A FEW weeks after Super Typhoon Yolanda rampaged through Eastern Visayas in early November 2013, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) found itself caught in a swirl of controversies regarding the repacking and delivery of relief goods.
For example, several news agencies reported that relief goods from Indonesia were repacked using DSWD’s official bags. There was also a Commission on Audit (COA) report stating that 7,527 family food packages worth PhP2,784,900, 19,172 canned goods, 81 packs of noodles, 21 sacks of rice, in addition to the 76,300 assorted canned goods were no longer fit for human consumption due to “improper handling.”
COA said as well that bottled water bought in the National Capital Region (NCR) for P69,296,400 was not delivered in Tacloban City because of the lack of transport facilities. COA noted that “at the time the supply of bottled water was ordered, the areas adversely affected by typhoon Yolanda did not have safe, potable water supply yet.”
COA pointed out other problems, such as lack of storage facility for procured supplies while awaiting repacking and overstatement of reported production of family food packages submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the President on December 2, 2013.
Under the Republic Act (R.A.) No. 10121 or the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010, the Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary serves as the chairperson of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) while the Social Welfare and Development Secretary serves as vice chairperson for Disaster Response. Hence, it is DSWD’s responsibility to oversee the national government’s disaster response, including the repacking and distribution of relief goods. But somewhere during the post-Yolanda efforts, it seems to have fumbled and dropped the ball.
To get a better grasp of DSWD’s role in the NDRRMC’s emergency response system, PCIJ submitted a request to DSWD and DND for a copy of relevant laws, memorandum circulars, and administrative orders pertaining to its guidelines in disaster response including the mechanisms or tools at the Council’s disposals to support emergency response. Too, PCIJ requested a copy of the Council’s protocols for the preparation, repacking, delivery, and distribution of relief goods.
For comparison, PCIJ also asked several nongovernment organizations and UN agencies for their own protocols for relief goods. Some of those that responded, however, said that their relevant protocols were under revision while others gave handbooks that had no specifics on the preparation, repacking, delivery, and distribution of relief goods.
Fortunately, documents shared by DSWD and the NDRRMC were more detailed and gave a clearer picture on how relief goods are supposed to be managed.
DSWD’s Administrative Order no. 51, S. 2003, for instance, offers general guidelines on the maintenance, contents, repacking, delivery, and distribution of relief goods. It says, for one, that the National Relief Operations Center (NROC) and DSWD’s field offices are required to maintain a certain number of relief packages all the time. During the rainy or typhoon months (May-October), NROC is required to maintain 5,000 family packages, while the field offices are required to maintain 3,000 family packages.
During the lean months for typhoon occurrences (November-April), says the order, NROC must maintain 3,000 family packages while the field offices should have 500 family packages at the ready. A.O. No. 51, S. 2003 also requires NROC to procure relief goods if the donations are not sufficient to maintain the stock level.
The order says as well that NROC and its field offices should conduct an inventory of relief goods on a quarterly basis “to determine the level and status of the stockpile and fitness of food products for human consumption.”
In the repacking of relief goods, A.O. No. 51, S. 2003 requires that “(a)s much as possible, food commodity donations to be accepted shall have at least 30 days expiration period” and that the relief goods should be sorted for easy repacking into family packages. These packages are supposed to be able to feed a family of six for three days. Food donations with less than 30 days consumption date are supposed to be immediately allocated.
Each family package contains goods that do not easily rot such as uncooked rice, canned goods, and powdered milk and non-food items such as assorted used clothing and bedding. The contents of the relief goods are reviewed periodically by the programs/operations bureau “to determine its responsiveness to the needs of the family.”
A.O. No. 06, S. 2010, also from DSWD, meanwhile has the Revised Omnibus Guidelines in the Management and Processing of Donations that state that only foreign food donations with expiration date of at least a year and have passed the sanitary standards are to be accepted.
Highly perishable goods such as milk and flour are to be “inventoried and valuated within three working days upon receipt,” it also says. “Allocation of such goods shall be within three working days after valuation and inventory is conducted.” Used clothing donations from foreign donors are strictly prohibited, the order says, “in order to safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation.”
A.O. No. 51, S. 2003 says that proponents including legislators, local government units, and NGOs may submit a request for relief goods to NROC. Such requests are reviewed, assessed, and approved by the DSWD Undersecretary who is in charge of NROC.
Upon approval of the request, NROC coordinates with the proponent for the details of the release and withdrawal of relief goods. The proponent and the Field Office concerned will then be informed in writing by the Office of the Undersecretary about the implementation, distribution, and liquidation of commodities.
The relief goods are to be released only to the proponent or their representative, says A.O. 51. The representative needs to present the written authorization of the proponent, a valid ID, and a copy of the request.
In the delivery of relief goods to NGOs, a designated DSWD representative will accompany the NGO-consigned container vans to its point of destination. Upon delivery of the relief goods, the proponent or their representative will then submit a written report to the DSWD Undersecretary in charge of NROC. After 30 working days upon the distribution of relief goods to the beneficiaries, the proponent is required to submit a liquidation report to the DSWD Central Office.
A list of don’ts when it comes to the handling and distribution of relief goods can also be found in R.A. 10121. Among the acts punishable under this law are:
• Covering, replacing, or defacing the labels of the containers to make it appear that the goods, equipment, or other aid commodities came from another agency or person;
• Repacking the goods, equipment or other aid commodities into containers with different markings to make it appear that the goods came from another agency or person or were released upon the instance of a particular agency or person;
• Substituting or replacing relief goods, equipment, or other aid commodities with the same items or inferior/cheaper quality;
• Diverting or misdelivery of relief goods, equipment, or other aid commodities to persons other than the rightful recipient or consignee;
• Prevention of the entry and distribution of relief goods in disaster-stricken areas, including appropriate technology, tools, equipment, and accessories, as well as of disaster teams/experts;
• Buying, for consumption or resale, from disaster relief agencies any relief goods, equipment, or other commodities which are intended for distribution to disaster-affected communities;
• Buying, for consumption or resale, from the recipient disaster-affected persons any relief goods, equipment, or other aid and commodities received by them;
• Selling of relief goods, equipment, or other aid commodities intended for distribution to disaster victims;
• Forcibly seizing relief goods, equipment, or other aid commodities intended for or consigned to a specific group of victims or relief agency;
• Accepting, possessing, using or disposing relief goods, equipment, or other aid commodities that were neither intended for nor consigned to him/her; and
• Making false verbal claim that the goods, equipment, or other commodity and its untampered original containers actually came from another agency or person or were released upon the instance of a particular agency or persons.
“Christian Aid funded this project/report as our contribution to the interest of the public’s right to know how the Yolanda funds are managed and used, and that the findings and recommendations are meant to feed into the policy discourse on Republic Act No. 10121 (The Philippine Risk Reduction and Management Plan of 2010) review and the Yolanda budget process.”— PCIJ, January 2015