By Ayee Macaraig | Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – A day after Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson said he might quit his post, senators urged President Benigno Aquino III to give Lacson more powers to oversee the implementation of the Philippines’ biggest rehabilitation effort since World War II.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr said Aquino should give Lacson administrative powers over the P170.7 billion ($3.93 billion)* rehabilitation fund for areas hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013.
Lacson said on Sunday that he might resign after handing to the President the comprehensive rehabilitation plan, adding that he has no power to implement it anyway. The former senator has been serving as “over-all manager and coordinator,” being the presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, a post Aquino created in the aftermath of Yolanda.
“I understand the concern of Secretary Lacson. He cannot administer the funds. The first step there is to allow him to administer the funds for rehabilitation. That way, he controls the funds and he can go back to how agencies used the money, whether it went to the right purpose or not. I think that’s the minimum he will require,” Marcos said on Monday, August 4.
Marcos has been involved in the Yolanda relief and rehabilitation efforts, with his mother, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, hailing from typhoon-hit Leyte. His Senate public works committee also investigated the alleged substandard bunkhouses the government built for the survivors.
The senator said that while Lacson has no control over the national departments and local government units that will implement the rehabilitation plan, he can work with them better if he administers the funds.
“I hope all officials will do all they can to help the victims of Yolanda. I guess we can count on their cooperation. We just need a ‘conductor’ and I think Secretary Lacson can do that by controlling the fund,” Marcos said.
For Senator Sergio Osmeña III, Lacson’s lack of powers limits his role, especially in the implementation phase of rehabilitation.
“An inherent problem in his position is he has no line department. Will the secretary of [social works and development], [interior and local government] obey him? He has coordinating powers. They might tell him, ‘You just have coordinating powers. You have no line powers,’” Osmeña said in a separate interview.
The senator who hails from Cebu blamed Lacson’s problematic position on the management style of Aquino, whom he previously called “an awful manager.”
“Di ba sinabi ko na, I don’t understand the way he manages things? 'Di ko talaga maintindihan eh. Usually, step 1, 2, 3, 4 automatic na iyan eh. I do not know how they manage these things. Nag-aantay din ang tao, kawawa naman sila. They have no homes. Sa Cebu, they haven’t even repaired a single school building,” Osmeña said.
(Didn’t I say that I don’t understand the way he manages things? I really do not get it. Usually, the steps taken should be automatic.... People are waiting. You will pity the survivors.)
Asked how Lacson can maximize his role, Osmeña quipped, “I do not know. I cannot guess what is in the mind of our beloved Noynoy.”
The world’s most powerful typhoon to make landfall, Yolanda killed over 6,000 when it hit the Visayas on November 8, 2013. Nine months later, survivors and local government officials have been complaining of the slow pace of rehabilitation, with Aquino approving the plans of some cities and municipalities just weeks ago.
An archipelago, the Philippines is the third most disaster prone country in the world, according to the United Nations.
‘Have a separate system for disasters’
In the long-term, Marcos said he supports proposals to create a separate department in charge of disaster risk reduction and rehabilitation.
“Maybe this can be a testing ground, what Secretary Lacson is doing, to see what is the best system to implement the rehabilitation plan. So this is actually new. We did not have this problem before. It was a problem before but the departments could handle it. But now, it seems the disasters are getting worse, so we need a separate system for rehabilitation after a typhoon hits,” Marcos said.
Marcos was commenting on Senator Grace Poe’s pending bill to make the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) a separate department. The agency is currently under the defense department. Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano also proposed the creation of an Emergency Response Department to replace the NDRRMC.
“The NDRRMC has many duties. There’s the pre- and post-disaster, not just rehabilitation. If scientists predict that [typhoons] will become more frequent and intense, it’s time to start thinking about that,” Marcos said.
Yet Marcos said it is not enough to focus on rehabilitation.
“Let’s also include preparedness and mitigation, the whole cycle. From the start, we should prepare and eventually, the problems we encountered in Yolanda, we can now address,” he said.