2009 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo called on rich countries yesterday to provide the bulk of funds for rehabilitating areas ravaged by tropical storm “Ondoy” and typhoon “Pepeng,” saying the country had been a victim of climate change.

Mrs. Arroyo said the Philippines would need much more money to fund relief and reconstruction efforts following the recent record rains brought by the two weather disturbances that left more than 710 people dead and caused billions of pesos in damage.

Speaking at the Mid-Year Economic Briefing at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City, Mrs. Arroyo said that in seeking foreign help, the country will stress that it is “not a culprit of climate change.”

“We are a victim. We are not a climate maker but we certainly are a climate taker,” she said.

Developed countries account for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists all over the world have blamed for global warming, she said. But developing nations are the most vulnerable to severe weather disturbances brought about by climate change.

United Nations climate chief Yvo de Boer had said climate change increased the severity of Ondoy.

“Victims are compensated, not penalized with high interest rates and conditionalities,” the President said, adding that the Philippines had made a tiny contribution to climate change.

“And that is why we are very grateful to the United Nations for the flash appeal that they have launched to mobilize grants (for the victims of Ondoy),” Mrs. Arroyo told a group of diplomats, economists, business leaders and fund managers.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government’s first priority would be to secure grants and concessional loans.

“Commercial borrowings either through bonds or other instruments should be the last financing option,” she said.

She said the newly created Special National Public-Private Reconstruction Commission would soon oversee a “pledging session” of potential donors for funds.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, who proposed the creation of the commission, said at least $1 billion is needed to finance massive and long-term reconstruction projects, including those on risk reduction.

Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. chairman Manuel Pangilinan chairs the commission with Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal and Finance Secretary Margarito Teves acting as co-chairmen.

“Depending on the recommendation of the special commission, we may issue reconstruction bonds” to be supervised by the National Development Corp. “which seems to be the favorite recommendee of economic managers and business leaders as far as being an isssuer of bonds is concerned, whether peso or dollar, to which multilaterals such as the World Bank and the ADB (Asian Development Bank) may subscribe,” she said.

“But even then, we’d rather that the primary response of our administration to the enormous calamities which climate change is bringing to our vulnerable country cannot just be another borrowing program. We don’t want to let grant opportunities go to waste. Although lesser in size than loans, they remain substantial,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

She gave no figures on how much money the country needs.

But, speaking at the same forum, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said the agriculture sector suffered P18.4 billion in damage with half a million hectares of rice lands flooded.

Damage to infrastructure exceeded P5 billion, other officials said.

She said she has ordered Teves to make sure the new commission is a public-private sector partnership rather than led by the Department of Finance and to coordinate a special pledging exercise “with a higher international profile.”

“This special pledging session would tap into the huge underlying global constituency for climate change adaptation,” she said.

“It would capitalize on the ongoing discussions and negotiations leading to Copenhagen,” Mrs. Arroyo said, referring to the global summit on cutting greenhouse gases in December.

She pointed out the Philippine case is being cited as justification for the need for climate change adaptation financing. “And that is why we should use the umbrella not only of the World Bank but also of the UN framework (in raising funds),” Mrs. Arroyo said.

Meanwhile, the President will push for closer and better regional cooperation on climate change and disaster risk and response at the 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand next week.

“This (cooperation on disaster risk and response and climate change) will definitely be among the issues that will be pushed forth by the President in the ASEAN summit,” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

The country’s horrific stretch of weather began on Sept. 26, when tropical storm Ondoy (international codename Ketsana) dumped the heaviest rains in more than four decades on Metro Manila and surrounding areas.

At least 337 people were killed, according to official estimates, and parts of the city are expected to remain flooded for months.

Exactly one week after Ondoy, typhoon Pepeng (Parma) hit Northern Luzon and hovered over the area as a tropical storm for a week, causing massive flooding and landslides that killed at least 375 people.

Positive growth

But despite the recent calamities and the lingering global economic crisis, President Arroyo said the country is still likely to post growth.

In her speech at the same business forum, Mrs. Arroyo cited a report from The Economist Intelligence Unit that said the Philippine economy has not contracted despite the global economic crisis.

She said the country posted uninterrupted growth every quarter in the last eight years “and that is one of the important things we have achieved and which has enabled us to be resilient during the food, global and now climate change crises.”

“First there was a global food crisis, then a global financial and economic crisis, and now we have a climate change crisis,” she said.

“But the result of our reforms is a Philippine economy that is stronger and more able to withstand shocks such as those that the three global crises have been throwing at us,” Mrs. Arroyo said.

“We have achieved much in the areas of infrastructure investment, job creation and macroeconomic stability that have helped us in the worst of these crises,” she said.

She said Moody’s Investor Service upgraded the Philippine credit rating last July, and even the damage from the two recent typhoons was “deemed manageable” or enough to convince rating and multilateral agencies to maintain their positive outlook on the economy for this year.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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