TACLOBAN CITY—At least 12 container vans of private donations from Belgium for the victims of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan) were left to rot at Cebu International Port since they arrived in January 2014.
A January 30, 2017, report of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) field office in Central Visayas to its head office said the goods were not withdrawn from the Bureau of Customs due to the hefty tariff and duty fees, inaction of past leadership at the DSWD and the circuitous process foreign donations for disaster areas go through before they can reach the intended beneficiaries.
Fara Diva Gamalo, secretary-general of Freedom from Debt Coalition in Eastern Visayas and a convener of the Coalition of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), said the discovery of rotten donations exposed a “topsy-turvy kind of administration” in an “unimaginable depth of bureaucracy.”
“In times of disaster of Yolanda’s magnitude, the government could have declared it tax-free importation as the best way to facilitate the fastest delivery of the much-needed help to the victims,” Gamalo said.
In an inspection done by the DSWD and a representative of the foreign donor in December 2016, the container vans were found to have clothes, dried food, shoes, beddings, canned food and kitchen utensils.
Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo said in a statement it was “deeply regrettable” that millions of pesos worth of material donations “have been laid to waste, and the circumstances that led to the spoilage and destruction of the goods should be assessed so that they will not be repeated.”
“The DSWD will learn from this most unfortunate event and all the more enforce its internal measures to ensure this will not happen again,” Taguiwalo said.
“We take responsibility for what happened and ask the Filipino people, especially the survivors of Yolanda, to forgive us. The most we can do is to promise we will put into place a better, faster and more efficient mechanism to receive material donations and turn them over to their intended beneficiaries,” she said.
Taguiwalo also appealed to Filipinos and foreign donors abroad for understanding for what happened to the donations they sent to the typhoon victims.
“We hope this will not affect your deep sense of compassion for our kababayan during times when they need your support. As for us in the DSWD, we will work even harder to protect the donations entrusted to us in the name of those affected by calamities,” she said.
The 12 container vans of donations from Belgian citizens arrived at the Cebu port in January 2014 intended for Yolanda survivors in Leyte. The Belgian donors wanted the donations released as a tax-free importation, but many issues prevented the release of the goods, among them compliance problems with Customs law and the logistics costs of moving goods to storm-damaged Leyte.
While the donations arrived in Cebu only two months after the typhoon struck and relief goods were badly needed, they were only inspected by the DSWD in March 2015, according to the report of DSWD Regional Director Evelyn Macapobre to Taguiwalo.
The donations were sent by a Belgian national Johan De Pelsmaeker with a private firm Wellmade Motors and Development Corp. (WMDC) as its consignee.
On the second week of February 2014, a representative of WMDC arrived at the One Stop Shop (OSS) in Mactan Airbase to process the release of the 12 container vans. Seven containers were shipped through K-Line Shipping, while the remaining five were shipped via APL Shipping.
The assessment at OSS, though, showed the consignee was not a registered, licensed or accredited non-governmental organization (NGO) of the DSWD. The consignee was told to either partner with a DSWD-registered organization or donate the goods to the DSWD.
On December 17, 2014, 10 months after several attempts of the donor to partner with NGOs and local government unit for the release of the goods, a deed of donation and acceptance between the DSWD and WMDC for the seven containers was finally executed. The five containers from APL were no longer donated since the donor earlier amended the Bill of Lading in favor of the DSWD based on the e-mail from Patrick Reyes of CO-Donation Facilitation received by the field office on November 10, 2014.