Accessing the People’s Survival Fund

Originally published in Business World

By Danica Marie Supnet

Memory and science paint a clear picture of how vulnerable the Philippines is to climate change. The country ranked first in countries experiencing vulnerabilities to extreme weather events and fifth in the long-term vulnerabilities to climate change, according to Germanwatch’s 2016 Global Climate Risk Index report.

Unfortunately, we have not seen the worst.

We therefore need to empower local government units (LGUs) and communities which are at the front lines of climate change impacts. They must not only have the capacity to formulating and implementing climate change plans; they must also have enough funds to see their plans through. This is the reason for the crafting and eventual passage into law of the People’s Survival Fund (PSF) in 2012.

The PSF amends the Climate Change Act of 2009 to finance local climate adaptation initiatives. The fund can get at least P1 billion every year from the national budget and can also be filled by external contributions. It is governed by a board composed of six national agencies and three nongovernment representatives -- including my organization, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.

The fund is readily available, and the board has set the deadline for the submission of the first batch of proposals for the year on Friday, June 30.

However, only two proposals have been approved in total by the PSF Board. The rest of the proposals were either approved in concept pending the submission of more technical details, or returned to the proponents for revisions and reconsideration.

This has led to generalizations that the PSF is too difficult to access. But there are at least two main factors which has hindered the fund’s utilization so far.

First, the shift to not-business-as-usual planning and budgeting is more complicated than we want to admit. Planning adaptation activities require a clear understanding of local climate vulnerabilities. This understanding will be translated to baselines, which will serve as the starting point of the PSF proposal. A quick discussion with agencies involved in the disaster risk reduction and climate change action-enhanced Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP), Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP), or Local Climate Change Action Plan (LCCAP) would already reveal the gaps in guiding LGUs on how to go about their planning. The national government also suffers from the same problem because no single agency, as of the moment, can certify the strength and merits of the plans.

The PSF Board has sought to address these gaps by adjusting the requirement that qualifies LGUs to access the PSF using only their vulnerability assessments and hydro-meteorological hazard maps. Having one of the big plans is therefore a plus but is not required.

Second, the lack of information dissemination exposes LGUs and organizations to misinformation. PSF as a relatively new source of funding is battling its share of misinformation being spread by those with malicious intentions, some of whom have wrongly and irresponsibly declared that an LCCAP is required to access the Fund.

The guidelines clearly state that the PSF proposals must include a letter of intent, full proposal, Annual Investment Plan, and adaptation references. These references “may include” the vulnerability and risk assessment, enhanced CLUP, CDP, LCCAP, or climate-related hazard maps, scenarios, and projects.

The challenges that the PSF faces are daunting if not addressed as soon as possible. However, they are also opportunities that can improve its utilization and operationalization over time.

Local governments and communities realize that the destructive impacts of climate change already pose developmental challenges to all, challenges much greater than bureaucratic complications and misinformation.

Danica Marie Supnet is the research coordinator of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, a climate change and clean energy policy group. It is the NGO representative to the People’s Survival Fund Board.