MANILA, Philippines – They survived the onslaught of a super typhoon in 2013. But in 2017, almost 4 years after Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) ravaged Eastern Visayas, survivors now have to contend with the lack of housing, or housing units that are either slow to be built or made using substandard materials.
"Victims of the calamity are still suffering today," said Negros Occidental 3rd District Representative Alfredo Benitez in a press conference on Wednesday, September 6. (READ: 3 unresolved issues, 3 years after Yolanda)
Benitez, who chairs the House committee on housing and urban development, recently led a team of lawmakers on a visit to 3 housing sites in the region as well as a public hearing in Tacloban, Leyte, the worst-hit city.
Benitez said they were "shocked to learn about the progress" – or lack thereof – in housing projects for those displaced because of the super typhoon.
Citing data from the National Housing Authority (NHA), Benitez said 205,128 houses were supposed to be constructed for Yolanda survivors. But of that, only 11.4% are occupied, according to the NHA itself. Only 33% have been completed, although lawmakers believe the real figures are much lower.
Benitez noted that at one site, construction equipment were suddenly in use and construction workers, busy shoveling during their visit. But a team sent by the legislators a week before noted that the site was a "ghost town" and that construction activity was non-existent.
Billions of pesos lost?
When they visited Balangiga, Eastern Samar, Benitez said a person came forward during their dialogue with residents. The person, who identified himself as Camilo Salazar, was a subcontractor for JC Tayag, the contractor who won the bidding for the housing project.
Salazar, an engineer, told lawmakers that materials used for the homes were substandard. In Balangiga, for instance, said Benitez, Salazar ordered 10 millimeter (mm) steel rods for the foundation of the houses. Instead, "rusty" 8 mm rods arrived.
The 10 mm steel rods cost around P115 per piece while the 8 mm rods cost around P70.
In the end, Salazar apparently refused to push through with the project. He was among the key witnesses during the public hearing in Tacloban City – which he almost missed, said Benitez, because certain personalities tried to dissuade him from attending.
Tayag, said Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, cornered around 80% of contracts in his province alone.
The problems in post-Yolanda construction don't end there.
Evardone said Tayag had apparently subcontracted some of his projects. The subcontractors, in turn, also subcontracted some projects. Subcontracting is allowed by the NHA, as long as permissions are granted. The NHA, however, has not approved subcontracting permits for Yolanda rehabilitation, said Benitez.
Around P75.7 billion was earmarked by the government for the construction of new homes for Yolanda survivors. Of that, over P60 billion or 70% has already been allocated. But only 33% of the target number of houses have been constructed.
The House committee wants to conduct more hearings on the status of post-Yolanda housing, possibly in conjunction with the committee on good government and public accountability. It also wants the Commission on Audit (COA) to conduct a special audit of Yolanda rehabilitation efforts.
But early on, legislators are convinced that Tayag, the contractor, is guilty of estafa for supposedly fooling the government into thinking his firm could handle the projects. They are also eyeing plunder charges against the contractor and officials of the NHA for "gross negligence."
Benitez, quoting subcontractors they spoke to, said the NHA did not monitor the actual progress of the projects.
Still, Benitez said they would be summoning NHA officials to hearings in Manila to "hear both sides."
Evardone also suggested turning over rehabilitation funds directly to the local government units instead of the NHA, pointing out that local politicians are more accountable to constituents than the housing agency.
Yolanda is among the strongest typhoons ever to make landfall.
In official government documents, over 6,000 died because of the super typhoon. But the death toll is believed to be much higher, as many remain unaccounted for even after nearly 4 years.
President Rodrigo Duterte had earlier voiced his dissatisfaction over the slow pace of rehabilitation and ordered officials then to speed up the implementation of housing projects. Last August 8, Duterte also created an inter-agency task force to improve coordination in the implementation of post-Yolanda projects. – Rappler.com