Yolanda rehab tragedy: Bound for a repeat?

Residents of shores erstwhile declared as no dwelling zones (NDZs) prefer to stay put instead of resettle to a place that is far from their source of livelihood

Four years after Typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas region, reconstruction and rehabilitation is still not being felt by many of those in disaster-affected communities.

This is because the Philippine government’s approach to recovery and rehabilitation and its measurement of success has been based on an erroneous neoliberal framework that prioritizes big business interests over the needs and interests of disaster-affected communities. It is aligned with the same old neoliberal policies that made communities vulnerable in the first place. There is no promise that any calamity’s survivors will face better prospects than those of Yolanda’s without shifting to a framework that genuinely prioritizes survivors’ welfare.

Private sector-led, investment driven

In the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, and as soon as an assessment could be made and plans drawn up, the government has pushed for a private sector-led reconstruction and rehabilitation program.

The Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda (RAY) – Build Back Better written by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) includes a preliminary assessment of damage and losses (pegged at US$12.9 billion), pushes for a private sector-led reconstruction and outlined the guiding principle of “Build Back Better”.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) drew up a three-year privatized, corporate-led and investment-driven Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for 2014-2016.

The RAY: Implementation for Results, also written by NEDA, is based on the CRRP and also continues the neoliberal-based design. It provides a results framework for monitoring progress and to ensure close alignment between the objectives of the recovery and rehabilitation program and Philippine Development Plan (PDP).

The latter is basically a package of neoliberal–or market-oriented–economic policies. These place social services and public utilities in the hands of the private sector which demands user fees regardless of service quality; profit from extractive economic activities thus marginalizing land and other natural resources;  reduce government regulation or responsibility in rate determination; obligate government to guarantee private profits; and develop infrastructure and lower the cost of doing business to attract investments even more, to the benefit of bureaucrats and big local and foreign investors.

Flourishing economy?

Eastern Visayas registered its fastest economic growth since Typhoon Yolanda, and the fastest growth of all the country’s regions in 2016.  The growth rate of its gross regional domestic product (GRDP) rose from 4.5% in 2013; 2.4% in 2014; 3.9% in 2015 to 12.4% in 2016.

The NEDA Region VIII lauded this 2016 regional economic growth and how it resulted in a per capita GRDP of Php37,261 (in constant terms), which is the highest in the last seven years and grew the fastest year-on-year across the regions.

The industry sector grew 20.2% from 4.9% the previous year. This was largely attributed to a significant 44.5% growth in public and private construction and rebound in manufacturing with a 19.6% growth from a 3% contraction in 2015.

The services sector registered an 8.6% growth, largely due to an 11.1% growth in financial transactions and 6.3% growth in government spending in construction. The agriculture sector also rebounded by 2.4% in 2016 from a 12.7% contraction in 2015.

The NEDA Region VIII mainly attributed this double-digit growth to “flourishing economic activities on the back of high domestic demand; strong business confidence; and public and private investments, as well as continued post-Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction activities”.  It stated that to maintain and continue these economic gains it would ensure that its regional development blueprint or the Eastern Visayas Regional Development Plan (EVRDP) 2017-2022 is in accordance with Duterte’s PDP 2017-2022.

Shallow and unsustainable

But a closer look at the Eastern Visayas economy reveals that it is following the same shallow and unsustainable growth pattern as the national economy. This growth is excluding the majority poor in the region.

Temporary factors. The regional economic growth was largely driven by temporary factors that did not contribute to long-term growth and development, such as the high growth in public and private construction. Public construction comprised of flood control and road widening projects, and remaining post-Yolanda reconstruction projects. Private construction involved hotels, malls and other establishments. Election spending also bolstered growth in 2016.

Struggling manufacturing. The manufacturing subsector, which accounts for the largest share in the region’s industry, has not yet recovered its pre-Yolanda growth trend. This is despite a 19.6% growth in 2016, which is attributed to the resumption of regular operations in the region’s economic zones. Prior to the typhoon, manufacturing had a growth rate of 33.5%.  However, the subsector gross value-added (GVA) decreased by 16% in 2014 and 3% in 2015.

Sinking agriculture. Agriculture, which is the main source of livelihood in the Eastern Visayas, has continually contracted post-Yolanda. Agricultural GVA declined in 2013-2015. Growth in 2016 was mainly due to increased poultry and fishery production, which are more feasible for private investments and foreign loans, than crop production.  Even this growth was not enough to recover pre-disaster levels: the region still fell short of the national growth target by 38 percent. Crops production in the region has also been declining. Palay, corn, coconut, abaca, sugarcane and banana production have been steadily decreasing.

For instance, Leyte has been the top producer of palay in region, accounting for half of total production volume from 2012 to 2016. But the province’s volume of palay production continuously declined from 521,115 metric tons (MT) in 2012 to 473,580 MT in 2016.

Meanwhile, from being a top coconut producer next only to Davao from 1997 to 2011, coconut production has also dwindled according to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data.The region fell to being the third largest producer in 2012, fourth in 2013, and sixth in 2014 and 2015.

Poverty. Despite the Php37,261 per capita growth, official data shows that poverty remains acute at 38.7% of the population or 30.7% of families in 2015, though this reportedly has been reduced. Farmers and fisherfolk remain the poorest sectors in Eastern Visayas. The poverty threshold in 2015 was at Php21,304 for an average household, which means that Php8,876 per month is needed to meet based food and non-food requirements – which could not be easily achieved by a vast number of jobless and underemployed.

Unstable unemployment, underemployment. The unemployment and underemployment situation remains unstable. To moderate official jobs figures, the PSA excluded Eastern Visayas from national estimates, and Leyte from the provincial estimates for the first years after Typhoon Yolanda. Thus, actual unemployment numbers could be higher than PSA data showing that the average unemployment rate in 2013-2017 averaged 5.0%, lower than the national average of 6.3 percent.

Meanwhile, underemployment worsened after the typhoon and only started to recover to pre-disaster levels in 2017, though 2017 data is preliminary. The annual average underemployment rate in the region in the same period was higher than the national average, at 27.2 percent. Moreover, according to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), investments that result into new businesses in the region yield even more poor-quality jobs.

Big failure in housing and resettlement. Though the NEDA – Region VIII determined a housing need of 56,140 permanent houses, only 16,846 or 30% of this target was completed as of the second quarter of 2017, while 11,957 or 21.3% of housing units are still in various stages of completion. NEDA Region VIII said this failure is due to unavailable lots, land acquisition issues and procurement problems.

Only 44% of total completed and for-completion housing units have been awarded and occupied.  NEDA Region VIII attributed this delay in transfers to relocation housing units primarily to lack of power and water supply at the sites. Of the 86 resettlement sites, only five are serviced with water supply by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) and only 59 are energized by the National Electrification Administration (NEA).

Poor social services. The delivery of much-needed social services such as in education and health is also concerning. The Department of Education (DepEd) has completed 1,790 new classrooms out of the targeted 2,313 in Region VIII as of May 2017. New classrooms undergoing procurement are 388, while the status of the remaining 135 new classrooms is unknown. Of the 17,335 classrooms for rehabilitation, 11,720 are completed, while 1,345 are still under procurement and the status of the 4,270 is unknown. DepEd construction of education facilities is contingent to the construction of NHA housing relocation sites, hence the delays. Schools could only be built once families have transferred to their respective relocation sites.

In terms of health services, the Philippine Statistical Yearbook 2016 indicates a significant reduction in the number of hospitals in the region.  From 77 hospitals (28 were private, 49 were public) in 2012, the number of hospitals in Eastern Visayas fell to 42 in 2013 (20 were private, 22 were public). Only one private hospital was added to the number in 2015.

More of the same?

During his presidential campaign and during last year’s anniversary, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern over the delay in the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected areas. However, he would address this only a year later.

Pres. Duterte signed Administrative Order (AO) No. 5 on 8 August 2017 which created Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) – Yolanda that would implement and monitor the rehabilitation program. This shall serve as the central committee of all executive departments and offices, including government-owned and –controlled corporations. Duterte appointed his long-time right hand, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco as chairperson of the task force.

Though it is too early to tell if this task force will succeed in bringing justice to Yolanda victims, this may be part of the ongoing image improvement by the current administration. It is currently under fire for its bloody war on drugs while nothing is happening with the economic crisis and intensifying poverty in the country.

At the end of the 2017, the government will also unveil the Eastern Visayas Regional Development Plan (EVRDP) 2017-2022, aligned with AmBisyon Natin 2040, the showcase of Duterte administration’s PDP 2017-2022. This is an initial sign that the current administration plans to continue the erroneous neoliberal framework for rehabilitation and reconstruction, despite its obvious failings under the previous administration.

Building roads, ports and business establishments are necessary in rehabilitating destroyed communities. However, people’s resettlement and livelihood should come first. Without a radical shift in orientation, subsequent government reconstruction and recovery  endeavors may likewise feature fast growth especially in the construction subsector. But prospects in areas that matter substantially for the people and for development such as quality work, agriculture, local manufacturing , public utilities and social services delivery may all remain as bleak as in Yolanda areas.###

 

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