Monday, January 22, 2018
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Lacson’s eMPATHY keeps track of all relief funds

With billions of pesos coming from the national coffers and donor organizations for rebuilding communities ravaged by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) a year ago, the Aquino administration wants to assure the public that the money is really going to reconstruction and rehabilitation projects.

The intention is not only to make the process transparent but also to show the “laggards” in the development of projects, according to Panfilo Lacson, the presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery who oversees the rehabilitation and reconstruction effort.

Lacson said his office had created “eMPATHY” which stands for e-Management Platform: Accountability and Transparency Hub for Yolanda, a comprehensive, centralized system for tracking down expenditures for the gigantic program.

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Lacson said the system was the first in the Philippines and possibly the whole world.

Watching the money

The innovation allows both the government and the public to keep an eye on the funds, Lacson said.

People who want to know what the projects are, how much they cost, and how far gone they are can go to empathy.oparr.gov.ph to see it for themselves.

The Oparr is the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery.

Presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

The hub has been up for about two weeks but remains a work in progress, as technicians continue to “populate” the database, according to Lacson.

Lacson said there was a need for transparency and accountability on the billions coming from the government and from multilateral and bilateral partners that had come to the aid of the Philippines.

P167.8B from gov’t

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For one, the Aquino administration would be allotting P167.8 billion in the national budget for the next two years to finance the recovery and rehabilitation plan for 171 cities and municipalities in 44 provinces in nine regions affected by Yolanda.

For another, there is P19.36 billion in foreign assistance through grants for the rehabilitation and recovery phase, according to latest Oparr records.

In addition, the private sector has donated P12.38 billion for the rehabilitation and recovery program.

Lacson, a former senator and chief of the Philippine National Police, said his experience during his first few days on the job made him realize the importance to the government of financial vigilance.

Zero leakage of funds

Fresh on the job, he discovered that substandard materials were being used for building bunkhouses for typhoon survivors in Eastern Samar province.

Lacson said there were also reports that someone had colluded with contractors for the use of substandard materials to generate kickbacks.

One bunkhouse cost P836,000 and a cut of 10 percent would cost the government P83,600, he said.

“That’s when I realized we have to monitor the funds,” he said.

Lacson said he was aiming for “zero leakage” of rehabilitation funds.

“A leak of just 1 percent and that’s already a P1.7-billion loss. That’s a huge amount, and we are dealing with a calamity here,” Lacson said.

18,400 rehab projects

It’s a tall order, but Lacson believes it can be done.

And vital to watching the funds is the hub, developed with a $10-million technical assistance from the United States Agency for International Development.

The hub contains a list of the 18,400 rehabilitation projects that require 25,000 activities, Lacson said.

Also listed are the winning contractors, the dates of the awarding of the contracts and the status of the implementation of the projects.

Catching crooks

“These data are really for the public and the media, not only for transparency but also to determine who the laggards are,” Lacson said.

People following the development of the projects in their villages through the hub can report irregularities, including use of substandard materials, he said.

The hub has filters for false information from public users, he said.

Aside from the public, he said, project implementers (national government agencies, local governments, international organizations, private organizations and foundations) may also share information through the hub.

A special team has been formed to go to development partners to share their information with the Oparr. The partners will be given usernames and passwords to the hub so that they can update the implementation of their projects, he said.

Lacson said the monitoring system would also help to fill gaps and deal with overlapping projects.

Donation referral

It was through that system, he said, that the Oparr was able to refer the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which had offered $10 million for the rehabilitation program, to needs in the hard-hit town of Guiuan in Eastern Samar.

“There is not much attention given to Samar because most of the focus is on Tacloban. So it was good thing Samar Gov. (Milagrosa) Tan went to the Oparr and we referred the UAE donation. They ended up discussing it,” he said.

The Oparr also refers local governments or national government agencies to foreign donors, Lacson said.

In the last three months, he said, foreign diplomats and international aid agencies visited the Oparr to look for rehabilitation projects they could help finance.

In most cases, foreign donors and governments are the ones that implement their projects, he said.

Javad Amoozegar, country director of ACF International, said his group was coordinating with the Oparr to make sure its projects ran in line with the rehabilitation plan.

ACF has implemented two projects funded by the Canadian government to restore livelihood and access to water for more than 100,000 people in Leyte and Iloilo provinces. The projects cost C$3.75 million.

‘Faster transition’

Vincent Stehli, ACF operations director, marveled at the short time that the Philippines was able to move from the humanitarian stage to the recovery stage after Yolanda.

“We thought it would take more time but it was done in a short time,” said Stehli, who was among those who attended the opening on Thursday of the Canadian Embassy’s photo exhibit showcasing ACF’s and the Canadian government’s assistance for Yolanda victims.

Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder also noted the Philippine government’s quick response to the disaster.

“In the donor community, those who lived through the tsunami experience have said that the response time here was better than the case of the tsunami situation,” Reeder said, referring to Indonesian tsunami that brought devastation to several countries on the Indian Ocean rim in December 2004.

“The ability of the country to bounce back was faster than we’ve ever seen in other humanitarian disasters,” Reeder said.

‘Good work’

He said Canada, the third largest donor in the relief effort, “recognized the good work” done by the Philippine government and committed his government to help even more in the future.

Canada put up $170 million for the Yolanda relief fund and the money was used for emergency relief and to support early recovery efforts.

The Canadian relief fund still has a balance of $20.59 million, and Reeder said this would be used for reconstruction and disaster risk reduction projects.

Lacson said foreign governments and organizations were more appreciative of the Philippine government’s response and recovery efforts than some local groups, who gripe about the slow pace of the rebuilding program.

Normally and under international standards, the transition from the humanitarian stage to the rehabilitation stage is one year, but it took the Philippines only eight months to get to the rehabilitation phase.

Master plan took 9 months

It took the Oparr only nine months to submit the Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan, he said.

Lacson submitted the rehabilitation plan to President Aquino on Aug. 1. Mr. Aquino signed the plan on Oct. 30.

Recovery and Rehabilitation Undersecretary Lesley Cordero, just back from a World Bank reconstruction conference in Australia, said a case study by the Global Facility for Disaster Recovery and Rehabilitation showed that the Philippines was the fastest in producing a rehabilitation master plan compared with other countries that had been struck by disasters such as Nepal, Senegal, Pakistan, Haiti, Japan and the United States.

The rehabilitation plan for the 2005 devastation wrought by Hurricane “Katrina,” for instance, took two years to put together, Cordero said.

Conference delegates, she said, were stunned by the Philippine master plan, as it was quite detailed, including project costing down to the village level and hazard mapping.

Legacy project

Other disaster-stricken countries produced only frameworks, not master plans, he said.

Lacson said the master plan would be uploaded to eMPATHY.

He said the hub was designed to cover the entire country and could be used to track down national government spending.

“We plan to leave [eMPATHY] as a legacy project for the next administration,” he said.

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TAGS: “eMPATHY”, Aquino administration, e-Management Platform: Accountability and Transparency Hub for Yolanda, empathy.oparr.gov.ph, Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, Oparr, Panfilo Lacson, Ping Lacson, Supertyphoon Yolanda, UAE, United Arab Emirates, United States Agency for International Development, Yolanda, Yolanda aid
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