Tragedy’s use for pork brings rage
Benguet folk, groups angered by diversion of storm funds to Napoles
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BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Benguet towns, which were devastated by typhoon “Pepeng” in 2009, were outraged that their plight was allegedly used by detained pork barrel scam queen Janet Lim-Napoles to access P900 million of the government’s share from the Malampaya gas project in Palawan.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes had confirmed that P900 million from the fund that was meant for agrarian reform communities devastated by typhoons “Pepeng” and “Ondoy” in 2009 were diverted instead to supposed ghost projects of 12 nongovernment organizations (NGOs) identified with Napoles.
Some of these projects had been supposedly intended for vegetable-producing Benguet, one of the worst-hit communities by Pepeng. Landslides killed up to 200 people and destroyed P800 million worth of crops and infrastructure in the province.
Many of the projects have not been completed and reports that Pepeng was the reason for the Malampaya fund diversion have outraged many residents.
Stealing from people
“Our families needed relief, needed mercy, but we found out they were stealing money from us,” complained a La Trinidad resident, who was relocated from Barangay Puguis, the site of the Little Kibungan landslide that killed 77 people.
Strong rains dumped by “Pepeng” eroded portions of a mountain, hurling rock and mud down Little Kibungan at night when people were sleeping.
The tragedy caught the attention of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who led a Cabinet deliberation at the presidential Mansion here on relief and rehabilitation operations in communities ravaged by “Pepeng.”
Arroyo’s concern at the time was the relocation of the Little Kibungan community to a lot owned by Benguet State University. But the transfer of the surviving families had been stalled by a property dispute over the resettlement area.
Rehabilitation of roads damaged by “Pepeng” has also taken time. Some roads have been programmed for repair next year, owing to budgetary constraints, according to the Department of Public Works and Highways.
The revelation also upset NGOs that helped with relief work in Benguet, said Ramon Mapa, executive director of the People’s Initiative for Learning and Community Development (PILCD).
PILCD has been helping teachers develop a curriculum aimed at training pupils understand and cope with disasters triggered by extreme weather, which has become common in the province.
But the reported Malampaya fund diversion is “totally outrageous since communities, especially in the remote areas in Benguet, are still recovering from the ravages of Pepeng,” Mapa said.
“A lot of people, private organizations and small nongovernment organizations have placed too much effort to raise funds and acquire financial support here and abroad to help the communities after Pepeng,” said Mapa.
“Relief goods were sourced from friends and concerned private individuals. Post-disaster rehabilitation efforts made by NGOs were funded by international humanitarian organizations. To date, efforts to make this communities recover are under way and resources are so meager,” he said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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