Yolanda rehab delays slammed; scrapping of Pope Francis’ Tacloban visit feared
MANILA, Philippines—Tacloban City and its roads, bridges and airports should be fully functioning by now if only the Aquino administration spent the P7 billion it claimed to have downloaded to Eastern Visayas’ biggest urban center.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said that he believed the government’s mantra to “build back better” the areas devastated by supertyphoon “Yolanda” (Haiyan) and that P7 billion would do the job.
“We’re not saying that the P7 billion spending is not true, we just want to see it and feel it. We can trust them but we must verify and so far the verification process does not yield the desired results,” said Romualdez.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said the government’s alleged spending for Tacloban was equal to Manila’s annual budget of P7 billion but a cursory look at ground zero of Yolanda would show virtually no visible infrastructure development in the area.
Abakada Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz wondered why the government would want another P9.5 billion allocated for Yolanda-related projects in the P22.4 supplemental budget when it could not even account for the P14.6 billion supplemental Yolanda budget approved in 2013 and the P7 billion it supposedly earmarked for Tacloban alone.
Romualdez said that if the P7 billion was actually poured into the city, “then we should not be spending more for the Papal visit, the airport should be fully operational, and we can accommodate a crowd of 500,000 to meet the Holy Father.”
Romualdez said that the government’s refusal to rehabilitate the Tacloban airport could lead organizers of the Papal visit to scratch Tacloban City — specifically the San Jose district where 26,000 residents were left homeless — from Pope Francis’ itinerary.
He claimed that “noise and chatter” on the government’s plan to transfer the airport from Tacloban to Palo, Leyte, has prompted contractors to delay their work in the Tacloban airport.
“We’re all expecting (the Pope) to land in Tacloban. With all due respect to all the organizers and all of those who will welcome him, what caught the attention of the Holy Father was typhoon Haiyan and the devastation it brought and he saw the destruction, he saw the international response and he wants to personally give his sympathy. The Papal Nuncio was sent there (San Jose district) on Christmas eve and on Christmas day sent by the Pope personally to see and to feel the experience and of course condole with, and to inspire the survivors,” said Romualdez.
Romualdez concurred with Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle’s call to the public to be supportive rather than be disruptive during the Pope’s visit. “We agree with the Cardinal 100%! Let’s not use the Pope’s visit for whatever purpose other than that — the genuine, personal, spiritual purpose of the Pope to come to the Philippines. And he wants to go to Tacloban. Let him go there and let’s all support it,” Romualdez said.
“Local officials are hard pressed to identify where all these projects and programs were downloaded,” said Romualdez noting that only the projects made by private and multilateral donors have been seen by people on the ground.
He said that Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II went out of his way to bring the city’s vice mayor and councilors to one barangay, which he claimed was among the beneficiaries of the P7 billion worth of projects
Atienza said the government’s refusal to work with the local government was the reason why the national funds for Tacloban City were being held up. (Roxas does not see eye to eye with his cousin, Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, according to Romualdez).
A member of the papal visit committee denied that there were pressures coming from Malacañang to drop Tacloban from Pope Francis’ itinerary.
“None,” said Fr. Anton Pascual, head of the papal visit subcommittee on media relations, when asked if the church has been receiving any pressure from the Palace or from anybody to scratch Tacloban from the list of places the Holy Father will visit in January.
“No change has reached our side regarding the papal visit in Tacloban and Leyte. The official itinerary stays,” said Pascual. With a report from Tina G. Santos
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