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Only 13% of ‘Yolanda’ housing occupied, 38% built

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yolanda housing

The unfinished housing project of the National Housing Authority (NHA) for the victims of super typhoon Yolanda at barangay Maya Daanbantayan town. (CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)

Four years after supertyphoon “Yolanda” (“Haiyan”) hit the Philippines, particularly in the Visayas region where it made landfall, the government has built only less than half of the housing demand for those devastated by the monster storm, and has rehomed only a little more than a tenth of the families.

Based on data presented to the media by the National Housing Authority (NHA) on Tuesday, as of October 30, 2017, only 12.79 percent—26,256 units of the 205,128 targeted number of permanent housing units nationwide—have actually been awarded to and are already being occupied by beneficiaries.

Only 78,291 units—38 percent of the target—have actually already been constructed, with 59,924 units remaining under construction to date.

Of the units already constructed and remaining unoccupied, 54,180 are hoped to be awarded to beneficiaries by year-end.

Slow pace

In explaining the slow pace of building and distributing permanent housing for “Yolanda” survivors, NHA officials underscored the massive scale of devastation wrought by the supertyphoon across six regions, comprised of 14 provinces, and 171 cities and municipalities.

The NHA pointed to various chokepoints in the process: local governments being delayed in identifying, listing, and validating beneficiaries; having to reconstitute lost land titles and procuring land suitable for homes; and the slow start of reconstruction efforts.

For NHA manager for Visayas Grace Guevarra, these were only expected. “Reconstruction and rehabilitation came later. In any calamity, housing will not be the priority of every local government unit. They focus first on subsistence…On the first year, we only did data-gathering.

Bidding for the gargantuan permanent housing project only began in September 2014, nearly a year after the typhoon hit.

Of the government’s 205,128 targeted number of units, 95 percent, or 194,454 units, have already been bidded out for construction. The government permanent housing program for “Yolanda” survivors required hiring around 300 contractors for the construction.

The construction for the last 10,674 units will be opened for bidding Wednesday.

Disqualified from further participating in the bidding is contractor JC Tayag Builders Incorporated, which was hit in an earlier Congressional inquiry for allegedly using substandard materials for permanent housing units in Balangiga, eastern Samar, in the hardest-hit region eastern Visayas. The NHA has earlier issued a notice to terminate the contract with the construction firm for not meeting set time tables.

In eastern Visayas, only 17,824 units of a targeted 56,140 have been built, and 11,752 occupied. The construction of 27,058 units is ongoing.

Guevarra, however, vehemently denied the NHA were responsible for substandard “Yolanda” housing. “Definitely, we will not admit to that…Construction defects and substandard housing are two different things. In every construction, every mass housing, we cannot avoid construction problems…but that is subject for rectification.”

Guevarra maintained contractors are not paid unless such defects are corrected and the agreed-upon projects accomplished.

Of the total P59 billion allotted for the “Yolanda” resettlement project, P52 billion have already been “obligated” to contractors, with P23 billion actually “disbursed” or paid. The NHA is awaiting the release of the remaining P7 billion from the budget department.

Guevarra said all constructions and distributions under the “Yolanda” permanent housing program are targeted to be completed by 2019.

Yolanda rehab ‘a failure’?

“Yolanda” survivors and civil society organizations, however, maintained that the rehabilitation has been a failure.

“We [survivors], ourselves, are the ones saying that the ‘Yolanda’ reconstruction is a failure, first, because there was an absence of people’s participation. It was only later that they realized that the houses they have built don’t respond to basic social services,” said Fara Diva Gamalo of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC)-eastern Visayas, in a press conference in Quezon city on Wednesday. She said accessibility to livelihood areas of fishers and vendors did not seem to have been considered, and neither was the difficulty of connecting the resettlement sites with water and electricity.

Gamalo hails from Balangiga and testifies to the substandard units built by JC Tayag. Earlier this year, the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), a coalition representing 163 hard-hit communities within the “Yolanda” corridor and affiliated with FDC, complained of units in Barangay Cansumangkay that were so shaky they were called “dancing houses,” and of what appeared to be sardine cans being used as downspouts.

The beneficiaries had even filed a “notice of refusal” with the NHA in the region just last May, refusing the units because “there is no assurance of the integrity of the structures.”

Gamalo likewise pointed out that the government had not been transparent with the the rehabilitation and appeared to have “insisted on hiding things from us.” For instance, she said she and other beneficiaries only learned of a P4,500 government subsidy for electricity for them just during the recent Congressional inquiry.

Jansept Geronimo of Katarungan, a member of the CYSP, meanwhile, said local government units had not clearly coordinated with communities in preparing the list of beneficiaries.

Geronimo appealed to President Duterte to keep his campaign promise to “Yolanda” survivors that they could rely on him so much that they would effectively have “one foot in Malacañang.” “The survivors were happy to hear that. And that helped with his ratings. Now we ask that he take that promise seriously; that his promises not remain as merely promises.”

Aaron Pedrosa of Sanlakas, meanwhile, urged the present administration, which has been in power for a year, not to “hide behind bureaucracy and processes” in explaining the “Yolanda” rehabilitation lapses.

“It may account for the last three years of the [previous] Aquino administration but how can you still use that explanation under this new Duterte administration? Same excuses, same results,” Pedrosa said. /je

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