Government corruption concerns acute as Philippines recovers from typhoon

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TACLOBAN, Philippines -- When a newspaper for Filipino workers in New Zealand told readers how to donate to the typhoon relief effort in their homeland, it mentioned agencies such as the Red Cross, but not a list of government bank accounts that the Philippine Embassy had sent over.

"I'm not going to mince words," said Mel Fernandez, editorial adviser for the Filipino Migrant News. "We would like every cent to reach those poor people there, rather than getting waylaid."

Corruption is a concern after any major natural disaster, as millions of dollars in cash and goods rush in from around the world. But those worries are especially acute in the Philippines, where graft has been a part of life for decades.

The government of President Benigno Aquino III, who has made fighting corruption a priority, is pledging full transparency in reconstruction spending in areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Yolanda. It announced Monday that it has set up a website called the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, where funds given by foreign donors can be tracked.

"There's an urgent call now for us to monitor the movement of foreign aid funds for Yolanda, so they will go exactly where they're supposed to: to the survivors of the typhoon," Richard Moya, undersecretary of budget and management and chief information officer, said in a statement.

More than 4 million people have been displaced and need food, shelter and water. The typhoon also wrecked livelihoods on a massive scale, destroying crops, livestock, coconut plantations and fishing boats.

Several battered communities appeared to be shifting from survival mode to one of early recovery Monday. Markets were reopening, though with very limited wares. Some gasoline stations were pumping, and residents were repairing damaged homes or making temporary shelters out of the remains of their old ones. "The darkest night is over, but it's not yet 100 percent," regional military commander Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda said.

On Sunday, Mr. Aquino toured the disaster area and vowed to step up aid deliveries. He said he was happy to see typhoon-battered areas slowly rising from the devastation. The aid effort remained daunting, he said, with the government is feeding about 1.4 million people a day.

Presidential spokesman Ricky Carandang said Mr. Aquino would stay for a second night in Tacloban city and visit more typhoon-battered towns today.

In one sign of how much work is ahead, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla pledged to restore power in all typhoon-battered regions by Dec. 24, a job that will require erecting about 160 giant power transmission towers and thousands of electrical posts toppled by the typhoon. He said he will resign if he fails. "It's difficult to celebrate Christmas without light," Mr. Petilla said.

The government wants to show that it will be more responsible than previous administrations were after other natural disasters, when reconstruction funds were allegedly siphoned off. Prosecutors are investigating allegations that $20.7 million in government funds for rebuilding towns devastated by a 2009 storm in northern Luzon island were stolen by local officials via bogus nongovernmental agencies.

On Nov. 7, a day before Typhoon Haiyan hit, Filipinos were glued to their television screens, watching Senate testimony in which Janet Lim Napoles denied allegations that she masterminded a plot to plunder millions of dollars of government funds intended for projects to relieve poverty.


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