitation have been aired by us to our government leaders, but nothing real and acceptable to us had happened,” added Lita Bagunas of Giporlos, Eastern Samar.

“In our place alone, we are not moving in to the relocation house because we found out that it is substandard,” Bagunas said.

In their new research, Reyes said she and her broad coalition of Yolanda members, which include the church and government line agencies, summed up on how the multi-billion Yolanda rehabilitation program failed in connection to the government’s commitment in achieving sustainable development goals.

On the national housing project, they blamed the top-down approach of the agency, where no prior consultation with the local communities about the project were done.

Six years after, the majority of Yolanda’s survivors are still living in temporary houses.

Other issues include substandard construction; no basic services from electricity, water, health, education; away from livelihood areas; no transportation for the community to go from the relocation site to their livelihood areas or market place; families need to possess a private mean of transportation; and expensive to travel back and forth between the relocation site and the livelihood areas in term of gas consumption.

On land security, community member still have to fight to access their land rights and get land security, leaving the families in vulnerable situations.

They are living without any sense of security. They can be threatened of eviction or even getting their house demolished with no suitable substitute solution. Even worse, the lack of land title is a direct threat getting humanitarian aid and thus impacting their chances of surviving a disaster.

On no build zone, it is similar to the situation, with the people having no land rights.

People are living under threat of eviction and pressured to be relocated in the unsafe National Housing Authorities houses.

They also are moving far away from their livelihood area, hence losing their food and economic security.

“Those represent the three main challenges which the Yolanda victims have to tackle every day since Yolanda. Based on these challenges, it is difficult to perceive the intention of the government to tackle the SDGs by 2030. The post-Yolanda recovery phase should have been used by the government to reduce exposure and vulnerability of the poor communities and build back resilient and sustainable buildings,” Reyes said of their research.

“Thus, it is failing to engage in goals number 1, no poverty; 2, zero hunger; 3, good health and well-being; 4, quality education; 6, clean water and sanitation; 9, industry, innovation, infrastructure; and 11, sustainable cities and communities. Even worse, it is pressuring the communities into even more unstable and unsafe situation, pushing them more and more into poverty and vulnerability,” she added.

Reyes, however, blamed the degree of commitment attached to the signing of the sustainable development goals.

“There is only a voluntary commitment. No legally bound to respect the SDGs. This jeopardizes the future for the next generations,” said Reyes.

Church response

Meanwhile, the Catholic church continued to act its part amid its estranged relationship with the current administration in terms of responding to the needs of Yolanda survivors and its role in community development.

“The Catholic Church, despite many negative remarks especially from the government, has remained true to its mandate: to witness, journey with and be of service to the poorest and the most vulnerable, especially those devastated by Typhoon Yolanda,” said Jing Rey Henderson, communications and partnership development manager of National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa)/Caritas Philippines, the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

“Together with our partners, we were able to raise funds and implement the P3.2 billion recovery and rehabilitation Caritas response benefiting more than 1.8 million Filipinos. And these interventions were not just one shot deals,” Henderson said.

According to Henderson, they made sure to integrate humanitarian response with long-term development programming to help ensure that the sustainable development goals of the country will be attained.

“Thus our communities now are way better than five years before: with better and more stable income, healthier and happier. And so while we still have much to learn, our government can sure learn a lesson or two from how we do our implementations,” she said.

Henderson said “it's high time we recognize that there is a vast vacuum in terms of accountability and transparency in how we do service delivery in the government.”

“And the Catholic Church is ready to help change this,” she said. (SunStar Philippines)


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