AMONG THE scores of projects launched in the wake of super typhoon Yolanda, one assisted the victims in a direct, meaningful way: the reconstitution of the civil registry records of a targeted 100,000 persons.
The project involved the civil registration and reconstitution of identity documents for the survivors of Yolanda. The free legal documentation services sought to give the survivors the necessary papers to access public services, for both the young and the old.
By many accounts, up to 50 percent of households in Western Samar and Leyte had lost birth certificates and other civil registry records. What they lost, in fact, was a lot more: access to health care and education for their children, as well as access to jobs, social security, housing, savings accounts, and property rights, for those of adult age.
It seemed only fitting then that during the commemoration rites for Yolanda’s first anniversary, authorities planned a symbolic turnover of 10 birth certificates printed on security paper.
According to sources privy to a meeting held in early October to plan for the anniversary, it had been Social Welfare and Development Secretary Corazon ‘Dinky’ Soliman who had suggested highlighting the project during the rites.
Soliman reportedly said that unlike the housing projects where the government could show only bunkhouses rather than permanent shelters, the civil registration project was something “concrete.”
At the time, however, the registration project had yet to produce its first birth certificate printed on security paper. Ironically, too, the project was being delayed because of bureaucratic issues within the agency Soliman heads, say the sources who declined to be named.
Yet still, five months before Yolanda’s first anniversary, a Philippine News Agency report that was published in national newspapers had also already celebrated the good news about the civil registration project.
It said, among other happy tidings:
• “As of end May, 87,448 applications have been submitted to the local civil registrars (LCRs) by teams deployed by the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS) in 18 towns and two cities along Yolanda’s path.
• “Of the total number of applications, 90 percent (78,651) were through the Mobile Civil Registration Project (MCRP) and only 10 percent (8,797) were from walk-in clients. That is expected since community workers have been going to villages to assess the civil registration needs of typhoon victims.
• “Almost all survivors (92 percent) are asking for copies of birth certificates. A small fraction is requesting for marriage certificates (6 percent) and death certificates (2 percent).
• “At least 9,911 individuals have already received authenticated copies of civil registry documents as of end May 2014. Recipients are typhoon-displaced residents of Tacloban City, Palo, Tanauan, and Tolosa in eastern part of Leyte; San Isidro, Isabel, Kananga, Palompon, Matag-ob, and Ormoc City in northwestern part of Leyte; Basey and Marabut in Samar; Lawaan, Balangiga, Quinapondan, Giporlos, Guiuan, Salcedo, Mercedes, and Hernani in Eastern Samar.”
Phase 1 of the “Mobile Civil Registration Project” had been implemented from December 2013 to May 2014 through a Memorandum of Agreement between the Philippine Statistics Authority-National Statistics Office (PSA-NSO), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the nonprofit organization of lawyers, Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services or IDEALS.
Initial funding for the project had come from the Dutch agency Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO), the UK-based Oxfam, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Under the project, Yolanda survivors who had lost their birth and marriage certificates filled out an application form, which IDEALS then forwarded to the NSO. The project also accepted applications for death certificates, as these were necessary for the relatives of those who died in the storm to process death cash claims.
The second phase of the project that continues to this day expanded the scope of the mobile registration project. The United Nations Children’s Fund or UNICEF gave more than PhP60 million in funding for the second phase to cover some 80,000 individuals in 20 municipalities. The project was called Access to Benefits and Claims after Disaster Expansion or ABCDE.
As in the first, the second phase of the project was implemented by the DSWD, PSA-NSO, and IDEALS. Unlike in the first phase however, the target beneficiaries of the project’s second phase were beneficiaries of the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. As such, the basis for targeting the beneficiaries of the project’s second phase is the DSWD’s National Household Targeting Survey database.
This phase of the project would also include advocacy for national and local governments to lower or even waive the fees for civil registration, especially for Yolanda survivors.
The certificates released by the NSO during the first and second phases of the mobile civil registration project were ‘local civil registrar’s copy’ of the documents, as the aim was merely to establish the identities of survivors and those who died in the storm.
But the project implementers soon realized that such birth records released by the local registrar would not suffice for children who wanted to pursue higher schooling or apply for scholarship. DSWD thus disbursed an additional PhP5 million for the production of birth certificates printed on NSO security paper for 37,500 Yolanda survivors aged 18 years and below.
Ten birth certificates on NSO security paper were produced in time for the Yolanda commemoration rites. The project, however, has since been unable to have similar documents printed on the same kind of paper.
The Memorandum of Agreement for the project had been circulated among PSA and DSWD as early as last Sept. 1. But while the PSA director general had readily signed the agreement, DSWD regional directors apparently were not as keen to follow suit.
This was because, insiders say, the DSWD officers were wary of implementing a project involving an NGO, in light of reports that some NGOs took part in the Janet Lim-Napoles pork barrel scam.
In the end, after several back-and-forth among its departments, DSWD decided that Soliman herself would sign the MOA on behalf of the agency.
The MOA was finally signed last November. As it was already toward the end of the fiscal year, it was too late for NSO to even start the project. The NSO provincial offices had to return the unspent funds to DSWD’s head office.
As of writing, DSWD has yet to transfer the project funds back to the NSO.
“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.”— With additional reporting by Che de los Reyes, PCIJ, January 2015