In his veto message on the 2011 national budget, President Aquino said the P5 billion calamity fund should be mainly used by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) for “actual calamities” and not for “preparation of relocation sites/facilities, and training personnel engaged in direct disaster.”
By INA ALLECO SILVERIO
The President was partying while Cagayan de Oro and Iligan homes were sinking.
This was the accusation leveled by Kabataan Party-list in the immediate aftermath of typhoon Sendong which killed hundreds and rendering thousands more homeless in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. The group said President Benigno Aquino III was “partying” as the typhoon wrought its damage.
Late on Saturday night, December 17, actress and television host Valerie Concepcion tweeted about performing in a Malacañang party where President Aquino allegedly laughed at her jokes and enjoyed her performance.
“Done w/ work.. Tnx for having me.. 🙂 It was nice to see Pres. P-Noy laughing at my jokes & enjoying my performance..ü #Malacañang #PSGNight,” Concepcion tweeted.
The twitter post, which quickly spread across various social networking sites, generated criticism against Aquino who was accused of being insensitive for partying as thousands of Filipinos in Mindanao were locked in a life and death struggle against rising flood waters.
Athena Gardon, deputy secretary general of Kabataan Party-list, said that as head of state, Aquino should have been at forefront of efforts to aid Northern Mindanao and that the least he could have done is to forego the party.
“It smacks of utter insensitivity on the part of the President to join the merrymaking while hundreds have been killed and thousands struggle to survive in the wake of typhoon Sendong,” she pointed out.
Gardon added that Aquino should also be answerable for vetoing disaster preparation in the P5 billion ($116.2 million) calamity fund for 2011, which she said weakened government capacity to prevent natural disasters from causing enormous devastation.
“We can dramatically reduce the devastating effects of of typhoons and other natural disasters by installing a clear and scientific disaster preparation plan which should include, among others, a decisive anti-large-scale mining stance and prompt evacuation drills. It was irresponsible to veto disaster preparation in the calamity fund for this year and the coming year,” Gardon said.
In his veto message on the 2011 national budget, President Aquino said the P5 billion calamity fund should be mainly used by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) for “actual calamities”and not for “preparation of relocation sites/facilities, and training personnel engaged in direct disaster.”
Gardon said Aquino all but dismissed Section 22 of Republic Act No. 10121, approved in 2009, which maintains that disaster risk reduction, prevention and preparedness should be the primary mandate of the NDRRMC. The law further states that quick response to calamities should be secondary and should only be given 30 percent of the total NDRRMC budget.
“The law affirms the importance of pre-disaster preparations over quick response measures. Aquino’s decision to veto disaster preparation has resulted to unequipped personnel and inefficient government response before, during and after calamities,” she said.
Kabataan Party-list’s representative in Congress Raymond Palatino has already filed House Resolution 1864 seeking an inquiry into the impact of the President’s disaster preparation veto.
Already, cause-oriented people’s organizations are busy putting together relief missions to help the victims of typhoon Sendong.
Groups such as Kabataan Party-List and the Makabayan Coalition are coordinating with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao sub-Region, Panday Bulig Relief and Rehabilitation Center, and Sentro Kitanglad to swiftly deliver aid to CDO and Iligan.
Environmental activists under the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment also assailed the administration for blaming citizens, through an Office of Civil Defense statement, for the disastrous impact of Typhoon Sendong on Mindanao. They said the increasing number of dead and missing, resulting from flashfloods and landslides, demonstrated the government’s ineptitude in addressing the country’s worsening climate vulnerability.
“It is the height of the Aquino administration’s callousness to blame the supposed complacency of residents for the tragedy of Typhoon Sendong. It is the government’s responsibility to build the capacity of communities to respond to disasters and natural hazards such as typhoons,” said Clemente Bautista, National Coordinator of Kalikasan.
As of latest reports, 652 people have died and 808 are still missing after the typhoon struck last weekend. The effects of climate change have been blamed for the increasing severity of typhoon impacts in the Philippines, as reports from Iligan have indicated that even areas never flooded in the past were inundated by flashfloods. Climate Change Secretary Mary Anne Lucille Sering said before that recent typhoons Pedring and Quiel left P15 billion ($348 million) in agricultural and infrastructural damage and demonstrated the effects of climate change in the Philippines.
“The government shifted the blame game on climate change, but it hasn’t even lifted a finger to address the current environmental crisis brought about by flawed policies and programs,” Bautista said.
Bautista said despite Aquino’s recent signing of the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP), anti-environment laws such as the Mining Act of 1995 and the Forestry Code of 1975 are still in place. Mining corporations have been exempted from EO 23’s total log ban. The budget for disaster preparedness has even been vetoed and cut.
Kalikasan supported Kabataan Partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino’s call for Pres. Aquino to reverse his veto of the P5 billion budget for calamity preparedness in the 2011 budget. Bautista noted that the lack of response from both the community and the government can be linked to the lack of pre-disaster preparedness activities such as education and training for citizens and disaster personnel.
“If the citizens’ lack of preparedness was the problem, why did Aquino cut the the budget for disaster preparedness? Poverty is a key function of climate vulnerability, but why do we have budget cuts on education, health care and other social services while the allocations on debt servicing, military and the ineffective Conditional Cash Transfer program get bloated?” Bautista pointed out.
“While Pres. Aquino enjoys a Christmas party, the vast majority of his constituents remain mired in poverty, which is the largest factor why people remain doubly vulnerable to disasters. This insensitivity to the plight of the poor is manifested in our country’s climate action plan and development policies which prioritize the profit interests of the market instead of the poor’s welfare. Aquino must quit his empty climate rhetoric and get some actual work done in addressing realities on the ground, such as poverty, disaster-unpreparedness, and ecological destruction.”
Makabayan’s spokeswoman Liza Maza also blasted Malacañang for being caught flat-footed by the calamity.
“The residents attest that they were not forewarned and ordered to evacuate. Why should Malacañang blame them for being hard-headed? Aquino fired Dr. Prisco Nilo, then weather bureau chief, for inaccurate advice about typhoon Basyang last year. That typhoon killed 76. Whose head will be on the chopping block with a death toll of more than 600?,” she said.
Maza said the devastation wrought by typhoon Sendong is mostly man-made.
” In Northeast Mindanao alone, there are 54 existing Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) covering 125,670 hectares and 36 more applications for an additional 91,429 hectares as of June this year. Pres. Aquino even exempted mining companies from the existing total log ban this year. He should be made accountable for the mass destruction left after the typhoon,” Maza said.
She said the Sendong death toll is more than enough reason for the Aquino government to junk the Mining Act of 1995 and the Mining Revitalization Program.
She also pointed out that mining and logging accounted for the contamination of potable water sources, poisoning of the air and soil, heavy siltation of coastlines and rivers, degradation of fishing grounds, destruction of habitats and decrease in biodiversity and other long-term impact on the human and ecological environment.
The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also expressed resentment against the government for trying to pass the blame.
We reject the attempt of the NRRC’s Undersecretary Ramos to lay the blame on the people of Visayas and Mindanao. Given the extent of the devastation – an estimated 600 dead and entire communities washed away – it is clear that mere warnings are not enough. The government’s capacity for prompt evacuation, and the soundness of its disaster preparedness plan, are put into question,” said KMU secretary-general Roger Soluta.
Soluta said that given the changing weather patterns in the world due to climate change, the government should have beefed up its disaster preparedness.
“In recent months, President Aquino used disaster preparedness as an excuse for beefing up the country’s military strength. It is now clear that the allotment of bigger and bigger resources to the military does not enable it to respond to a strong typhoon like Sendong,” he said.