Philippines needs to think smart to attract private sector to rebuilding

Reuters
An aerial view of the destruction in a town is seen near Guiuan, Eastern Samar, in central Philippines
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An aerial view of the destruction in a town is seen near Guiuan, Eastern Samar, in central Philippines …

By Karen Lema and Rosemarie Francisco

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines is compiling a typhoon reconstruction plan which needs to win budget support from Congress and attract funds from the private sector and donors with ideas likely to shape President Benigno Aquino's legacy.

Aquino, who was criticized for the slow start to relief efforts for more than four million people displaced by one of the strongest storms ever to make landfall, faces the task of rebuilding at least 1.2 million houses, 600 schools and 500 hospitals and clinics destroyed or damaged by super typhoon Haiyan.

The government said on Friday the death toll had risen to 4,919, with 1,582 people missing.

It is holding meetings with the private sector and international aid agencies before submitting, possibly next week, a supplementary budget to Congress to fund recovery and reconstruction estimated to reach as much as $5.8 billion.

"The problem with the discussion on the supplemental budget is we are rushing the funds but we still do not know what the plan is," said Malou Tiquia, president of political strategy consultancy Publicus Asia.

Manila has set priorities such as shelter, resettlement and rebuilding livelihoods, but the plan lacks detail the private sector and foreign aid agencies need to determine how they can help long term.

"We're calling on government to provide strong leadership in developing that recovery framework," said Orla Murphy, regional humanitarian manager at Oxfam, adding foreign aid agencies could help devise rebuilding plans.

"This recovery is going to take years, because it is not only building back, it's building back better, looking at the hazard profile," Murphy said.

A scandal over lawmakers' misuse of so-called pork barrel funds had already become the biggest crisis of Aquino's three-year rule, hurting his reform and anti-corruption agenda, before the storm smashed into the central Philippines on November 8 and exposed the government's lack of preparation.

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But the typhoon devastation can also bring his redemption.

"The monster disaster could offer him an opportunity to regain his popularity," said Earl Parreno, a political analyst. "As long as things are moving and people are seeing concrete results on the ground, Aquino can weather criticism."

Lawmakers have committed to work double time to pass the planned supplemental budget mainly composed of 14.5 billion pesos ($331.4 million) previously set aside for the same pork barrel funds, after the Supreme Court this week ordered the return of such funds to the treasury.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson said construction had started on temporary accommodation and classrooms using tents and tarpaulins. But work needs to be done on identifying sites for permanent housing away from disaster-prone areas.

"The more lasting solution which is being formulated by the government is something we have to wait for, like resettlement areas," said Manuel Pangilinan, chairman of the private-sector-led Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation, which launched a global campaign for donations via mobile phone in support of a U.N. drive to raise $310 million for the Philippines.

"They have to tell us where they will situate the no-build zones," he said.

"What is clear to us is that the victims cannot wait, for a plan from either us or from the government." ($1 = 43.75 pesos)

(Additional reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Nick Macfie and Robert Birsel)

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