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The long view

/ 01:41 AM January 04, 2014

The new year enables all of us to push back the press of current issues and try to glimpse the farther horizons.

New communities are emerging from the corpses and litter left by the October earthquake and supertyphoon Yolanda in November. Survivors match with initiative and diligence every donor dollar, UN resident humanitarian coordinator Luiza Carvalho told Inquirer. International support should continue as the country shifts from emergency relief to long-term rehabilitation.

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Stark contrasts etch how local government officials reacted to what the Economist dubbed “the perfect storm in terms of sheer size, circular symmetry and tightness of its eye.” That wedged Yolanda into the highest level of Category 5.

In Camotes Island, Cebu San Francisco town former mayor Alfredo Arquillano ordered early evacuation. So did Mayor Christopher Gonzalez in Guiuan, Samar province. A thousand lives were saved in Camotes, noted the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. In Guiuan, the storm could have killed killed 4,500, had it not been for the mayor’s efforts, US Navy Capt. Russell Hays estimated.

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Not so in Tacloban City. Mayor Alfred Romualdez returned to his beachside home after routinely warning people of the approaching typhoon. The death toll in Leyte, post Yolanda, topped 5,184. Hundreds are still missing. Testifying in Congress, Romualdez pinned the blame on President Benigno Aquino – and wiped away tears.

“Llora como mujer lo que no has sabido defender como hombre,” the mother told her son, the last Moorish king of Granada, “Weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.” Before escaping into final exile in 1492, Boabadil paused to take a last look at his city, then being overrun by troops of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.

Today’s shrill voices, specially on the borderless Internet, hasn’t blacked out ideas. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima urges the creation of a calamity resiliency fund. This would help cope with weather aberrations, in a warming world. World authority on mangroves, Scientist Jurgene Primavera calls for mangrove belts to hold back future Yolanda killer surges as they did in Samar and Negros. The National Economic and Development Authority pegs the bill for post earthquake-cum-killer storm rehabilitation at P360.8 billion

But when all is said and done, that task falls on local governments: 82 provinces, 146 cities, 1,493 towns and 42,027 barangays. Add on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, undergoing inch-by-inch reforms, since the Aquino government smashed warlord control over it.

Go beyond the finger-pointing frenzy, Ateneo’s Richard Javad Heydarian suggests in Huffington Post: Since the 1990s, government decentralized, in fits and starts, to empower LGUs and enhance their political autonomy. However, a “more nuanced understanding” reveals a combination of a weak state, embedded neglect of basic infrastructure, and chronic underinvestment in the armed forces. These explain the lack of a swift, effective response to the crisis.

Despite annual GDP growth cresting at 6 % to 7%, infrastructure is run-down. Except for a few industrialized areas, most communities lack reliable electricity and other basic facilities. Shoddy maintenance bugs what exists..

When Yolanda hit, the Air Force had only three C-130 aircraft to dispatch. Secretaries Voltaire Gazmin and Mar Roxas lacked satellite phones to keep in contact with Malacañang. Delayed Private-Public Partnership (PPP) projects will come on stream in 2015.

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Beyond the personalities, the bigger issue remains stark climate change. Archipelagic countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines pick up the tab for relentless economic expansion by industrialized countries. Major emerging markets, like China, rival the US in greenhouse gas emission. The proposed $100 billion climate fund, supposed to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change, is heavily underfunded.

President Benigno Aquino should jack up infrastructure spending target to 5 percent of the country’s GDP to create more jobs, the American Chamber of Commerce urged. It called for Philippine inclusion in advanced economic agreements with the Asia Pacific economies and the European Union; boost agriculture and revive labor-intensive manufacturing.

“A generation or two with sustained good governance will be required in the near term. And 10 to 15 years are needed accomplish large infrastructure projects and to pass major reform laws.

That would breach the one-term limit President Aquino pledged to keep, as his mother did before him. In a den of thieves, the President’s personal integrity is admitted, grudgingly. He has reversed the skid into sleaze that characterized the regimes of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The Ombudsman he handpicked is bearing down on Bong, Juan Ponce, Jinggoy & Associates. So is a Commission on Audit that acquired new spine from Aquino’s appointments. Secretary Dinky Soliman managed to keep political paws from the Conditional Cash Transfer program. Tiene cojones, even critics say of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima ( “She has balls.”)

The President could probably reread what is attributed to El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, who sought justice for the poorest. Romero was gunned down, in 1974, while celebrating mass.

“It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

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