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National Update

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Reconstruction to decide Aquinos fate


CEBU (Reuters) -- The Philippines faces perhaps the most daunting reconstruction task since the 2004 Asian tsunami as it figures out how to re-house four million people made homeless by a typhoon. For President Benigno Aquino, the stakes could not be higher. Already under fire for a slow start to relief efforts and a somewhat aloof response to the scale of the disaster, he is now feeling the strain from a resurgent scandal involving lawmakers misuse of public funds. Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 4,000 people and reduced most of what was in its path to matchwood and rubble when it smashed into the central Philippines on November 8. Bodies are still being pulled from the debris. A successful reconstruction effort, costing as much as $5.722 billion (P246 billion), according to the latest government estimate, would make Mr Aquino a hero. Failure could mean the end of his political career, built on the promise of economic reform and clean government espoused by his martyred father Benigno Jr, a former senator and opposition leader, and his democracy-hero mother, Corazon. The so-called pork barrel fund is key. Scandal over the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) had already become the biggest crisis of Mr Aquinos three-year rule before the typhoon struck. It was widely lambasted for channelling money to projects solely to impress voters, though many of the projects have turned out to be non-existent. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

Some analysts believe that decision could work to Mr Aquinos advantage as the funds can now go straight to reconstruction efforts. Others think Mr Aquino may have limited flexibility amid questions about the administrations use of the funds. But Manila is hoping to pass a supplementary budget to fund part of the rebuilding. This is going to be the real test of the leadership of the president, said Prospero de Vera, a political analyst and vice president at the University of the Philippines. He has to exercise very decisive leadership to move the numbers to support his initiatives, not because there is a PDAF waiting for them, but because it is for the good of the country, he says. The government has identified immediate and short- to medium-term infrastructure needs requiring funding, ahead of a planned conference in Manila next week where development agencies are expected to pledge aid or loan packages for the government, says Arsenio Balisacan, the economic planning secretary. A successful deployment of resources for rebuilding could further boost growth in a country that is already growing at the same pace as China, he says. Its probably anywhere around 100 billion to 200 billion pesos, says Balisacan, commenting on the likely cost of reconstruction. I would not be surprised if it goes as high as P250 billion. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), which has committed itself to a $518 million loan and grants package for the government, says the number could be even higher. Thats where a more detailed assessment is needed, says Neeraj Jain, ADB country representative. He says the Manila-based bank had proposed the creation of a multi-donor fund administered by the ADB to finance the reconstruction. Resettlement of coastal towns is one of the goals of a reconstruction task force that will assess costs, source financing and oversee implementation of rebuilding plans. Residents in hard-hit coastal towns in Samar and Leyte, which account for more than 90 per cent of the estimated 4,011 deaths and 1,602 missing from the typhoon, are trying to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, cleaning debris surrounding what used to be their homes. I love it here. There are many memories for me so I dont want to leave. I want to rebuild, sa ys Iluminada Rafael, 52, a resident for the past 21 years of Tacloban in Leyte province, where about 90 per cent of the city was washed away by five- to seven-metre high storm surges. This is our place, the place where we know how to live. This update is brought to you by the Campaigns & image Group, the countrys first and only issue-interception consultancy providing multinational companies a deeper understanding of Philippine policy regimen while doing business in this largely Roman Catholic nation.