Philippine president Aquino defends Typhoon Haiyan rebuilding pace

A ship is washed ashore crushing houses in Tacloban, Leyte Province, after Super Typhoon Haiyan swept over the central Philippines on Nov 25, 2013. Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday defended the pace of rebuilding in communities rava
A ship is washed ashore crushing houses in Tacloban, Leyte Province, after Super Typhoon Haiyan swept over the central Philippines on Nov 25, 2013. Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday defended the pace of rebuilding in communities ravaged a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, insisting that thorough reconstruction takes time. -- PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (AFP) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino on Friday defended the pace of rebuilding in communities ravaged a year ago by Super Typhoon Haiyan, insisting that thorough reconstruction takes time.

Haiyan, the strongest storm ever to make landfall, killed or left missing more than 7,350 people as it flattened mostly poor areas in large swathes of the central Philippines.

Tens of thousands of survivors are still dangerously exposed to future storms, living in tents, shanty huts or other flimsy shelters, as a prolonged rebuilding phase has only just begun.

In a speech at the hard-hit town of Guiuan a day ahead of Haiyan's one-year anniversary, Aquino said he was determined to ensure the reconstruction programme was carried out correctly, rather than rushing.

"Curse me, criticise me but I believe I must do the right thing," Aquino said.

"I am impatient like everyone else but I have to stress that we can't rebuild haphazardly. We have to build back better... let's get it right the first time and the benefits should be permanent."

Aquino has come under criticism for approving the government's 160-billion-peso (S$4.6 billion) reconstruction master plan only last week.

He previously defended the time taken to finalise it, saying programmes from affected municipalities had to be throughly scrutinised.

The government's plan calls for 205,000 new homes for roughly one million people to be built in areas away from coastal danger zones, but this has only just started with a few thousand constructed so far.

Important reconstruction work has taken place ahead of the formal adoption of the master plan, including rebuilding roads, bridges, hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

In partnership with major international aid agencies, the government has also helped to roll out vaccination programmes for millions of children and given rice seeds to desperate farmers.

Aquino cited international aid agencies as saying post-Haiyan recovery efforts were moving faster compared with programmes in Indonesia's Bandeh Aceh after it was hit by mega-tsunami waves in 2004.

The president also defended his decision not to visit Tacloban, the biggest city in the typhoon-hit areas but where the mayor is a bitter political rival, for one-year anniversary commemorations.

"I have a hunch my critics will say I am taking Tacloban for granted.... but I am not after brownie points," he said, insisting recovery efforts were strong there and he did not have to visit personally.