Philippines: Recovering from Yolanda, one step at a time

Source(s): Philippines - government

At-risk populations—the poor, powerless, and vulnerable—play an enormous part at every level of government anti-poverty and development work. They are the primary focus of the 26 government agencies that make up the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster. They are also squarely in the cross-hairs of every natural disaster that hits the country, with those capable of moving to safer locations generally glad that they can still do so.

But this is the Philippines, so we know that, despite our best efforts, our most faithfully implemented policies are always under threat from natural disasters. Every such disaster not only impacts the poor in its path; it also impacts programs and strategies designed to draw as many members of that at-risk population as possible out of the situation that makes them most vulnerable. In what Cluster Chair Dinky Soliman calls the “new normal,” we know that some of the very places and people we are trying to help will get hit—often hard hit—especially since they have the fewest resources with which to recover.

One of the biggest challenges that the Aquino administration—and the next one to follow—will face is how to reduce poverty and increase employment and livelihood opportunities in a situation where the country is perennially devastated by natural calamities. They hurt our just-passed quest for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, just as they will surely impede the new Strategic Development Goals that the next administration will strive to meet.

It certainly helps that the Supreme Court has (finally) passed on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health Law—giving long-term hope that our burgeoning population growth might abate. (But the disturbing political ploy by some legislators to starve the legally-mandated DoH contraception program of funds ‘for political gain’ actually damages the nation’s economy and—even worse—increases the suffering of the poor.) Likewise, children educated with the help of Conditional Cash Transfers will graduate, improving the capabilities of our workforce. If top-down economic growth can be maintained, we can hope unemployment will continue—and accelerate—its slight downward trend. (Unemployment is down almost a whole percentage point from last year—from 2014’s 6.5% to this year’s 5.6%.)

Without a doubt, Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) has been one of the biggest crises faced by the Aquino administration, particularly in terms of addressing joblessness and poverty itself. Certainly, there were a number of significant failures all round: the lack of preparation and poor coordination between national and local government agencies, which resulted in decimated infrastructure and livelihoods, and in a colossal number of human casualties. The snail-paced allocation of budget also caused one-third of recovery and reconstruction projects–including permanent shelters, roads and jobs–to remain idle. At the same time, the constant emphasis to help the living resulted in the poor management and identification of the dead. There was also the problem of lack of refrigeration facilities and public morgues. Finally, concerned government institutions often failed to take advantage of expert services and modern DNA laboratory facilities that were offered by the University of the Philippines and the Philippine General Hospital.

But though you wouldn’t know it from the public claims of most of our presidential candidates—faithfully magnified by media—Yolanda recovery and reconstruction has also made gains and passed milestones at a rate that has elicited favorable comment from various countries and international organizations.

A January 2016 paper published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs quotes Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and NEDA Director General Arsenio M. Balisacan with distinct approval. The report says that the physical accomplishments “of completed and ongoing Yolanda programs, projects and activities now stands at 63.2%—30.3% completed and 33.1% ongoing. Most of the ongoing projects are scheduled for completion by 2016.”

Almost 95% of all affected airports are now rehabilitated; almost 96% of first-batch municipal facilities—such as civic centers, municipal halls and public markets—have been rehabilitated, as well as 89% of the damaged bridges and 72% of damaged roads. Accomplishments like these were unheard of as recently as the Aceh tsunami disaster of 2004, where the Indonesians took over ten years to recover. One thing about the “new normal”: we are certainly learning a lot about disaster preparedness and response.

But no one in anti-poverty and development can ever afford to allow their eyes to stray from the people and the quality of their lives. The ongoing distribution of Emergency Shelter Assistance reached 788,747 households (76.3% of the 1,033,827 families targeted); of the 54,825 targeted fisherfolk beneficiaries, 89.4% have had their fishing boats repaired or replaced—distribution of tackle and gear has already exceeded targets; 85.7% of the rice and corn seeds for the next harvest have already been distributed to farmers. These are big, powerful programs—and yet many can be left in want—either from having to wait or from not “fitting in.”

Many residents from Leyte province—the most Yolanda-devastated area—have found themselves without sources of livelihood. One government response has been the Accelerated and Sustainable Anti-Poverty Program (ASAPP) by the government’s Poverty Cluster.

Aimed at giving typhoon victims reason to hope once again, ASAPP is a concerted effort by national government agencies dealing with poverty and development to provide more livelihood ventures for poor families in identified provinces, cities, and municipalities all over the country.

Part of the ASAPP poverty reduction framework is the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), a community-based effort to improve participants’ socio-economic status through capacity building. For 2015, SLP targeted about 90,078 beneficiaries in Leyte for a total funding of P547,699,392. SLP is implemented through two tracks: Micro-Enterprise Development and Employment Facilitation.

Micro-Enterprise Development supports micro-enterprises’ organizational and economic viability by providing capital assistance to Employment Facilitation, which helps participants access appropriate employment opportunities. Both tracks are based on the Community-Driven Enterprise Development approach—equipping people to actively contribute to production and labor markets by looking at available resources and accessible markets.

Abuyog, Leyte is an ASAPP recipient. It is a first class municipality in the province of Leyte with a population of 57,146. With its land area of 688.2 square kilometers, it is the largest town in Leyte.

Getting back on their feet

For Yolanda-affected families, starting a new life is neither easy nor fast, but determination, perseverance, and a commitment to regain normalcy are driving factors for many—including three women beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program: Leslie de la Serna, Josephine Lleve, and Emee Montesclaros—all from Abuyog. These women reaped gains from the ASAPP program’s focus on livelihood generation through SLP.

Before Yolanda, the three women concentrated only on household chores and taking care of their children. But, becoming beneficiaries of Pantawid Pamilya—and later on, of SLP—significantly affected their lives,opening doors of opportunity and paving the way for their active participation in community affairs.

They now serve as volunteers, helping to implement other DSWD programs and projects.

Leslie, 31, from Barangay Sta. Fe, narrates that she earns income as a Barangay Health Worker (BHW), receiving P500.00 monthly. “My earnings as a BHW and the cash grants we receive for the health and education of our three children is a big help to our family.” She is also a Pantawid Pamilya parent leader handling Family Development Sessions—a regular activity participated in by the program’s partner-beneficiaries—and is a leader of the local chapter of Samaritan’s Purse, a non-governmental organization that provides food, water, shelter, medicine and other assistance to victims of armed conflict, disaster, famine and epidemics. Leslie is also became a member of the SLP-organized Yolanda Micro-Enterprise Association, which operates a mini-grocery selling low-priced grocery items.

The group was able to avail of an interest-free loan to start operations in August, 2015. Their first sale amounted to P500.00. The sales of their mini-grocery now average P4,000.00 per month. Gradually, the family income has increased, enabling them to meet not only their daily needs and expenses, but also those of their neighbors.

“The mini-grocery that we opened also helped the villagers since they no longer have to go to Tacloban to buy grocery items. The products that we sell are also cheaper,” Leslie proudly shared.

Josephine, 43, of Barangay Sto. Nino, narrates, “Before Yolanda, we had our own garden with okra, ampalaya, upo, and patola. We earned extra income from selling our vegetable garden’s harvest.”

Recently, Josephine and 11 other women from their village received capital assistance of P120,000.00 from DSWD’s SLP. They used this money to start a mini–grocery, where fellow Pantawid Pamilya members bought their children’s school needs and food.

“DSWD didn’t leave us. After Yolanda, we received relief goods. Our children are now even more interested in schooling,” she added.

Likewise, Emee, 38, of Barangay Balocawe says,“As a parent–leader of Pantawid Pamilya, I tried to motivate my fellow members not to depend solely on the cash grants given by the program.”

Emee and her husband, Clyde, 44, work hard to provide for their children’s needs. They also produce and sell tuba—coconut wine—as an additional source of income. Besides this, Emee and six of her neighbors are now starting an SLP-funded piggery.

But even while the poor communities of Abuyog have received assistance from SLP, questions have been raised about it. One is whether the DSWD has the competency to actually implement a program of employment-generation and livelihood assistance. The agency has addressed this need for expanding competencies by partnering with other line agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Agrarian Reform. These institutional linkages help bridge the demands of poor communities for skills development and support services, while at the same time fosteringlabor, microenterprise and market linkages.

Much—perhaps too much—has been made of Filipino resiliency. Is it necessarily a good thing, one wonders? Is it lauded as a collective quality to absolve the state of its responsibility to provide for its citizens’ needs? The Oxford English Dictionary points out the etymology of “resilience” from the Latin resilire, “to rebound, recoil,” and defines it as “the power to recover,” “the ability of something to bend, then spring back to its original state.” That is certainly what has happened with the people of Leyte, and many others like them who were devastated by climate disasters and are daily bent, sometimes broken, by the impoverished conditions of everyday life. While government programs are important for redrawing the conditions under which they labor, their success hinge precisely on people’s ability to respond to and recuperate from their misfortune. But in the same vein, resilience is never enough. It is up to government—both national and local–to harness that very capability to recover.

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