Manila Standard Today – Bishop pleads for displaced people

By Vito Barcelo with Ronald Reyes | Manila Standard Today

Featured-image-Manila-Standard-TodayCOTOBATO Archbishop Orlando Quevedo OMI urged the government to ensure adequate support for people displaced by natural and man-made disasters as the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines prepared to assess rehabilitation efforts for victims of super typhoon “Yolanda.”

Quevedo, whom Pope Francis named cardinal last week, said there are about one million displaced people in the country and the government should enact laws to protect their rights.

“They have the responsibilities of helping the emergency situations… so we are appealing to them to fast track their projects for the displaced persons,” said the archbishop who will be incardinated in the Vatican consistory scheduled for February 22.

In particular, Quevedo urged Congress to pass the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act of 2013, which President Benigno Simeon Aquino III vetoed last year.

Quevedo said millions of Filipino families have been living in evacuation centers for many years and the government has not given them enough help to restore normalcy in their lives.

At the same time, Sen. Bongbong Marcos asked the Aquino administration to hasten relief assistance to disaster-stricken areas by allowing local government units to distribute relief assistance.

“We continue to see defects on the delivery of the necessary financial relief to the typhoon Yolanda areas. Where do the donated money go? Many typhoon victims continue to complain that they haven’t felt and seen the aid,” Marcos said.

In Zamboanga City alone, the archbishop said more than 70,000 people live in makeshift homes.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council echoed the archbishop’s data, saying an estimated 120,000 people fled the fighting in Zamboanga last September and 72,000 of them are still displaced.

“Our brothers and sisters there, they keep on striving and the Church in the Philippines’ help for internally displaced persons is continuing,” said Quevedo.

“We need a law. An executive order or directive or even a law is necessary so that government agencies and civil society will be better guided by that,” Quevedo said. “It would be good with regards to the 40 years of conflict in Mindanao.”

The Philippines would have been the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to have a comprehensive law that protects people against arbitrary displacement and guarantees the rights of the internally displaced when it passed the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Act in February 2013

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees praised the measure as a milestone for the protection of internally displaced people in the Philippines, where decades-long armed conflicts and natural disasters have caused massive displacement.

But Aquino vetoed the law last May purportedly because it “opens the door to a slew of claims or cases against the government and goes against the ‘non-suability’ character of the State.”

The IDMC said the disasters the country experienced last year displaced as many as eight million people.

As of early December 2013, it was estimated that around 4.5 were displaced throughout the country, most of them in Western and Eastern Visayas, the regions most affected by Yolanda.

In asking for faster relief assistance to disaster areas, Marcos said the problem was in the Aquino administration’s policy of centralizing the dispersal of relief assistance and donations.

“With centralized efforts, we have seen duplicity or if not want and wastage on the distribution of aid down on the local level,” Marcos said in an interview

“The good system here should be like what happened on the distribution of relief goods when it was being handled by the local government units. Once they handled it, the relief goods were distributed quickly because they are the ones who know best,” the senator added.

Marcos expressed apprehension on the million of dollars of foreign aid to the country, stressing that ìt ís been two months after Yolanda yet the aid has not been felt in the grassroots… This is what we are worrying about now.

“Even the rehabilitation czar (former senator Panfilo Lacson) doesn’t have funds,” Marcos added.

Marcos’ cousin and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez agreed the national government should empower the local government units in rebuilding their own communities and provide funds or at least consult local officials.

“They should take the lead in developing the reconstruction plan, the master plan, because they know the environment where they are in,” Romualdez said.

“The national government should be at the supervisory level and they should allow the locals to do their best,” Romualdez added.

Meanwhile, the CBCP is set to assess rehabilitation efforts when they gather for their plenary assembly at the Pius XII Center in Manila on Jan. 25 to 27, according to Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Pabillo said the final agenda has not been set “but Yolanda is in the other matters that will be discussed… We are going to consolidate the ongoing works.”

According to Pabillo, Caritas Internationalis is focusing in the reconstruction and recovery of at least 60,000 families in Central Visayas devastated by the typhoon.

“If we could increase the number, it ís much better but that is our target so far until February,” he said.

The Catholic Relief Services earlier said it could take three to five years and at least P109 billion to rehabilitate areas hit by Yolanda. This month, the agency has already shifted its efforts from emergency assistance to long-term recovery and stability programs.

“We will focus on Leyte and Samar islands, primarily in the areas of Palo, Tacloban, Ormoc and Eastern Samar. CRS has committed to raising $50 million,” it said.

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