Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Gov’t Sees Economic Growth Despite Yolanda’s Devastation

 (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The economy should grow by 7.0 percent this year and between 6.5 and 7.5 percent next year despite the devastation caused by a killer typhoon and an earthquake, the government said yesterday.

Economic planning minister Arsenio Balisacan said that while losses in agriculture caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda were expected to affect growth in the near term, rebuilding would likely make up for it further down the line.

He said 2013 gross domestic product growth should hit the “upper limit” of the government‘s 6.0-7.0 percent target, forecasts made before Yolanda hit last month and a 7.1-magnitude quake struck Central Visayas in October.

“Without all these crises, we could have achieved 7.3-7.5 percent growth this year,” Balisacan said in a statement.

Nevertheless, he said the Philippines should continue its hot streak of five consecutive quarters of at least 7.0 percent growth.

“For 2014, we forecast growth to be in the 6.5-7.5 percent range.”

Headlines ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

60,000 homes

Meanwhile, Vice President Jejomar Binay said the government will construct at least 60,000 homes for Yolanda victims.

Binay, who is also chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), told The STAR the target is to build 40,000 housing units in 2014 and 20,000 in 2015.

He said the National Housing Authority, Home Development Mutual Fund or Pag-IBIG Fund and the HUDCC would jointly undertake the construction.

Binay said they have coordinated with Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Panfilo Lacson on the participation of the housing sector to rebuild and resettle Yolanda victims.

Urban poor groups, however, said Yolanda survivors should be consulted first concerning rebuilding efforts.

In a forum held at the Ateneo University yesterday, Jeorgie Tenolete, president of Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran in Baseco, Tondo said resettlement sites should not be crowded and jobs should be a priority.

“Barangays of different affected areas must do an assessment and planning for their short- and long-term rebuilding activities together with the residents. Funders and the national government can now directly provide funds to barangays based on their identified needs. The barangay must allow active participation of its constituents so that all funds for rehabilitation will be carefully accounted for by the community,” Celia Santos, one of the speakers and advocacy officer for Urban Development and Housing Act Amendments said.

The Urban Poor Alliance, Urban Poor Associates (UPA), Community Organizers Multiversity and other people’s organizations said the proper approach is “build back better in disaster areas.”

“Recovery must promote fairness and equity. Government must ensure that in the reconstruction process, ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved,” they said.

Alice Murphy, UPA field director, said the government should adopt the best practices in reconstruction to ensure that Yolanda survivors are “served with integrity” and their needs are given priority. 

19 schools

Apart from building 159 bunkhouse units for 3,816 families, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) said it would also repair 18 schools and a regional office of the Department of Education (DepEd) damaged by Yolanda.

In a statement, DPWH Eastern Visayas regional director Rolando Asis said the schools are in Tacloban City and the DepEd regional office in Palo, Leyte.

The 18 schools are the Caiba-an Elementary School, Kapangi-an Central School, Dr. A. P. Bañez Elementary School at Barangay 77, V&G Elementary School in Barangay 109, San Jose Central School, San Jose National High School, Marasbaras Central School, Rizal Central School, Sagkahan National High School, Lorenzo Daa Elementary School, Sto. Niño SPED Center, Tacloban National High School, Lucio Vivero Memorial School, B. Bolante Elementary School, Cabalawan Elementary School, Bagacay Elementary School, Marasbaras National High School and Salvacion Elementary School.

DPWH has started clearing the damaged schools and conducted an assessment of the needed materials.

Seeds for farmers

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had begun supplying farmers with emergency seed supplies that will allow them to collect a harvest in March and April.

FAO’s representative in the Philippines, Rodrigue Vinet, said that without the harvest, vulnerable farmers would not have been able to harvest rice for almost a year -- until October or November 2014.

“Seed distributions have come at a critical moment,” he said in a statement.

FAO said more than 1,000 farmers from the hardest-hit areas will each receive 40-kilogram bag of seeds.

It said it was also delivering bags of fertilizer as well as tools and small irrigation water pumps.

No holiday break

Employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Yolanda-hit areas will have no holiday break to ensure there will be no interruption in the distribution of relief goods to affected families.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman said there would be a shifting of employees in Field Offices 6, 7 and 8 on Christmas and New Year.

The DSWD is also beefing up its personnel with the deployment of additional personnel from Quezon City.  – Jun Elias, Rainier Allan Ronda, Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wounded people

By Denis Murphy
12:59 am | Monday, December 16th, 2013

The people of Tacloban and the other areas savaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” are a wounded people.
The smell of death is still in their nostrils; nearly every family has suffered a death. Families have lost all they own: the fishing boat and nets they saved up for over the years; the small businesses, tool kits, tricycles, and other assets they depended on for their livelihood; and the small homes carefully pieced together as a little more money came in.

They have seen death up close in the worst destruction witnessed in the country since the Liberation of Manila in 1944. Some of them must find it truly difficult to begin all over again. Some may despair. Many still hear the wind shrieking.

The people do not need bosses or taskmasters. It may be only their faith that still tethers them to their ordinary lives. The dire situation calls for people who can talk kindly to them, find out what they want to do, and help them do that, if it is at all possible and feasible.

For the reconstruction in the Visayas we need free, creative and imaginative people at all levels of work, but especially at the very top, among mayors and national leaders, and among the poor who will be 90 percent of the people involved in the effort. We need informed agreement, not grudging assent, among the poor; we need their enthusiasm. We need a healthy, but not slavish, respect for law and custom.
Jesus told us the law was made for man, not man for the law, and that the need to help one’s neighbor in times of trouble overrides all other laws. Mahatma Gandhi led the Indian people to violate British law several times on their way to independence.

Compare the view of Jesus and Gandhi with another understanding of the law that appeared recently in Tacloban.

Thousands of coconut trees have been felled by the typhoon. Some people wanted to cut the trees into lumber that they would use to rebuild their homes. They were told by officials that it was a violation of the law to do so, especially if done with a power saw. Thus, the children, the aged and the sick continued to sleep in the open.

Sometimes we must set aside laws and customs that are clearly not relevant, but those who do so must be ready to suffer the punishment established for such violations. Setting aside a law is no trivial matter, though it may sometimes be necessary.

In the reconstruction we have to give a special place to the poor people and to their organizations. We need the suggestions of the poor and their wholehearted support. The poor will be the final judges of the success or failure of the whole project in the way they will vote later and lead their lives. The poor people’s organizations are the best means of ensuring that we have the consent of the people and their free and “generous solidarity” (Pope Francis’ phrase).

All of us have to think outside the box and work with people who are outside our usual “box” of friends. We have to allow all levels of society a seat at the decision-making table. If we give the poor a chance to explain their points of view, we will be surprised by their wisdom. We must not demand freedom with regard to law and custom only, but also in regard to the orders that come from our officials. We must build on our democratic instincts. Leaders must come and argue their cases. The poor are not their indentured slaves. The poor are their “bosses.” This is a good time to part with the autocratic, bullying ways of the past.

We hope that in the process of reconstruction, a kind of people are formed who will continue after the reconstruction to build a democratic and prosperous society and rid themselves of inept politicians, homelessness, hunger and illiteracy. We need leaders who can bring joy into the reconstruction work and into the future.

The poor people of the Visayas need compassion and understanding. I realized part of this emotional reality when we took a taxi home from Makati last week.

We started talking to the taxi driver, who told us that he was from Tacloban and that his parents barely escaped death during the onslaught of Yolanda. As the wind grew stronger, the couple went outdoors and climbed up the sampaloc tree behind their house. The father, 79, and the mother, 65, held on to the tree for hours as the typhoon raged. They watched their house fly apart in the wind. They saw their other son hit on the head by a piece of debris and fall dead. The next day they buried him in front of their house.
The taxi driver began to shake. He took deep gasps for breath and the tears fell. “My brother, my brother,” he sighed repeatedly, “my poor brother.” We were silent for the next 45 minutes.

We say “wounded people,” but maybe it is better to say “challenged people” on their way to becoming the “joyful people” that Pope Francis talks about in his pastoral letter, “The Joy of the Gospel.”

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Urban Poor Groups say, “Build Back Better in Disaster Areas”

Urban Poor Associates
25-A Mabuhay Street, Brgy. Central, Q.C.          Telefax: 4264118          Tel.: 4264119 / 4267615
Ref:  Princess Asuncion-Esponilla      Mobile phone: 0908 1967450

17 December 2013. Urban poor groups composed of Urban Poor Alliance, Urban Poor Associates, Community Organizers Multiversity, and different people’s organizations believe the proper approach is build back better in disaster areas. Recovery must promote fairness and equity. Government must ensure that in the reconstruction process ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved.

The group held a forum entitled “Will We Build Back Better?” December 17 at the Ateneo De Manila. The purpose of the forum was to gather suggestions for ensuring national reconstruction following on Yolanda will be a success. The suggestions cover different aspects of reconstruction—land, houses, jobs, health, administrations of the work, necessary participants in the process.

The forum also remembered Panunuluyan. Ivy Pagute, community organizer and one of the UPA group who went to Tacloban for rapid-assessment said, “Usually every December we hold our annual event, Panunuluyan— which how Mary and Joseph search for a place where Jesus could be born. Because of devastation brought about by Typhoon Yolanda we won’t have one this year. However, this meeting reminds us almost a million people are looking for a home. This forum can be another form of a Panunuluyan because we are helping a million families to find a house. “

Before the program started the participants were asked to pray in silence while the recorded sounds of Typhoon Yolanda were playing. Participants and victims of Typhoon Yolanda were moved to tears.

Jeorgie Tenolete, President of Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran in Baseco, Tondo said, “When we visited Tacloban last December 6 it seemed that nothing had changed since the typhoon a month earlier. The survivors of typhoon Yolanda should be consulted. Resettlement sites should not overcrowd and jobs must be given importance.”

Celia Santos, one of the speakers and Advocacy Officers for UDHA Amendments suggested, “Barangays of different affected areas must do an assessment and planning for their short and long term rebuilding activities together with the residents. Funders and national government can now directly provide funds to barangays based on their identify needs. The barangay must allow active participation of its constituents so that all funds for rehabilitation plan will be accounted by the community.”

The speakers of the forum were from World Bank, NGOs, Urban Planner, People’s Organizations, government and the Church. The participants selected the top five suggestions that will be given to the President and his assistants.

Alice Murphy, UPA Field Director concluded, “we are doing this to make sure that the government acknowledges the best practices in the reconstruction. We want worldwide acknowledged best practices to ensure that the majority of Yolanda survivors to be served with integrity and that all their needs will be given priority.”


Saturday, December 14, 2013

From the House to the Senate

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Letter to the Editor

Urban poor leaders advocating amendments to the 1992 Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA) visited the House of Representatives and Senate early December to hand over copies of a letter to certain legislators. In that letter, they thanked the lawmakers for legislation that favored the poor and asked for their continued support for the poor. They also sought their help to get the UDHA amended. The group believes that the proposed amendments to the UDHA will address and solve many present-day housing issues, including eviction.

Urban poor leaders wore the most decent clothes they had and brought their identification cards those days they visited Congress.

At the House, they were stopped by security guards. They told the guards that they had letters for Rep. Cresente Paez, the author of the amendment bill, and for 15 other congressmen who also sponsored it. Only four of the urban poor leaders were allowed to enter, the rest were sent away. When the four leaders were in the Congress canteen, the guards asked them to leave even though they were still eating. They ignored the guards and proceeded to bring the letters to the congressmen-addressees. The urban poor felt that they were treated like trash at the House.

In contrast, the Senate was very accommodating. They felt that they were welcomed with open arms by the institution. They were able to give their letters and felt they were greeted with warmth in the Senate offices they went to. Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano found time for them and assured them of his support. Sen. Bam Aquino, a sponsor of the UDHA amendments, acknowledged the efforts of the urban poor leaders in amending the UDHA.

Ordinary people appreciate being welcomed as friends by public officials.

advocacy officer,
Urban Development and Housing Act,
Task Force UDHA Amendments,
25-A Mabuhay St.,
Barangay Central, Quezon City

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Pope: Change economy, respect the poor

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Pope Francis, in his gripping pastoral letter “The Joy of the Gospel,” calls the Church to a new evangelization. Two of his challenges have special importance for the Philippines: his condemnation of “trickle down” or “growth without jobs” capitalism, and the importance he assigns to the poor in the life of the Church.

The Pope writes: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.” [53] Later in the same number, he says: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

It may be the same message as earlier popes preached, but it seems more grounded now in the personal experience of this Pope. He claims that present-day economics makes us indifferent to “the death by exposure of an old and homeless person.” He is angry when he describes food being thrown away in wealthy countries and cities when poor people are starving elsewhere. He also blames the lack of awareness on the self-centeredness that this economy creates in people. He says the poor are “outcasts” and “leftovers” in such a society.

The Philippine economy that produces wealth, but remains barren of jobs, is not an accident, but the deliberate choice of our politicians and business leaders. It can be modified.

What will Christian politicians and the business elite do when faced with the Pope’s criticism? The Pope asks for a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. “I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case. Money must serve, not rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which [favors] human beings.” [58]

The Pope does not expect change overnight. He would be happy, I suspect, if political and business leaders made some effort, however small, to reshape the economy. The Pope’s phrase, “generous solidarity,” seems to say it all.

The second challenge of the Pope is for all in the country to appreciate God’s special love for the poor. “God’s heart has a special place for the poor, so much so that He himself became poor (2 Cor 8:7).” The Pope says: “I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the  sensus  fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the [center] of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” [198]

Did any other pope ever speak with such depth of insight and passion about poor people?
If politicians and economic experts must reexamine our national economic system, all of us must see how we can come closer to respecting, honoring and helping the poor as God wants. Pope Francis’ words remind us that hungry children are a desecration of God’s most exquisite work. Forced evictions, unemployed youth, the slums themselves cry out to God like Abel’s blood.

Can we make sure the poor will be treated fairly and justly in the reconstruction work in the wake of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”? Will the fishermen made homeless end up in decent housing and still be able to fish, or will they find themselves far from their old homes and the sea? Not all social problems are located in the South. What share will the homeless poor have in the 300 hectares that SM is allowed to reclaim in Manila Bay?

Will the fishermen and other poor people around Laguna Lake threatened by flood control projects be treated fairly? Will the government share its plans for them with them? Will there be genuine consultation befitting a democracy?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

Monday, December 2, 2013

A storm surge of suggestions

By Denis Murphy

These days, President Aquino faces a storm surge of suggestions on how to run the government’s reconstruction program in the areas walloped by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” The purpose of this piece (and of a roundtable on reconstruction matters to be held in mid-December) is to help the President and his assistants to sort through the suggestions pouring into their offices. Some are good; some are not so useful.

There are rules for the dangerous and demanding work of reconstruction. Lawyer Angel Ojastro of Naga City, who worked closely with the late Jesse Robredo, sent the following list of suggestions compiled by former US President Bill Clinton when he was the United Nations’ special envoy for tsunami recovery (2006). In the interest of space I have left out some suggestions and trimmed down some:

• Governments, donors, and aid agencies must recognize that families and communities drive their own recovery.
• Recovery must promote fairness and equity.
• Local governments must be empowered to manage recovery efforts.
• Good recovery planning and effective coordination depend on good information.
• The UN, World Bank, and other multilateral agencies must clarify their roles.
• From the start of recovery operations, governments and aid agencies must create the conditions for entrepreneurs to flourish.
• Good recovery must leave communities safer by reducing risks and building resilience.

My good friend, architect Jonathan James Price, sent me his own list. Price is now a consultant with the World Bank in Manila. He is English but is fortunately married to a Filipino, architect May Domingo. He has worked among poor people in a number of Asian countries. I have also left out from his list some suggestions and trimmed down others:

• If possible, people should be allowed to return to their previous locations and, with technical assistance, rebuild safer and better housing where they used to live. It is very easy to make blanket judgments about no-build zones, but mitigation measures should also be taken into consideration. People often end up losing their occupancy rights as well. “Building back better” is a nice catchy phrase, but it doesn’t always get done, especially when so many people are affected and resources including technical assistance, monitoring capacity, money and materials are limited.
• Relocation projects should not cram as many people as possible onto the sites, but consider livelihood very carefully in the planning—such as larger plots of land for backyard gardening or common facilities like workshops. If livelihood is not considered very carefully in the relocation sites, they will be a failure.
• It’s best to avoid transitional housing or bunk housing and move people straight into permanent housing. People end up staying in bunkhouses for far too long.
• Whenever possible, big international nongovernment organizations should partner with local NGOs, people’s organizations, and community-based organizations in rebuilding communities and replanning or planning new settlements. In so doing, they can strengthen local organization and capacity as well as make use of all that local knowledge.

Most of the suggestions in these two lists seek to ensure that ordinary citizens and their communities will be involved in the reconstruction process (the poor, especially, because they are so often ignored or ill-treated), and that they will be treated fairly and with equity (justly). Price’s suggestions focus on historic mistakes that were made in past reconstruction programs and can be made in the future.

To act as Clinton and Price suggest takes time. It is better, they recommend, to proceed slowly and thoughtfully than rush to judgment in these complex and controversial matters, such as the site of relocation areas. If the people feel poorly treated, the road ahead will be slow and maddeningly frustrating all around.

Price focuses on some of these recurring mistakes, such as choice of relocation areas, overcrowding, and lack of long-term perspective. At bottom, it seems that he and Clinton are asking for compassion, consultation, determination, learning from past mistakes, and thoughtful, widely accepted steps forward.

How does the government show its determination to rehouse the million-plus homeless families despite the problems? How will it enforce its decisions? How will it punish individuals who place their own economic good over the happiness of thousands of poor people? Does it need special powers from Congress—for example, stronger expropriation powers?

Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (

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