SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/22 January) — President Benigno C. Aquino III has ordered Caraga’s local officials to implement rehabilitation programs in the wake of the flooding that displaced thousands and took a heavy toll on the region’s infrastructure, agriculture and fisheries sectors.
But Aquino and the local officials may be in a tight fix: The President admitted the country’s calamity fund is only about P1.12 billion, an amount which is not even enough for the estimated P1.4 billion needed to rehabilitate not just Caraga but also Bicol Region and Samar.
In addition, local governments have barely enough funds to address the short-term needs of their affected constituents.
In Surigao City, for example, the extent of damage was pegged at over P50 million, but the calamity fund—equivalent to five percent of the total budget—is only P23 million. Officials had earlier said the funds will only be spent on immediate priorities.
In Butuan City, the damage to infrastructure alone cost around P123 million. The figure dwarfs the city’s P58-million calamity fund, said Romeo Solis, city director of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Nevertheless, the President voiced optimism during his visit in Butuan City Friday, saying “We will repair, rehabilitate or replace as needed with consultations with all of you and hopefully we will have the intimate local knowledge that we will able to produce the best result.”
The Department of Public Works and Highways, he said, has been instructed to “review, rehab and replace damaged infrastructures particularly on roads and bridges” that were damaged by floods.
To mitigate the damage in the agriculture sector, President Aquino said local government units can set up seed farms to provide farmers with something to start with.
In Surigao City, the local government said it will spend at least 70 percent of its 2011 budget on agriculture and aquaculture, which sustained the heaviest damage, depriving farmers of livelihood.
City Agriculturist Isaias M. Elumba said the plan aims to improve productivity through farm mechanization and by providing financial assistance to farmers.
Elumba said the city will initially release Wednesday 300 bags of palay seeds to the farmers whose newly planted rice stalks were swept by floods early this month. Farming equipment like hand tractors and rice threshers will also be provided.
Under this scheme, Elumba said, the city will buy the farmers’ farm produce at reasonable prices.
“The income of the farmers will definitely get better,” he said.
Surigao City has been relying on other provinces for some of its basic food needs such as rice, vegetables, spices and fruits.
For the fisheries sector, the local government will also provide inputs for high value marine products such as Lapu-Lapu fish and lobsters to families in a number of villages, including the more than 20 island barangays of the city.
The city will also buy the marine products at reasonable prices.
“It’s the city that would sell these products to public markets, stores and restaurants. Our market analysts will do these things to ensure the products reach the buying public, or wherever they are needed,” Elumba said. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)