COA: Yolanda relief ‘chaotic, crazy’
MANILA, Philippines – “It was that crazy on the field, I’m sorry …. It’s regrettable although understandable. Talagang (It was really) chaos.”
This is how Commission on Audit (COA) chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan described the findings of a report her agency is finalizing on aid and relief efforts following Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
In a Senate hearing on Monday, March 17, Tan revealed that the COA is coming out with a report focusing on systems and procedures of aid during the world’s worst typhoon that hit the Visayas on Nov 8, 2013. The disaster killed over 6,000 people and left over 4 million people displaced.
The COA’s findings confirmed what many observers long pointed out but the government dismissed. (READ: Haiyan crisis: no ground commander)
“There was really no one calling the shots, doing coherent coordination. It was an emergency; a huge catastrophe. Everybody was at a loss. That’s fine but we have to bring out that finding,” Tan said.
The COA chief cited an incident several days after the typhoon in Tacloban, a city that bore the brunt of the calamity.
“So many planes were coming in but in the airport, there was no manager. No one was directing. Nobody could tell us where, what airplane to look for the goods so you have to check every plane that lands where the goods are intended for that particular beneficiary group. It was that crazy.”
Tan explained that the “chaos” was a factor why the COA decided to focus on auditing systems first before the actual funds.
She said the government procedure was to accept donations through the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DSWD) bank accounts, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and the Philippine Red Cross.
In reality, Tan said what happened was a lot of the donations went straight to the beneficiaries. Another factor is that the aid listed on the government portal Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAITH) included pledges, with the money yet to be received.
“There was so much less given to DSWD than what was given to Red Cross. Not all of those listed in FAITH are in cash, a lot of them are in kind so it’s very difficult to put a value. A lot of them are in the form of pledges…. We don’t even know [if funds were mismanaged] because even the LGUs on the ground, they didn’t know exactly who helped them, what help they got,” Tan said.
DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman said she agreed that at first, the aid effort was disorganized but added that the government later set up one-stop shops to process foreign aid, and to be able to give tax exemptions.
“We will work closely with COA on the system report so we can improve it,” Soliman said.
‘Private groups should report to DSWD’
Senators also directed the DSWD to monitor the funds that private organizations raised for Yolanda. Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero said the DSWD rules require any organization raising funds to secure a permit from the department, and report to the agency how the money was used.
Asked if they monitored the funds private groups raised for Yolanda, Soliman admitted that the DSWD did not.
“Technically they should have [applied for a permit] but because it was an emergency, that would be their reason for not asking for a permit. I’ll do a check of all those registered with us. We’ll ask them to do an accounting if they’re registered with us. If they’re not registered, we can’t demand an explanation because they’re not in our purview,” Soliman said.
Soliman said the DSWD will have to review its guidelines to see if groups not registered with the department will also be required to report about their use of Yolanda funds. She added there is a need to review the P1,000-penalty for fund-raising groups that do not secure a permit.
Escudero told reporters he understands that private groups cannot secure a permit from the DSWD when a calamity strikes but they can do this months later.
“If they do not get a permit on time, several months already passed, perhaps they can now secure a permit even if post-facto, after the fact. Submit a report on how much they raised and where the funds went. This is a concern of many organizations and individuals who wrote our office asking where the funds are,” Escudero said.
Senator Teofisto “TG” Guingona III also suggested that private organizations apply for a one-year permit so they already have it even before disaster happens. “It seems ridiculous to apply for a permit if the emergency is already on the doorstep.”
Escudero asked Soliman to submit a report to his committee on the private organizations that raised funds in past disasters like Tropical Storm Ondoy in 2009, Typhoon Sendong in 2011, and Typhoon Pablo in 2012.
DSWD checking reports on buried goods
Senator Nancy Binay asked Soliman to comment on reports that expired relief goods were buried in Palo, Leyte.
The DSWD secretary said she asked her team to check the report and found that the donations were from various donors and had to be disposed of because they got wet and was declared unfit for consumption.
“Some arrived already wet. Some did not but inadvertently, they put it in a place where the roof was leaking,” Soliman said.
Soliman added that she has to get more updates from the group amid different reports on the incident.
Yolanda victims have been complaining about the slow pace of aid and rehabilitation efforts 4 months after the disaster struck. – Rappler.com