“The P10-billion (US$ 228 m) pork barrel re-channeled to fake NGOs should have been used instead for an P8.3-billion restoration project for our country’s mangrove forest cover and almost four year’s worth of community-based disaster preparedness and response programs costing at least P2 billion.” – Kalikasan-PNE
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – It is no longer enough for President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III to make an appearance in photo ops showing him distributing relief goods to flood victims, after his absence in a national disaster response meeting was criticized.
“Knee-jerk reactions” will not do anymore to mitigate flooding that gets worse year on year. According to Kalikasan-Peoples Network for the Environment, the powerful monsoon rains enhanced by Tropical Storm Maring (International name: Trami) and the massive floods it brought are “clear impacts of climate change.” The Philippines could have been sufficiently prepared for it, they said, “if public funds embezzled by corrupt politicians from pork barrel funds had been utilized instead for a comprehensive climate adaptation and effective mitigation solutions.”
As floodwaters rapidly inundate workers’ communities in Cavite and Laguna last Monday, labor groups affiliated with the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) have quickly taken action and urged fellow unionists to help. They gathered relief goods and conducted relief operations. From Monday this week heavy floods have placed parts of Laguna, Cavite, Batangas, Quezon, Rizal, Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Ilocos, Isabela and Metro Manila under state of calamity, prompting peoples organizations such as Gabriela, Anakpawis, Migrante, Bayan Muna and youth groups like the NUSP to immediately organize relief and rehabilitation efforts. They are still calling for volunteers as they conduct relief operations.
“Just as the people are enraged with piercing issues regarding the pork barrel scam involving numerous lower house representatives, third parties primarily led by Janette Napoles, and now the president’s inability to junk the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) popularly called ‘pork barrel’, the recent heavy rains have further enraged the people and made them realize that it is about time to divert and reallocate commonly misused pork barrel funds to our real need—genuine social services including free and habitable housing, proper drainage systems, calamity assistance, and a comprehensive plan that will prevent damages and casualties during times of calamities,” said Wenecito Urgel, secretary-general of Pamantik-KMU.
The comprehensive plan includes not just making sure that new government infrastructure projects would have proper drainage systems, it also has to squarely address climate change. The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) pointed to the record-breaking 600 mm 24-hour rainfall accumulation recorded last August 18, and to the torrential rains that deluged and flooded parts of Luzon particularly Cavite, Laguna, Bulacan, Zambales and Metro Manila, as warnings that the Philippine government has to heed soon. The government has to work on climate-proofing measures, they said.
“It is infuriating how billions of pesos for pork barrel, even over a trillion pesos if we look at Pres. Benigno Aquino III’s lump sum funds, are likely being used for corruption instead of much needed climate-proofing measures,” said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
The damages and massive flooding brought by unusually strong monsoon rains could have been averted, according to the green group, “if the money poured into pork politics were spent instead on environmental protection, disaster risk reduction and renewable energy measures.”
The 24-hour rainfall record set by the enhanced monsoons this year was even greater than 2009’s Typhoon Ondoy of 455 mm, as well as last year’s monsoon rains of 472 mm. Over 229,991 families or 1,060,094 individuals have been affected as of 6:00 a.m. of August 21. The typhoon that worsened the monsoon rains has gone out of the Philippine area of responsibility by Aug 22, when the rains were expected to lessen, the government weather forecaster PAGASA had said.
Corruption costs lives, worsens disasters
“The P10-billion (US$ 228 m) pork barrel re-channeled to fake NGOs should have instead been used for an P8.3-billion (US$ 190 m) restoration project for our country’s mangrove forest cover and almost four year’s worth of community-based disaster preparedness and response programs costing at least P2 billion (US$ 46 m). In this way, flooding and community displacement like what happened in Cavite and various other provinces in Luzon could have been minimized,” Dulce said.
Mangroves serve as coastal buffers from storm surges, Dulce explained. He added that it serves as a natural flood control structure, as a hub for fisheries and other resources, and as a sink for carbon emissions that accelerate climate change.
He also said improving the organizational and infrastructural capacities for disaster risk management at the community level directly reduces disaster risks and the negative impact of climate change to the lives and health of the people.
In the investigations of the Commission on Audit, a big number of lawmakers, some even allies of the Aquino administration, were revealed to have availed of PDAF allocations greater than their respective maximum allocations, which was P200 million (US$ 4.6 m) for each senator and P70 million (US$ 1.6 m) for each congressman. Watchdogs and various groups have also decried the various lump sum funds of the president that amounted to P1 trillion as essentially the president’s pork barrel fund.
Carlito Badion, KADAMAY national secretary-general, told the country’s politicians to look no farther than their reflection in the mirror, and the contents of their pockets, when they start looking once again for people to blame in the massive flooding.
The urban poor communities have frequently been blamed by the government for massive flooding, even as data show that the government itself has been remiss at ensuring proper drainage, flood-control and conservation of mangroves and forest cover, among other climate-proofing measures. ‘The bankruptcy of the government’s flood- control program in Metro Manila and other Luzon provinces is very evident in these latest ravages of monsoon rains,” said Badion. He blames this futile flood-control program on government corruption.
“Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s 2009 pork barrel could have single-handedly paid for the entire damages caused by 2012’s monsoon rains and floods. Even President Aquino’s past pork barrel allocations could have been used to construct more than two million housing units for the relocation of families in hazardous areas or for evacuation centers,” said Dulce.
Calling for the abolition of the pork barrel, Dulce urged the government to re-channel the fund instead toward implementing ‘climate priority’ policies and programs such as the People’s Mining Bill, the One Million Solar Roofs Bill and the National Flood Management Master Plan, which he said “will improve our climate resiliency and reduce climate change-related disasters in the Philippines.” These bills have been filed in Congress before and have been re-filed in the current Congress. These measures are believed to aid environmental protection and natural resource management.