Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Disaster recovery and the burden of debt in the Philippines

August 15, 2014

  Susan Gunn, Communications and Outreach Associate

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen recently wrote a compelling reflection entitled Eight Months After Typhoon Haiyan. Here is an excerpt:

“In the middle of the rubble and dirt of the aftermath of the most devastating typhoon to hit the Philippines last November 8, 2013, we found children still able to smile, standing as they did with ragged torn T-shirts and dirty faces and legs in the mud. They were covered in the filth and dirt of the typhoon debris where they were poking about looking for something to salvage and sell. That’s the resilience and courage of the Filipino child when all has been taken away.

Everywhere I went assessing the terrible damage, I saw hundreds of families lifting themselves up and overcoming the shock and trauma with almost nothing besides relief food and tents.

I saw the flattened homes and broken coconut trees as far as the eye could see and I wondered how long it would take for these smashed communities to bury their thousands of dead and start life over again. Six regions in the central Philippines were declared disaster zones after the super-typhoon lashed the land with winds up to 230 kilometers an hour.

Today, not much progress has been made by government agencies in helping the poor get a low cost home, jobs or a new start. There are millions of dollars and pounds in foreign aid in the bank accounts, at least I hope it is still there. With top Senators and lawmakers in jail for massive graft and corruption, I wonder if the aid money has been stolen too.

If it is still intact, it has yet to be poured into meaningful recovery projects. They have sustaining food programs and temporary shelters but eight months later, not much rebuilding or decent low cost housing has been provided. The relief and humanitarian aid phase is now over, says the social welfare Secretary Corazon Dinky Soliman and the recovery and development stage is starting.

It has taken eight months for this phase to begin. There are more than 3000 people still in tents and thousands more in small, one-room plywood bunk houses. The overcrowding there is a humanitarian crisis in itself as child abuse is rampant in such conditions with adults of all ages sleeping on the floors with children.”

Reuters reported that Haiyan had “displaced around 4 million people from their homes, and destroyed 500,000 houses, the United Nations estimates. Damages to infrastructure, hospitals, schools and public services were estimated at $12 billion.”

The response from international donors has been commendable. According to the February 2014 Congressional Research Service report: “As of January 31, 2014, international donors have contributed a total of $662.9 million.”

Pope Francis has offered love and compassion and is planning to visit the Philippines in January 2015.  In July, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle said that the Pope’s visit will reaffirm the spirit of mercy and compassion, especially in various recovery efforts, encouraging “an act of mercy everyday such as…helping build homes for the typhoon victims.”

In addition to donations and compassion there is a third component to the recovery process: international loans. The World Bank Group’s promised emergency loan package nearing $1 billion is a sizable repayment burden on top of debt accrued during the corrupt dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. In addition to torturing and killing thousands of Filipinos, some allege that Marcos stole upwards to $10 billion from loans to the government, which the government of the Philippines is still accountable for repaying.

The emergency loans to the Philippines may be promised in good faith, but the reality is they contribute to the long-term debt burden that impedes the recovery progress.

In the spirit of mercy, United Nation’s independent expert Cephas Lumina urges “international creditors to cancel the Philippines’ debt and give it unconditional grant aid instead of new loans to fund massive post-typhoon reconstruction.” Otherwise, the Philippines will continue to be drained of more than $22 million every day in debt repayments. Postponing and restructuring debt payments is essential to the recovery process in the Philippines.

Faith In Action: Send a letter to the World Bank to End Debt Bondage in the Philippines