TACLOBAN

Yolanda reconstruction still in shambles after 6 years

DANNY Carranza, veteran rights advocate for the rural poor, said the progress in government’s recovery program for victims of the 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda in central Philippines is now in reverse for the ordinary survivors, farmers and fisherfolk six years after the storm.

“A bad economic development policy that is badly implemented is not just perpetuating but also deepening pre-existing vulnerabilities and inexorably drawing farmers back to disaster-like conditions thereby diminishing, and not enhancing, resilience,” he said, as the survivors commemorated the tragedy Friday, November 8.

“What we found six years after Yolanda, and more than three years after the assumption of the current administration was profoundly disappointing,” added Carranza after the Coalition of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP) released a review on Yolanda recovery.

The snapshot covered the communities in Tacloban City, Eastern Samar, and Palawan.

Formed in 2016 by 10 non-governmental organizations and 163 community partners including church groups, Carranza said their group consistently engaged with government agencies for its reconstruction process while exposing the anomalies particularly in the housing projects.

On Thursday, November 7, about 400 CYSP members marched to the Office of the Ombudsman in Tacloban to file their complaints over the bungled housing projects in Eastern Samar.

In their affidavit, the survivors urged the Ombudsman to administratively and criminally charge national and regional officials of the National Housing Authority (NHA) for alleged violations of the Procurement law, Plunder law, and the anti-graft and corrupt practices act in the implementation of the housing and relocation programs for typhoon Yolanda survivors.

“The poor quality of the housing units are of such nature that they dehumanize its prospective end-users and further contribute to the psychological injuries they suffered as survivors of the typhoon. They obliterate self-respect, dignity, and self-esteem among for the units are even fit for dogs, goats or other pets to live in,” read their complaint affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by SunStar Philippines.

“That these issues of substandard, defective housing units and the inordinate delay in the delivery of quality and sustainable relocation sites were raised to the Office of the President. Then the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Special Concerns and Oversight Office for Yolanda Rehabilitation represented by Usec. Wendell Avisado conducted its ocular inspection of the housing sites and saw for himself the ‘dancing’ houses NHA through its contractors wanted to herein complainants and other housing beneficiaries to accept,” it added.

Imelda Tacalan, one of the complainants from CYSP’s Uswag Este Katarungan covering the towns of Giporlos, Lawaan, Balangiga, and General MacArthur in Eastern Samar province, said they filed the complaint “as part of our journey of closure and healing.”

“It is six years now since Typhoon Yolanda happened. Most of the beneficiaries have rebuilt their shattered lives without the promised housing and relocation programs promised to them. What they cannot accept is they bore the pains, the loss in terms of destroyed lives and properties, yet those pains and loss were capitalized in order for some unscrupulous officials in cahoots with greedy, rapacious, without conscience to make profits,” said Tacalan in a joint affidavit.

“When the Typhoon Yolanda struck their homes and threatened their lives, they cried to high heavens for divine intervention. They were heard and they survived. Now, with these outrageously defective units shoved to them, and without recognition of their right to refuse the units, they pray to high Heavens that justice will be served...,” she added.

The survivors also cited a 2017 Commission on Audit (COA) report, saying at least 10 housing projects under the Yolanda Permanent Housing Program (YPHP) were being awarded to a contractor with limited manpower and equipment on the site.

Uswag’s complaint also came after the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) charged 12 NHA officials in relation to the alleged anomalous implementation of the housing and relocation programs for Yolanda survivors last October 9.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, and more housing project anomalies will be uncovered,” PACC Chairman Dante Jimenez told Tacloban reporters on October 11, 2019.

In their investigation, PACC found out that one private construction company had cornered P741.53-million contract for the building of 2,559 permanent housing units in four towns in Eastern Samar alone.

“After more than two years since the awarding of notices to proceed, only 36 housing units -- or merely 1.41 percent of the awarded units -- were completed when all the contracts were terminated on November 27, 2017,” Jimenez said.

The private contractor failed to fulfill its obligations despite receiving at least P207.2 million in total payments, said Jimenez in a report from state-run Philippine News Agency.

“The demand for government accountability for a people-centered rehabilitation and reconstruction continues. Promises that have yet to be fulfilled will continue to inspire such actions from survivors,” said Carranza.

Fara Gamalo of Freedom from Debt Coalition Eastern Visayas said the government “wasted the money of the public because the anomalies have never been stopped and no one was made to answer on it.”

She added that the unoccupied housing units cost around P15 billion.

Carranza said the Yolanda-affected communities continue to feel that their ideas have been bypassed and that the concerned agencies of the government “remain utterly deaf to them.”

“Time and again, the lack of effective communication between affected populations and government agencies arises,” he said.

As of July 2019, the NHA already finished 119,670 from the targeted 205,128 housing units for the Yolanda survivors.

Of this number, 56,877 are already occupied, while 62,793 housing units are ready for occupancy.

Within 2019 and up to 2020, another 62,668 houses and lots will have been completed, according to the government media, citing NHA’s July 2019 report.

Also, 22,790 housing units will be in various stages of documentation prior to project starts.



Failed promise

While CYSP said the Yolanda housing issues are inherited from the previous administration, the Yolanda survivors also feel they have been let down by the President.

The group recalled that at the third-year anniversary of Yolanda in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte made a remark concerning the pace of recovery work, saying: "I am not satisfied. As a matter of fact, it’s a...it’s BS to me."

Duterte, who was then-Davao City mayor, was among the “first responders” when Yolanda struck Tacloban.

“Today, on the 6th anniversary of Yolanda, we remember once again the words of the President with regard to Yolanda recovery...Now, more than ever, we agree!” said Carranza.

According to CYSP, there are plenty of anomalies in the Yolanda reconstruction, adding “the biggest of them all is the housing.”

Meanwhile, only the President’s representatives came to Tacloban and nearby towns in Leyte during the 6th anniversary commemorative activities organized by local government units on Friday, November 8.

Office of Civil Defense Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad led in the inauguration of a water treatment facility and turnover of some 14,000 water meters at St. Francis Village in the northern relocation site in Tacloban.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of 564 NHA housing units for Yolanda survivors also happened in Tanauan, Leyte.

Accountability

Christopher Durana, spokesperson of the urban poor activist group Kadamay in Tacloban, said that displaced families in the city continue to cry for justice and accountability especially under heightened demolition threats and the still stagnant Yolanda housing projects.

“We have been saying this all the time. The government displaced us, transferred us to what they said was safer without considering that job and land insecurity is still and will never be safe for us. Worse, it mires us into a deeper crisis and extreme poverty,” he said in a statement.

“People may have recovered from the onslaught of Haiyan but we still continue to struggle from the negligence of this government,” Durana added.

Professor Efleda Bautista, head of another typhoon survivors’ group People Surge, also urged the public to continuously demand justice and accountability for the “criminal negligence” of the government.

“Yolanda, a disaster of huge proportions, was made worse by government neglect and corruption. Contrary to the Philippine government’s claim that rehabilitation efforts for disaster survivors are undergoing a fast progress, thousands upon thousands of victims still suffer from undelivered outputs from the government, both national and local,” she said.

“The backlog in the delivery of aid is undeniable,” the People Surge leader said in a separate statement.

Citing a government media report, Bautista said the National Government already released a total of P67.1 billion for the rehabilitation of Yolanda affected communities in Eastern Visayas from 2013 to 2017 alone.

“If we are to compare such enormous amount of funding to a pie, the people of Eastern Visayas had only one bite as corrupt officials and contractors selfishly devoured majority of it,” she said.

On tenterhooks

In Pampango, Tacloban, CYSP found out that for the majority of residents, there are concerns about the houses they are being sent to.

“As people are displaced, expect the shopping malls, hotels and banks to arise. Disaster capitalism seems to be firmly alive,” Carranza added.

In another coastal village of Anibong, Carranza said that “while affected residents are uncertain about moving...they feel that they have been given no option but to accept the housing that is on offer.”

“Just like the Pampango residents, they expressed considerable misgivings at having to transfer and said that they felt the vulnerabilities they would face due to increased expenses and loss of access to livelihoods and services were likely to outweigh the risks they currently face,” said Carranza, whose group earlier urged the government to prioritize in-city relocation.

According to Carranza, the low occupancy rate in the resettlement sites indicates the reluctance of beneficiaries to take occupation in the new houses.

"What disturbs the members of CYSP the most is that their own proposals contained in a ‘peoples’ plan’ were never listened to, plans which would likely cost considerably less than their wholescale resettlement and would leave them less vulnerable to the loss of livelihoods and reduced access to services that relocation is likely to entail," he said.

In Carigara, Leyte, the farmers also made clear that some six years after Yolanda, many of them still have not recovered and are struggling to gain enough income.

"Farmers have had particular difficulties with accessing the support services from the government and the support they receive is very inefficient. Many of them only gained title to their land when they discovered that they were ineligible for assistance due to the fact that they had never been made aware that the land they till was previously said to have been covered by Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program," said Carranza.

"Even now, that pre-existing cause of vulnerability has only been partially addressed and many more continue to seek out necessary support for their full recovery," he said.

Citing a 2018 study of Human Security and Community Resilience in the Wake of Typhoon Yolanda written by Atienza et al, Carranza and his group agreed that "resilience must be a about bouncing ‘forward’ rather than bouncing 'back.'"

"Resilience is about adaptation as well as rehabilitation. If humans and communities cannot adapt then they remain at risk. As we have identified this relates to human settlements and livelihood. Resilience should incorporate human security and strong communities and can be directly related to freedom from want, freedom from fear and the ability to live in dignity at both the individual and aggregate level," the study said.

"If resilience is just used as a self-congratulatory sound bite by governments and relief agencies then it becomes effectively meaningless," it added.

Known as the world's strongest typhoon in recorded history, Yolanda left over 6,000 people dead while displacing some 4.1 million residents and incurred an estimated damages of P125.56 billion. (SunStar Philippines)


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