Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (in black jacket and cap), Typhoon Haiyan recovery and rehabilitation czar, visits Guiuan in Eastern Samar on Jan. 27, 2014. What’s the situation now in areas hit by the devastating tropical cyclone? Photo by: International Organization for Migration / CC BY-NC-ND

Less than a month after Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, Philippine President Benigno Aquino appointed Panfilo “Ping” Lacson as rehabilitation czar to spearhead the long and winding road and journey to recovery and rehabilitation.

On the first anniversary of the storm that left over 6,200 dead, the former senator and national police chief granted Devex an exclusive interview to discuss the toughest challenges he’s faced, what’s the situation on the ground now, lessons learned and development opportunities for all stakeholders, including the international aid community and the private sector.

“Being given the big responsibility of rehabilitating 171 cities and municipalities with very limited power and authority is a sure formula for failure,” noted the presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, who explained his office must find innovative ways to get things done when faced with the nightmare of navigating Philippine government bureaucracy — despite having a clear mandate to coordinate all rehabilitation-related operations.

Here are a few excerpts of our conversation with the man tasked with with the herculean task to get Haiyan survivors back on their feet and make them more resilient to future calamities.

What is the status of the recovery and rehabilitation efforts one year after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines? Is there equitable recovery and rehabilitation across all of the affected areas, or is progress faster in others?

The Philippine president’s approval of the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan on 29 Oct. 2014 marks the turning point triggering the massive outpour of resources for the implementation of target programs, projects and activities in 2014, 2015 and 2016 across the [so-called] Haiyan Corridor. Even prior to the master rehabilitation plan, national and local government authorities have been working towards a phased implementation of projects, programs and activities in the Haiyan Corridor.

As of date, the government has already initiated CRRP’s short-term rehabilitation and recovery interventions which provide basic needs and social services for the affected communities. These are aimed at helping Typhoon Haiyan survivors return to the state of normalcy in their day-to-day lives. These efforts include, among others, health and school facilities restoration, temporary shelters, temporary livelihood/employment, agricultural input assistances and public works reconstruction.

Following the approval of the CRRP, rehabilitation will now be focusing on implementing medium-term PPAs. This category of interventions will be implemented in 2015 and 2016. Medium-term PPAs are in line with our Build Back Better, Faster and Safer development platform, designed to enhance the resilience of the communities against disasters, and shall integrate concepts and principles of disaster prevention and mitigation as well as disaster preparedness.

In terms of achieving our short-term PPAs, I can say with confidence that the totality of government efforts have already achieved tangible and measurable outcomes. For one, we have substantial progress in terms of completed and ongoing PPAs, such as 77.4 percent of barangay health stations, 63 percent of public markets, 24.37 percent of national roads, 20 percent of new classrooms, 75 percent of portable water facilities, 89 percent of airport facilities, 55 percent of provincial, city and municipal halls, and 45 percent of civic centers.

I believe progress in rehabilitation and recovery remains to be all-encompassing and equitable. I do my best to hold true to the task of meaningful recovery in even the most far-flung areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan.

How did international development and relief agencies help these areas recover and rehabilitate?

[My office] has made significant progress in engaging multilateral and bilateral agencies for Haiyan-related donor assistance. The unparalleled outpour of assistance from the international community has enabled the country to deliver aid to affected communities from relief and humanitarian phase to rehabilitation and recovery phase. As of August 2014, total assistance for Haiyan relief, rehabilitation and recovery is at $3.9 billion. This figure consists of both grants and loans packages. Much of the foreign assistance received was initially channeled to humanitarian aid. Of grants totaling $965 million, about $699 million were received in the form of humanitarian assistance. About half of this, or $333 million, were already disbursed for quick relief operations.

What was the private sector’s role in all of this? Were corporations involved in the recovery and rehabilitation efforts from the start?

The nongovernment sector has been key enablers of humanitarian assistance and rehabilitation and recovery interventions. It has a significant role in augmenting the government’s interventions in the Haiyan Corridor. The Philippine government, through OPARR, has sought to broadly leverage the generous commitments, contributions and activities of the nongovernment and private sector by developing mechanisms to engage them. To date, nongovernment partners have contributions estimated at 1.5 billion Philippine pesos ($33.27 million) to support CRRP PPAs. These contributions pertain to donations, both in cash or in kind, or grants from various nongovernment sources. These foreign and domestic donations have been directly delivered to or accepted by beneficiaries or local government constituents with minimal — if not without — government intervention.

How has coordination of aid delivery and project implementation between various stakeholders — government agencies, local and international NGOs, private sector, etc. — improved over the past year? What can be improved or done better?

We ought to stress the fact that we have strengthened coordination among key stakeholders in terms of aid delivery and project implementation. As the overall manager and coordinator of all rehabilitation and recovery efforts across the Haiyan Corridor, I make sure that fundamental management and coordination structures are in place.  

At the national level, we have established the Cluster Framework Approach, which organizes cabinet secretaries and national agency heads under five core clusters. These five clusters address their respective areas and needs in different sectors: resettlement, livelihood, social services, infrastructure and support.

More so, to fast track rehabilitation efforts and ensure the convergence of plans of national agencies and local governments into the master rehabilitation plan, I proposed the Phased Implementation Approach by calling on Haiyan-affected [local government units] to submit their respective Local Government Rehabilitation and Recovery Plans. The LRRPs were deliberated upon, vetted, and endorsed by cluster heads for approval of the Philippine president. I envisioned the PIA as our way of coping with cumbersome laws and regulations from which even post-Haiyan projects were not exempt.

Alongside these government efforts, mechanisms to engage the non-government sector and multilateral and bilateral agencies are also in place.

Despite all these, one of the apparent challenges of OPARR is concomitant bureaucracy in our country, which prevents the government from implementing rehabilitation projects as quickly as we wanted. We need to be cautious about following post-disaster procedures as prescribed by existing laws and regulations. Even after experiencing the strongest tropical cyclone in history, the nuances of our auditing and reporting processes remain in place and will apply equally stringently. However relevant, these brought about bottlenecks — hence cross-cutting policy review and amendment may be taken into account.

As the country’s rehabilitation czar, what valuable lessons did you learn about post-disaster recovery and rehabilitation? Knowing what you know now, what would you do the same and what would you do differently?

Being given the big responsibility of rehabilitating 171 cities and municipalities with very limited power and authority is a sure formula for failure. While we ... have experienced several frustrating moments in the course of rehabilitation, most of them involving bottlenecks which we have no authority to solve, our office does not use this as an excuse. [Despite] the limitations of [our] mandate, we try to innovate ways to fast-track the rehabilitation process. I think it will be [good] for all agencies, whether related to disaster management or not, to consider innovative policy toolkits such as our Phased Implementation Approach so that we can avoid straightjacketing emergency relief outcomes and urgent rehabilitation programs to otherwise burdensome regulations.

Super Typhoon Haiyan left a wake of devastation when it swept through the central Philippines on Nov. 8. How has the situation in the worst-hit provinces changed one year after? Devex is in Tacloban to give you the latest news and analysis from ground zero. Stay tuned for more coverage.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.