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Calamity: Either you sulk or profit from it

His publicists’ “praise releases” don’t mislead President Duterte. From common folk during provincial jaunts he learned that rural economies are in doldrums. That’s despite stats showing all regions to be growing since 2015. Duterte is no economist. But expertise is not needed to know that GDP rises even if only big businesses profit, while the masa await trickle-downs.

Inflation won’t hurt much if people have jobs. Jobs can come from government projects. Sadly bureaucrats are slow to study plans then hire contractors. Of 75 strategic “Build, Build, Build” works that can create a million jobs, only 35 have been approved. Six – ballyhooed since 2016 – are to start at last. Those are: two bridges across Pasig River in Manila and Makati worth P6 billion; Chico River pump irrigation in Northern Luzon, P4.4 billion; Clark International Airport expansion in Central Luzon, P9.7 billion; 102-km railway from Davao City to Digos and Tagum, P35.3 billion; and a bridge across Panguil Bay, Iligan, P4.9 billion.

Red tape has delayed two-thirds of government road works, the Commission on Audit says. The Dept. of Public Works and Highways failed to use 66.4 percent or P440 billion of its P662.69-billion outlay in 2017. Only P222.66 billion or 34.14 percent was disbursed by yearend. Yet, at the start of 2017, DPWH had obligated 92.19 percent or P610.83 billion of its budget. Inefficiency has disabled DPWH for three years, 2015-2017, COA says. Had those projects been implemented, mostly in the provinces, economies would have kicked up. The figures validate Duterte’s gut feel about rural doldrums. Impatient, he will make Cabinet men answer for delays, especially if due to corruption. He singled out DPWH chief Mark Villar, who reportedly is slow because so wary of sleaze in field offices. For one, the multibillion-peso right-of-way scam of 2014 in Mindanao that senators investigated last May had involved, among others, DPWH district engineers who are still there. Duterte wants secretaries to report to him the corrupt, for him to axe.

Meanwhile, it’s the typhoon, flood, and landslide season once again, yet local governments are doing nothing. They are as much to blame as graft and red tape for the doldrums.

Weather is predictable and calamities preventable. Government can factor them into economic planning. It should even make disaster mitigation spur mini-booms.

About two-dozen typhoons strike the country each year, that’s why they alphabetically are named from the 26 letters. Droughts and excessive rains can be forecast two years ahead, from oceanographic studies of El Niño and La Niña patterns. Foreseeable too from scientific monitoring are algal red tides that poison shellfish.

Floods, mud and rockslides, fires can be avoided through engineering and regulation. Pinpointing earthquake, tsunami, and volcanic geo-hazards can lessen loss of lives and property. Disasters need not blunt economic growth, if the government averts them.

Disaster mitigation can boost rural economies, then-economics professor, now Budget Sec. Ben Diokno said six years ago. Put another way, he said local governments must undertake projects to allay disaster – at the same time employing people and purchasing goods. That way the money goes around, and the triplet maladies of unemployment-poverty-hunger can be brought down. Diokno suggested five works:

Build permanent evacuation centers. Officials should stop disturbing classes by making schoolhouses serve such purpose.

Relocate dwellers out of geo-hazard sites. Housing starts can spur mini-booms. Thousands need not die each year from floods and slides if mayors move them to safer grounds.

Lay down drainage and flood controls. Many urbanizing areas flood up because lacking sewers, while farms go dry because un-irrigated by water impounders.

Reforest mountains and shores. This would employ tens of thousands nationwide, and at the same time prevent slides, provide food, clean the air, and slow down global warming.

Clean and dredge waterways. Unclogging rivers of trash, and de-silting lakes and shores would deepen flood passages and yield food.

May I add two more:

Make barangay, municipal and city halls hire nurses to look after health needs of barrio folk. If all 42,000 barangays employ two to three each, then 84,000 to 126,000 (of the 300,000 jobless) nurses will have work.

Enforce the Water Well, Rainwater Collector, and Spring Development Act of 2010. R.A. 6716 compels all barangays to construct new or repair old water wells, dig rainwater catchments, and unclog springs. Rainwater would be collected in the lowest part of the village, for irrigation, cleanups, or anti-floods. Environment lawyer Tony Oposa has been shouting himself hoarse for barangays to implement the law once and for all. For water catchments to not breed dengue mosquitoes, cover them or put in tilapia and other fish that feed on insect larvae. Digging a thigh-deep, 20-square-meter catchment would take two men only two days. Definitely easier than having 100 million Filipinos learn to breathe under floodwaters.

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