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Toughest job on earth for Ping Lacson

11:00 AM December 16, 2013

Three days after being sworn in by President Benigno Aquino III as presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, former senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson buckled down to his job by visiting Guiuan in Eastern Samar, the town of Palo and the cities of Baybay and Tacloban in Leyte.
This was last Friday. Although Lacson knew what to expect in terms of destroyed government infrastructure and social order wrought by Yolanda, I think he was a bit staggered at  seeing the extent of the devastation in the areas he visited.
As rehabilitation czar, Lacson is the over-all manager and coordinator of rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction efforts of government departments, agencies and instrumentalities in the affected areas. The position is empowered to call upon any department, bureau, office, agency or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned or controlled corporations and government financial institutions, local government units, nongovernment organizations, the private sector and other entities for assistance when needed.
The responsibility given Lacson is definitely huge but the new office is vested with commensurate authority. I understand this was a condition that the new Cabinet member asked President Aquino before accepting the job.
Although Lacson has no experience in the manner that some politicians, like former congressman now Albay Gov. Joey Salceda gained with each calamity that visited his province in the Bicol region, Lacson has some positive points going for him.
He is eager and willing to work with experts in the areas of reconstruction and rehabilitation. With his reputation as a no-nonsense politician, Lacson can cut through the bureaucratic maze and accelerate recovery work. This is needed because business, livelihood, public services and all the elements of social order have to be restored as soon as possible.
The new office has given Lacson the opportunity to engage with all state agencies and sectors of society to accomplish what is basically a collective task. When one considers that the international community is very much involved in the job at hand, Lacson effectively supplants President Aquino as the man in the center.
Politics and dynamics are the main challenges that Lacson cited in his new assignment but I think it will be more complicated than that because every day he will be in the limelight. Certainly, politicians who are casting a moist eye on the presidency will not just fold their arms. Still, I hope he rises to the occasion and commit his life and soul to the toughest job on earth. I really wish him well for the sake of our suffering people and country.
Updates from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council show the death toll in Yolanda’s wake continues to rise. As of yesterday, 6,057 were confirmed dead. With 1,779 still missing, the death toll nears the 8,000 mark. Meanwhile, the number of displaced persons stood at 3.9 million.
All in all, 16 million were affected and damage to agriculture and infrastructure could go as high as P23 billion. The Aquino administration would need P130 billion to rehabilitate, recover business and livelihood and restore social order in affected areas.
Signs of life and recovery have sprung across many affected areas in Eastern Visayas and northern Cebu, thanks to countless private organizations who voluntarily offer their time and treasure despite the lack of government direction.
Two weeks ago, I happened to hear Mass in the beautiful Schoenstatt Marian shrine in Lawaan, Talisay City, Cebu. The priest who celebrated mass hailed from Bantayan island which was enough to tell us that he had stories to share about what happened in his native town in the wake of the supertyphoon.
The priest who belongs to the Catholic Order of Rogationists told us it was difficult finding his way to the town because the roads were destroyed and he didn’t know whether to turn left or right to reach his house. His family was saved, but their house was destroyed. Many families also lost their houses, businesses and properties and the town’s infrastructure was in utter disarray.
The priest added the loss of lives and property in Bantayan would have been equal to Tacloban’s except that the city is decidedly more populous than the island town. In effect, he was frustrated that much of government attention is directed towards Eastern Visayas when many towns in Cebu’s northern district suffered as much.
For lack of space, let me end this story by saying that electronic technology made it possible for the priest’s confreres in other parts of the globe to tap benefactors who generously gave relief to the Bantayanons.
From what I gathered, the priest took a temporary leave from his priestly duties to attend to the rehabilitation of some 50 families, which goes to show the bayanihan spirit is more than alive and well in religious communities!

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