“Everywhere else in the world, when there is disaster, people ask for food. But in the Philippines, farmers are asking for seeds! The fiherfolks are asking for boats! They don’t want to depend forever on foreign support. They want to rely on their own strength and this is truly inspiring.” – Lord Jack McConnell, member of the UK House of Lords
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – A visiting parliamentarian from Europe found the situation 100 days after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) “sad and frustrating.”
While acknowledging that efforts have been made to help the people there, Lord Jack McConnell, a former First Minister of Scotland and presently a member of the UK House of Lords, noted “three problems” at the area of devastation. These problems include:
(1) shelter – because “when hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed, “these should be replaced quickly;”
2) situation of farmers, more particularly the coconut farmers , their livelihoods being “completely destroyed.” McConnell said there is a real need not just to support them but also to help them grow crops. He mentioned the provision of seeds, for example. He said they should have more cash crops.
3) communication – while McConnell admires the “strength of spirit” of Yolanda survivors, he said “the one thing they don’t have at the moment is information that changes are forthcoming.”
“Everywhere else in the world, when there is disaster, people ask for food. But in the Philippines, farmers are asking for seeds! The fiherfolks are asking for boats! They don’t want to depend forever on foreign support. They want to rely on their own strength and this is truly inspiring,” said McConnell.
Frustrating slowness of government agencies
In his community consultations in Tolosa, Leyte, McConnell noted expressions of frustration “about the very slow response from different (government) agencies despite so many requests and submissions of their post-disaster needs assessments.”
In Metro Manila, representatives of Yolanda survivors who came to bring news of their real situation 100 days after Yolanda, shared similar stories as what McConnell related from his visit. But in separate statements, the Filipino survivors expressed not only frustration but mounting anger over the government’s rejection of their petition for immediate relief and inclusive, real rehabilitation.
Lord McConnell also met the mayors of Palo, Toloso and Tunga towns of Leyte last weekend. He noted the difference in the pace of responses and levels of recovery efforts in the three municipalities, similar to what the members of People Surge, an alliance of Yolanda survivors, referred to as “color-coded” politicking.
From McConnell’s visit, he took note of coconut farmers’ descriptions of their local governments. The “more capable” mayor has close connections to the national government and is obviously able to access more support “resulting to faster recovery process.” The second one is “a mayor and local government with a bit of knowledge who is able to do things but quite slow.” The third is one who needs more support to increase capacity to lead and coordinate the recovery and rehabilitation process.
The second and third correspond with the majority of the survivors who, according to People Surge, have hardly or never felt the touted relief and action from the government.
McConnell visited the Philippines saying it is “a perfect country” to raise issues that should be included “Beyond 2015,” or when the internationally-set Millenium Development Goals reached its deadline.
He told the local media in a press conference in Quezon City this Friday February 21 that he didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation to visit last week, for a variety of reasons. Of these, he said, the most important is that in the Philippines, there are the “biggest political challenges” such as the issues of climate change, poverty and conflict. For him, it was a coincidence he was here 100 days after Yolanda, right in the area of devastation.
McConnel is set to talk with Panfilo Lacson, President Aquino’s appointed rehabilitation czar. On the same day McConnell shared his view of the situation in Yolanda-stricken areas, some representatives of the survivors in Manila, led by Dr. Efleda Bautista, have called on the Aquino government to listen to the people “and to dump the incapable Panfilo Lacson.” They urged the Philippine government to “come up with a genuine and transparent recovery plan led by capable administrators and conscientious in public consultation.”