October 14, 2009

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DAGUPAN CITY—Faced with the enormous task of having to pump out floodwaters and rebuild roads and bridges, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has formed a body to do a postmortem on Tropical Storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” and seek aid to rehabilitate the country.

The Special National Public-Private Sector Reconstruction Commission will also undertake a rehabilitation plan for wrecked infrastructure, Ms Arroyo said.

“This is going to be chaired by a business leader and Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) has agreed to chair this commission,” she said at a meeting of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Cabinet at the Dagupan West Central School.

The commission will be co-chaired by Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the President said.

Ms Arroyo announced that she had signed an executive order creating the commission to undertake a study of the causes, costs and actions needed to be taken in the wake of Ondoy, Pepeng and last year’s Typhoon “Frank.”

The commission’s other main task is to seek fresh aid to fund the reconstruction of roads, bridges and expressways damaged by flooding and landslides, she said.

“We want to raise more grants rather than more loans because we still don’t have a good debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio,” she said.

Close to P30 billion

After Ondoy dumped rain that inundated Metro Manila and nearby provinces, Pepeng (international codename: Parma), which first entered the country as a typhoon and exited after making landfall for the third time as a depression, pummeled northern Luzon, triggering massive flooding and landslides.

The two weather disturbances left more than 600 people dead, and damage to infrastructure and agriculture estimated at close to P30 billion, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

The government has come under a storm of criticism over its slow and inadequate response to Ondoy, and has been asked to do a postmortem on the shortcomings of its rescue operations.

Pledging session

The commission is also tasked with prioritizing programs and their implementation, serving as a clearing house for international assistance, and requesting the United Nations and the World Bank to coordinate an international pledging session, according to Ms Arroyo.

The National Economic and Development Authority and Office of Civil Defense will serve as its secretariat, she added.

Salceda proposal

It was Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, an economic adviser to Ms Arroyo, who proposed the creation of the commission.

“Given the impact of the global crisis on our fiscal capacity versus the magnitude of calamity impact, the Philippines should seek fresh aid amounting to $1 billion to fund reconstruction,” Salceda said.

He said the special commission would operate like the Coordinating Council for the Philippine Assistance Plan (CCPAP) first headed by businessman Roberto Villanueva of AG&P Inc.

The CCPAP has since evolved into the Coordinating Council for Private Sector Participation, which operates the Build Operate Transfer Center under the Department of Trade and Industry.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Augusto B. Santos agreed that the government should consult with urban planners, and “enforce their advice so that the spillways of Metro Manila and other cities are protected from clogging.”

Exemption from election ban

Teves, for his part, asked the Department of Justice if it were possible to exempt foreign aid meant for rehabilitation projects from the election ban so as to accelerate the completion of the projects.

“Can we kindly check with (Justice Secretary) Agnes Devanadera in the law whether we can allow the fund we receive from the donor community to fund rehabilitation to be exempted from the election ban?” he said at the meeting.

Teves later told reporters that if there was a legal basis for the exemption, at least “we can anticipate if these questions are raised by the potential donors. If not, we can go through the normal process.”

Draining floodwaters

After relief and rehabilitation operations, the next tough task for the government would be draining the weeks-long floodwaters in some areas in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna and other provinces.

“How do we drain all the floods not only in the NCR (National Capital Region) but also in Region 1?” the President asked at the meeting. “I don’t know what’s the solution to the Laguna Lake. It has been drained but the water is still there.”

Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. reported that a dike along the Manggahan Floodway, measuring 120 meters long and 5 meters high, had been completed despite an initial opposition from 14 families of informal settlers.

Informal settlers living along the waterway have been blamed for its clogging. The waterway drains into the Laguna Lake.

1977 master plan

Ms Arroyo then recalled that architect Felino “Jun” Palafox had mentioned the 1977 master plan for the metropolis.

“Jun Palafox raised to us that during Marcos’ time there was a master plan for the NCR in 1977. Let’s look at it, and start from there,” she said, stressing that the architect would be invited as a speaker at the next meeting.

Ms Arroyo told Chair Bayani Fernando of the Metro Manila Development Authority that she was counting on him to drain the floodwaters in the metropolis. With a report from Rey M. Nasol, Inquirer Southern Luzon


Tags: commission, mvp, rehabilitation

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