MANILA, Philippines–Robert Castanares, Chamber regional governor in typhoon-struck Eastern visayas, has said the business sector is “still waiting for the results of the rehabilitation program to happen including our request for loan restructuring, calamity business loan and relaxation of certain Bureau of Internal Revenue rules.”

“In general, the business prospects in Tacloban and other affected areas still look dim…The arithmetic is fairly simple as to why business will remain down for quite sometime. Ninety percent of the consumers depend on agriculture for income and about 60 percent of palay and 40 percent of coconut were destroyed,” Castañares said in an email reply to media inquiry.

“Moreover, the basic economic cycle is produce and consume.”

As of now, we both fail in those two factors – literally nothing to produce and money to purchase, he added.

According to  Castañares , it will require both international and national interventions to restore the population’s household income to pre-Yolanda level which was not really high by national standard.

“That is why Eastern Visayas Chamber of Commerce and Industry is trying to push the rehabilitation task force of Sec. Ping Lacson to expedite the rehabilitation of agriculture including fishing. It is also not very clear to us what are the specific annual deliverables of the task force. We want to know the specific programs, projects and budget for monitoring purposes.”

Castañares added that that “based on the recently concluded Tacloban Rehab Forum at Asian Institute of Management in Manila, it is apparent that the rehabilitation task force is still trying to put the master plan together.”

“EVCCI is willing to work with Sec. Lacson during planning and implementation of the rehab program.”

He also enjoined the media to play “a very crucial role in the success of the rehabilitation  program by asking the rehabilitation task force about their specific deliverables in 2014, 2015 and 2016 including the supporting programs, projects and budget.”

“By doing so, we would be able to put them on track and it will be easy for us to measure their performance. We should be able to ask the task force their construction schedule of critical structures and the source of fund.”

During the AIM rehabilitation forum with EVCCI on December 30, 2013, they noted critical observations and suggestions on the government so-called rehabilitation and reconstruction plan, particularly pointing out on the following:

– The general framework or direction of the rehabilitation plan as presented seemed to be skewed towards infra and housing maybe because your deputies came from the real estate and construction industry. We observed that the other economic components of the rehabilitation program like agriculture, industry and services appeared to have been given less attention.

-The infra planning and implementation timeline as presented was too optimistic. The time needed to prepare a new comprehensive urban plan alone for Tacloban will easily consume two years if you include the procurement of consultants, pre-engineering studies, architectural, engineering and other design disciplines considering its scope, not to mention the time for public consultation which could take a minimum of 3 months assuming there are no objections and social or legal issues. We are not even talking of implementation here.

– Case in point is the proposed relocation, design and construction of a new hospital – the legal and technical aspects of the acquisition of the new site will easily take a minimum of 3 months, the procurement process for consultants and contractors will probably consume another 6 months at the minimum since they will be done one after the other. If you add the time for actual design, permits and licenses, and construction work – the whole process will easily consume 2 years.

-Another major bottleneck is the intricacies of the sourcing, processing and release of the rehabilitation fund. In conclusion, given the potential bottlenecks, we could not really expect substantial accomplishments by mid 2016 if we only focus on infrastructure.

– Moreover, the impact of infra development to the people’s household income and standard of living is minimal compared to the rehabilitation of agriculture, manufacturing and retail/trading business which are the main source of their income. This is not to say that infra development is not important but we may have to realign our short and long term priorities given the constraints if we want to accomplish things that really matter to the victims.

The group proposed the following:

-Maybe we need to redefine our goal and concentrate more on effectiveness versus efficiency given the present constraints and the people’s expectations. We also need to consider May 2016 which is the end of PNoy’s term. Being effective means identifying and implementing what can easily be achieved on or before May 2016. Being efficient is planning for the long term or beyond 2016.

-Being effective means harvesting the low hanging fruits like the instant repair of the Tacloban airport terminal which is the gateway to Eastern Visayas. Knowing the bureaucracy, it will take several months or even years to plan, procure and build the new terminal. We recommend that the good secretary orders DPWH for an immediate repair of the damaged terminal building using reusable prefabricated modular components made of cement board panel for quick installation and disassembling later on. Almost nothing will be wasted with this method because 90 percent will be reusable. It will also have a significant impact on the people not only from Tacloban but the entire region 8 especially when the repair is completed not later than April 2014 which is the peak of the summer season.

– Another low hanging fruit is the replanting of coconut and palay. It is very easy to do and the budget is already available. We can tap the DSWD cash for work fund to pay the farmers at 20 pesos for every tree they plant. We can also ask countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to donate the seedlings of hybrid variety which bear fruits in 3 years instead of the traditional 7 years. The distribution of fishing boats and nets is also a low hanging fruit. They will instantly provide people with hope knowing that the government is functioning. The farmers will surely be grateful to you for that initiative.

-For the business sector which are mostly traders and retailers, their immediate need is loan restructuring and the grant of additional calamity business loan for the rebuilding of their damaged stores. Perhaps, the good secretary can make a representation with BSP, DBP and LBP. This initiative is very important in jumpstarting the economic activities in Tacloban. You will capture the hearts of the business sector by just knowing that you represent them even if the BSP may not totally grant their requests.

-We also want to suggest that the rehabilitation task force organization be expanded to include development officers for agriculture, industry and services sector. Perhaps, the good secretary can request the concerned agencies like DA, PCA, BFAR, DPWH, DENR, etc. to assign a full time staff to the task force as agency coordinator.

EVCCI suggested that “the rehabilitation program must be viewed from a bigger economic perspective rather than just look at it as a general infra and housing problem.”

“In fact, more emphasis must be given to other economic components because they have a direct bearing on inclusive growth particularly on people’s household income,” said Castañares, reiterating its earlier request to include their group as permanent member of the rehabilitation task force representing region 8 business sector.

Replying to the Chamber’s suggestions and recommendations, Sec. Lacson, in an email to Castañares, has assured the group that “the livelihood component, while not prominently mentioned, if at all, in (NEDA) Usec Antonio’s presentation will not be neglected.”

“ If you didn’t notice, in my keynote speech, among my definitions of a new normal is not neglecting the livelihood component of the rehab and recovery efforts. I’m also aware of the practicality of going for the low hanging fruit against the high hanging fruit which may not be viable considering the higher cost and time constraints.”

“Our minimum must is a safer and better community. The recovery cost of building back better is one major consideration in our rehab and recovery plan,” Lacson said.

According to Lacson, his goal is “to have substantial compliance by June 30, 2016, say 80-85%, thus leaving some work to be followed through by the LGU’s so that they will not lose their self esteem by relying completely on the national government.”

“Even Pak Kuntoro was proud to have accomplished 90% when he rebuilt Aceh and Nias in 2005-2009 with near absolute authority given to him by the Indonesian government.”

“On the contrary, I am a czar whose only whip is probably my reputation. I am not offering it as an excuse. All my public service life, I have consistently worked hard to be efficient and successful,” Lacson assured the business group, saying “failure to me is not an option.”

“This new challenge is no exception. Having said that, your inputs and suggestions are undoubtedly very sound and my team will seriously consider the same in our implementation.”

Lacson, in his email, maintained that “a good plan is one that is flexible to adjust to the changing situation on the ground.”