Learning Exchange: Accountability in Disaster Rehabilitation, Land Rights and Housing

The 2012 World Risk report ranked the Philippines third out of 173 countries in terms of disaster risk. It has ranked 4thin the 2016 Germanwatch Climate Risk Index Report and 1stin 2013 after typhoon Yolanda – the strongest storm to make landfall in recent history – hit the country. The country is prone to multiple recurring hazards such as cyclones, floods, earthquakes, and landslides. Already today, 20 typhoons at least hit the Philippines every year. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, consequently making it more urgent for the government to improve the way they prepare for disasters and the other risks and threats that come with it, such as hunger, conflict and loss of sources of income. 

Compounding the county’s exposure to a range of natural hazards is the persistent vulnerability of large sections of the population. Although poverty rates have been falling in recent years, around one quarter of the population are recorded as living below the official poverty line (World Bank, 2012). Two factors contributing to this vulnerability are environmental degradation and rapid urbanisation. Massive depletion of natural resources and the destruction of the environment has increased the risk of flash flooding, landslides and drought as a result of declining forest cover (GFDRR, 2009). At the same time, rapid urbanisation has led to the proliferation of unplanned settlements, particularly in hazard-prone areas (ibid). Finally, the long-running violent conflict between the state and Islamic separatist groups on the Southern island of Mindanao has created persistent humanitarian need, in situations of limited access for both national and international actors (Scriven, 2013). 

Numerous studies conducted over the years to assess the Philippines’ disaster risk management system show its largely “reactive” and “response-oriented” character, and a top- down system of operations. This clearly underscored the inadequacy of PD 1566, a 31-year old law merely covering disaster control and focusing on emergency response (Agsaoay-Sano 2009). 

Typhoon Yolanda has exposed the weaknesses and gaps of the country’s DRR System. About 1,035,242 households were affected by Yolanda in 44 provinces and 9 regions. The World Bank has estimated the 0.9% slash from the gross domestic product growth of the Philippines in 2013 due to Yolanda. This resulted in 2.3 million Filipinos failing below the poverty line, especially in the areas affected by Yolanda. The total estimated damage is Php 571.1 billion. (World Bank 2017) 

The Commission on Audit (CoA) Report in 2014 says that “despite a solid and functioning disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) structure, the government’s response still came across as reactive and not proactive, insufficient, inefficient and for the most part, too slow. The said report listed the following problems:

  • Given the multi-sectoral, multi- organizational structure of the NDRRMC and the complexity and magnitude of the disaster, the Council’s key players and stakeholders had difficulty coordinating, collaborating and making timely decisions, which came across as unreadiness and ineptitude to respond to a host of emergencies and crippling crisis. (COA 2014: 39)
  • The Yolanda disaster also exposed the low level of disaster preparedness and response capabilities of many LGUs. Despite the DILG’s campaign to recognize and incentivize local government performance in institutionalizing disaster preparedness, many LGUs have yet to integrate DRRM policies into their own development plans. 

In response to the damage caused by Yolanda, the government has come up with a Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) in 2013 that have mandated almost all agencies of the government to allocate funding for Yolanda rehabilitation.  In response to the estimated 205,128 families needing housing, the National Housing Authority (NHA) allotted Php. 75.68 billion for the Resettlement Cluster that will implement the housing program for Yolanda victims. As of 2016, only 32,919 housing units (or 16% ng target) have been completed, while 108,875 are ongoing and 63,334 have yet to start(NEDA 2017)

From the onset, the Yolanda rehabilitation program has been mired with controversies. Corruption and inefficiencies in the program implementation resulting to delays in housing and provision of services to victims have been the common issue. There is clearly a gap in accountability. COA report on calamity related resources expenditures and releases of various government agencies for the Haiyan response acknowledged the fact that “no single agency is actually monitoring the receipt and utilization of funds received as donation or grants for calamity victims” and that they themselves have not finalized their guidelines on enhancing the audit of disaster funds.

The other key issue in Yolanda rehabilitation is land rights. Typhoon Yolanda proved that those without land tenure security or formal land property rights in rural and urban areas are among the most vulnerable to climate change due to their exclusion from humanitarian assistance vital to early recovery farm inputs and shelter repair materials. The effect is particularly serious for indigenous peoples in disaster-affected areas, who are already largely marginalized with constrained access to public services and programs. 

Objectives of the Learning Exchange

Government Watch (G-Watch) is formerly a social accountability program of a university founded in 2000 that is currently rebooting, in transition to being an independent national action research organization embedded in constituencies of civic and advocacy-oriented organizations all over the Philippines aiming to contribute in the deepening of democracy through the scaling of accountability and citizen empowerment. As a social accountability organization, G-Watch aims to advance strategic citizen action through multi-level engagement and coalition-building in monitoring key government programs and service delivery. G-Watch has built expertise specifically on procurement monitoring and public finance policy reform over the years. In Tacloban, G-Watch’s priorities include monitoring of infrastructure projects, including the Yolanda rehabilitation program, focusing on procurement systems and policies. See www.g-watch.orgfor details.

G-Watch’s current rebooting to an action research organization, including its convening of learning exchanges to inform future research and action, is being supported by Accountability Research Center (ARC), an action research incubator based in the School of International Service (SIS) of American University in Washington, DC. See www.accountabilityresearch.orgfor details.

Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) is a coalition of 10 non-government organizations and 163 communities of survivors that has been at the forefront of Yolanda survivors’ demands for a people-centered reconstruction. It is being supported by Development and Peace/Caritas Canada and RIGHTS. RIGHTS or Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services is a non-government organization with service areas and provincial-based NGO partners as part of the RIGHTS Network. It supports the struggle of landless and near-landless rural poor communities, including indigenous peoples and informal rural settlers for agrarian reform, rural development and rural democratization in agrarian flashpoint provinces.See http://rightsnetphils.org/for more details. 

On September 10, 2018, G-Watch, CYSP and ARC will co-convene a learning exchange on the accountability efforts in the Yolanda rehabilitation, specifically on the issues of housing and land rights. Convening about twenty (20) participants from CYSP member organizations and other organizations and institutions that tackle the issue of disaster rehabilitation, the objectives of the learning exchange are: 

  1. to reflect on lessons learned from the strategies and approaches employed on citizen action for accountability in disaster management, housing and land rights, 
  2. to discuss how and to what extent an advocacy effort on a disaster response can influence policies and programs related to reconstruction and rehabilitation, and
  3. to come up with proposed policy proposals and/ or action points on Yolanda rehabilitation, specifically on land rights in housing, land tenure (farming),tide embankment (adaptation), indigenous peoples, audit and corruption prevention. 

Some of the more conceptual points for reflection on strategies and approaches employed in Yolanda rehabilitation that will be discussed are as follows:

  • The DRR field is all about minimizing risk, a preventative approach. What are the preventative accountability measures in the DRR system and how are they built in?
  • How has been the interface of monitoring and advocacy in Yolanda rehabilitation advocacy? Has a systematic monitoring been done? Why and why not? How will a systematic monitoring be useful?
  • Reflecting on the link between transparency (information), participation and accountability: (a) how information has been used to make government respond and be accountable (b) what kind of citizen advocacy approaches worked for accountability, etc.
  • Bibingka Strategy is an approach that employs “fire from below” (organizing of citizens) and fire “from the top” (state allies) to achieve reforms. Has Bibingka Strategy been employed in Yolanda rehabilitation? How so? Why not? 

The learning exchange shall be documented to produce a report that maybe published on Accountability Research Center (ARC) (www.accountabilityresearch.org) website as a way to share the experience to a broader audience with related interests and agenda.