Politics and disaster aid in the Philippines

November 12, 2013

[Joshua Tucker: The following is a guest post from University of Michigan political scientists James AtkinsonAllen Hicken and Nico Ravanilla.]

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Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has left a path of destruction in its wake. And while the immediate relief efforts are barely under way, the country is dealing with another tropical storm and the aftershocks of a recent earthquake. Unfortunately, the Philippines is no stranger to natural disasters. As much as 10 percent of GDP is lost to typhoons, earthquakes and other natural disasters each year.

Track forecast for Typhoon Haiyan (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)
Track forecast for Typhoon Haiyan (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

The Philippines government responds to these disasters through a variety of institutions and programs. One common tool is for the president and members of Congress to draw on discretionary funds to channel aid to affected areas. These discretionary funds regularly come under fire in the Philippines, with widespread allegations about inefficiency, lack of transparency and a high degree of corruption. In a new paper, we explore the extent to which one type of congressional discretionary fund is redirected in the wake of typhoons and tropical storms.

By combining meteorological data on storm tracks and wind intensity with demographic and economic data about municipalities in the Philippines, we produce an estimate of storm exposure for each of the more than 1,600 municipalities in the Philippines between 2001 and 2010. We then examine the extent to which storm exposure predicts the amount of discretionary aid a municipality receives. Specifically, we consider the distribution of pork barrel funds directly controlled by each member of the House of Representatives and disbursed via the Department of Public Works and Highways. In a given year, each representative receives the same amount, which ranges from PHP 2 million to PHP 50 million (about $50,000—$1,100,000) during the 10-year span.

The two maps of the Philippines here show the level of storm exposure by municipality in 2009 alongside the pattern of congressional pork-barrel distribution. Darker colors correspond to more storm exposure (left map) and more reconstruction funds (right map).

Storm exposure (left) and reconstruction funds (right) by municipality in the Philippines (James Atkinson, Allen Hicken and Nico Ravanilla/The Monkey Cage)
Storm exposure, left, and reconstruction funds, right, by municipality in the Philippines (James Atkinson, Allen Hicken and Nico Ravanilla/The Monkey Cage)

The good news is that we find that fund allocations do indeed respond to the location and intensity of typhoons and tropical storms. However, political ties between members of Congress and local mayors, specifically party and clan ties, are also associated with greater funding for a given municipality. One of the most devastated cities in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan is Tacloban City, with a population of 221,174 people. Our research suggests that for a municipality of this size, a match in party affiliation between the member of Congress and the mayor increases the distribution of funds by PHP 1.74 million ($40,000), while a match in clan affiliation increases this distribution by PHP 6.23 million ($142,000). The result that clan ties have a much larger effect than party ties on the distribution of per capita reconstruction funds underscores the relative importance of clan loyalty in decision-making by Philippine congressional representatives.

History suggests that when a disaster happens, a connection to those with political power matters for the flow of disaster aid. Given the historic nature of Typhoon Haiyan, however, we hope the Philippine political elite can break from the patterns of the past.

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