Using calamity an excuse for another calamity

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One week after the 7.2 magnitude tremblor that shook Bohol, Cebu and other parts of Central Visayas, many are still unaccounted for.

 

Heart rending is the report about the missing five children playing by the waterfall, which has also been obliterated by landslides that followed the quake.

There may still be areas, isolated by the destruction of roads and bridges that are still to be reached by rescuers and people who are bringing assistance.

Speaking of assistance, it is good to know that China has set aside the strain in diplomatic relations and condoled with the Filipino people in this moment of tragedy. Beijing sent through the Red Cross $80,000 assistance.

Taiwan, with whom the Philippines recently patched up relations after the unfortunate killing by a member of the Philippine Coast Guard of a Taiwanese fisherman in the disputed waters in Balintang Channel gave $100,000. The Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Manila said more humanitarian assistance for the quake victims is being organized.

The United States donated $50,000 for relief operations for Bohol quake victims.

Legal aspects of these donations are covered by the declaration of the earthquake-stricken areas under the State of Calamity.

Republic Act 10121 provides that “The President’s declaration may warrant international humanitarian assistance as deemed necessary.”

 

VERA Files. Yvonne Chua, wrote a piece about her conversation with Eddie, a driver in Guadalupe, Cebu whose house was damaged by the earthquake on how the President’s declaration of a State of Calamity can benefit him.

Chua wrote:”The President can declare a state of calamity in ‘a condition involving mass casualty and/or major damages to property, disruption of means of livelihoods, roads and normal way of life of people in the affected areas as a result of the occurrence of natural or human-induced hazard.’”

“The presidential declaration paves the way for the release of calamity funds, a price freeze for basic necessities of 60 days unless lifted, and the granting of no-interest loans, as well as international humanitarian assistance.

“Under the Local Government Code, local government units in areas declared to be in a state of calamity may draw from their calamity funds, a lump-sum appropriation generated from the 5 percent of the estimated revenue from regular sources. The funds are to be used for the repair and upgrading of public infrastructures and facilities, among others.

“On top of that, local government units may enact a supplemental budget to buy supplies and materials or pay for services to prevent danger to or loss of life or property.

“The importation of rice and payment of hazard allowance to public health workers and science and technological personnel may also be authorized during a state of calamity.”

Chua said it is the grant of no-interest loans by government financing or lending institutions that interests Eddie especially those for home repairs.

Chua related that Eddie was told to take pictures of his damaged house and attach them to his loan application with the Social Security System.

Chua further wrote that, “The SSS on Wednesday approved a calamity relief package for SSS members and pensioners in Central Visayas, especially Cebu and Bohol, who were affected by the earthquake. The package includes early renewal of salary loans, relaxed loan terms for home repairs and advance release of three months’ worth of pensions.

“The SSS said it has relaxed its terms for the House Repair and Improvement Loan Program for members living in the declared calamity areas like Eddie. House repair borrowers can avail themselves of reduced interest rates, to be fixed at 6 percent a year instead of the existing 9 percent. The regular application fee of up to P3,000 will also be waived.

“The SSS is allowing members one year to apply for house repair loans to give them time to prepare the required documents.”
The 2013 budget has allotted P7.50 billion for calamities and P1 billion for contingencies. The two fundsa are part of the P957.77 billion special purpose fund which some describe as the President’s pork barrel.

Aquino last week said there’s only P1.37 billion in the calamity fund. The unspoken message, of course, is this is not enough, we will have to tap “savings” which is the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program.

Many saw through the deodorant ploy.

Not to be outdone, members of the Senate, which has been shaken by the Janet Napoles pork barrel scandal, are suggesting re-aligning their unused PDAF (Priority development Assistance Fund) to the Calamity Fund.

Lawyer Harry Roque said:” This cannot be done. Budget is a law. A (Senate) resolution can’t amend a law! Only an amendatory or repealing law can do that. In any case, the Senate president can only realign items from savings in its own budget. They can’t do that to budget of executive and vice versa.”

Doing that would make calamity an excuse for another calamity.