📰 What melts Ping Lacson’s heart? [Philippine Star]

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From the Philippine Star: Former senator and police chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson says his toughest job ever was also the one that easily melted his heart — that of being Rehabilitation Czar of areas hit by “Yolanda,” the strongest typhoon in recorded history. 

What melts Ping Lacson’s heart?

PEOPLE – Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) – August 7, 2014 – 12:00am

Former senator and police chief Panfilo “Ping” Lacson says his toughest job ever was also the one that easily melted his heart — that of being Rehabilitation Czar of areas hit by “Yolanda,” the strongest typhoon in recorded history.

“This is the hardest of all my jobs!” he confesses.

At last Tuesday’s Bulong Pulungan lunch forum at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza, this PMA graduate said his rehabilitation job, “is even harder than hiding,” referring to his months as a fugitive (he refused to elaborate on the latter).

The Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery said Yolanda pummeled 171 municipalities in 14 provinces and six regions within the 100-km storm track on Nov. 8, 2013. It made six merciless landfalls before it exited the Philippines, killing 6,300 people and displacing more than 1.4 million families.

Lacson says a whopping P170.92 billion is needed for priority projects. Of this total amount necessary, P37.4 billion is already funded. Resettlement demands the biggest share of resources, P75.6 billion.

“Build back better,” is his battle cry. This, he strongly believes, “is daunting but doable.”

He continues to be aware of turf wars and word wars and color-coded battles that come with the job, but, as he assured Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez, “I’ll be color blind.” Romualdez belongs to the opposition.

Lacson scores critics who constantly gnaw at government’s rehabilitation efforts.

Lacson told the forum that when the British ambassador called the President after Yolanda to allow a mercy flight to land in Tacloban without going through the usual channels, the President facilitated it right away.

“There has been no break in peace and order, no riots, no contagion since Yolanda struck,” he further points out, admitting that “coordination” is indeed the toughest part of his job.

“Let us give credit where credit is due,” he pleads.

“It was seven months ago when President Aquino offered me a job that anyone with a heart that bleeds for the less fortunate and the downtrodden would not think even for a second to refuse. Well-meaning friends have asked me if I felt like a fool in taking on a task without first asking, even demanding from the President, what powers and authority I could exercise at my level. My response has always been — if this were a war mission, I would have definitely asked how much firepower and logistics I had at my disposal before accepting. But since it was for a purely humanitarian cause, such questions, such demands become irrelevant,” he says.

***

From humble beginnings, the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) has focused in strategically planning and coordinating with the government, non-government institutions, foreign development partners, and the public, at large, in rebuilding communities that can withstand the “New Normal.” The “New Normal” is the standard set by Yolanda, of course.

When told that philanthropists from the private sector lament that they so far have not seen major infrastructure being built by government in the Yolanda corridor, Lacson says without batting an eyelash, “They are correct.”

“The rebuilding begins only now,” he admits, saying the blueprint for building better had to be drawn first, because they didn’t want waste in the wake of haste. The first part was emergency work, and according to Lacson, there are supposed to be no more tents after July. These will be replaced by homes.

***

Lacson’s reputation as a tough guy precedes him, but he claims he has a marshmallow heart.

“Malambot talaga ang puso ko,” the former director general of the Philippine National Police tells Bulong Pulungan.

He tells the story of Tala (13) and Malaya David (10) of Berkeley, California, grandchildren of a Guiuan-born Filipino-American, Amado David. After seeing the devastation wrought by Yolanda, they asked their grandfather for $1,000 to buy school supplies for the children of Guiuan. But since they weren’t able to immediately get that, they decided to be more creative.

They made red, white and blue loom bands and sold them online for $10 apiece, disclosing that these were for the victims of Yolanda (or “Haiyan”). In two months, the children were able to raise $135,000! They were not only able to buy school supplies, they were able to break ground for a four-classroom school building.

Lacson also has heartwarming tales to tell of the sterling character of the survivors themselves. One woman, who joined the cash-for-work program instituted by philanthropist Alfred Lee, one day sent her son with P1,500 for Lee. When asked what it was for, the boy said, “My mother is returning the P1,500 because she was absent for three days.”

Another family of five returned P3,000 because they were mistakenly given emergency aid of P15,000, which is the aid for a family of eight. “We are only five in the family,” the mother told Lee. A family of five gets P12,000.

Lacson’s eyes well up when he remembers the smiles that greeted his arrival in Leyte a week after Yolanda struck, the joy in the eyes of the people the minute they saw a helicopter from Manila preparing to land in their midst. Lacson says he had no supplies with him, only reassurances that help is forthcoming and that they are not forgotten.

“For them, that was enough. Lalambot talaga ang puso mo.”

Objectives of the rehabilitation plan:

• To restore, rehabilitate or reconstruct damaged infrastructure necessary to sustain economic and social activities in the affected areas;

• To repair houses or rebuild settlements and basic community facilities and services that are more resilient to natural calamities;

• To restore the people’s means of livelihood and continuity of economic activities and businesses; and

• To increase resilience and capacities of communities in coping with future hazard events.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.)