SURVIVORS of the 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) have lauded the Pope Francis Village, saying the Catholic Church-led housing project located in Tacloban City is a “model” for a permanent relocation site for disaster victims.
The Pope Francis Village is mainly established by a consortium of non-governmental organizations both in the Philippines and abroad like Caritas Canada, Canadian Catholic for Development and Peace, Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-Nassa), Archdiocese of Palo through Caritas-Palo, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Urban Poor Associates, and other government agencies.
“When we think of providing them (survivors) with humanitarian interventions, we provide them with the best as our funds, technical capacities and working with them will allow,” said Jing Rey Henderson, the communications and partnership development coordinator of Nassa/Caritas Philippines.
Noting that the Catholic Church is the “church of the poor,” Henderson said they make sure to treat Yolanda survivors with dignity, particularly the poor.
Henderson added that one of the best practices they have achieved at the Pope Francis Village is the assurance that the partner beneficiaries are actively involved from start to finish of the project implementation.
“We also instill to them a stronger sense of responsibility, that the project is not a dole out or a one-time event,” said Henderson, adding that they taught the housing beneficiaries to have a “strong sense of ownership towards the building of their homes.”
Recipients of the Pope Francis Village need to involve, participate and engage especially in decision-making processes so that at the end of the day, survivors will realize that the making of their community lies solely in their hands, she said.
“And in doing so, they make sure that their government and political leaders, in particular, are made accountable. Wherever there is a Caritas housing project, be assured that the communities are empowered, and can already build back better and safer than before,” Henderson added.
According to Henderson, it is not only shelters that they provide.
The Catholic Church’s social arm organizes the communities holistically, providing them with livelihood opportunities, training and other capacity-building initiatives.
“For us, this is how we define sustainable development. This is the Caritas brand of humanitarian and development programming,” she said.
Yolanda Sembrero, 43, one of the housing recipients of the Pope Francis Village said she is “lucky” of the church-ran resettlement site.
“I did not expect that our new house will be big and durable like this,” said Sembrero, a mother of four from the coastal village of San Jose in Tacloban City.
Sembrero said she is proud of her new house because it is a product of her hard work.
“I am very involved during the building of our house, from choosing and buying the right materials up to the construction,” said Sembrero.
She, however, expressed “sadness” for her fellow survivors who did not experience the same.
The turnover of her new house is set on November 21.
Joli Torella of Urban Poor Associates said houses at the Pope Francis Village have an average area of 40 square meters.
The two-story housing design costs P300,000, including labor and material.
“The selection of beneficiaries is based on the Urban Development and Housing Act. Since it is in the context of Yolanda, we adopted the criteria set by the City. Our recipients are coming from the 17 coastal areas in Tacloban,” said Torella in an interview.
He said they had identified the beneficiaries since 2014.
“This is a people-driven approach. Beneficiaries are part of it through ‘sweat equity’ or 700 hours of working time for their own house. Their counterpart is on any improvement inside the house,” Torella said.
“This Pope Francis Village is a model in terms of relocation site for Yolanda victims,” added Torella.
He also hoped that the government’s National Housing Agency (NHA) will come in during the construction of Phase 3 of the village.
Out of 566 housing units at the Pope Francis Village, 303 houses were already finished.
The consortium already obtained occupancy permits for 263 units and the houses are "structurally sound," Torella said.
He said they tapped another private water concessionaire to supply water for the residents of the village.
The consortium also discussed about having a renewable energy company to put a “hybrid” source of electricity at the Pope Francis Village.
The consortium aims to finish the housing project on December 2018.
Meanwhile, Torella said they considered the location of the relocation site during the construction “because most of its owners are fisherfolk.”
Pope Francis Village is located about seven kilometers away from the source of livelihood of its occupants.
“They will only spend P9 for their travel. We factor in the fare to sustain a decent living,” Torella told SunStar Philippines.
Earlier, the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) criticized the government’s reconstruction efforts, particularly during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, calling it as not only slow, but also "top-down, non-consultative, inefficient, with many reported cases of anomalies."
CYSP also hit the reconstruction efforts of the Duterte administration five years after the typhoon, saying it is also “slow and, in some areas, anomalous.”
Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesperson and chief presidential legal counsel, admitted they are “addressing issues that cause the delay, which include limited availability of titled lands for resettlement, slow processing and issuance of permits and licenses for construction projects and absence of sustainable livelihood opportunities, among others.”
Panelo said that as of December 31, 2017, a total of P146.156 billion was released to implementing national government agencies, government-owned-and-controlled corporations, and local government units.
Of the 205,128 permanent housing targets for Yolanda, 100,709 have been completed and 46,412 have already been occupied while 54,297 are now ready for occupancy, according to the NHA based on its October 30 record. (SunStar Philippines)