Imelda Tacalan heaved a deep sigh and threw her fist in the air as she recalled how the storm surge destroyed her house in the coastal town of Balangiga in Eastern Samar six years ago today.
“Sayang (What a waste),” said the 49-year-old mother and survivor of the Super Typhoon “Yolanda” “Haiyan” that pummeled the central Philippines on Nov. 8, 2013, leaving over 6, 000 people dead and 4.4 million people displaced.
Tacalan, like most of the Yolanda housing recipients, has already lost hope of owning a decent house at the resettlement site in their town after she signed a “notice of refusal” to the National Housing Authority over the alleged anomalies in its construction.
“I cannot live there. The house is substandard and it’s far from livelihood. I don’t want another tragedy for my family,” said Tacalan, a mother of nine.
“I would rather have the housing project demolished so it will not bring further harm to us, like when there is an earthquake or another strong typhoon,” she added.
Pascualito Ilagan, spokesperson of the Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), said “there are plenty of anomalies in the Yolanda reconstruction, and that the biggest of them all is the housing. which has a target of 205,128 units.”
Formed in 2016 by 10 non-governmental organizations and 163 community partners, the CYSP, according to Ilagan, continuously engaged with the government to reform its reconstruction process and exposed the anomalies in the housing projects.
On Thursday, Nov. 7, Tacalan joined other 400 storm victims in a peaceful march to the Office of the Ombudsman in Tacloban City to file their administrative and criminal complaints against national and regional officials of National Housing Authority.
“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. 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 the greedy, rapacious, without conscience to make profits,” said Tacalan and four other signatories of their complaint affidavit, a copy of which was obtained by Manila Standard.
Tacalan, who is a member of Yolanda fisherfolk and farmers group Uswag Este Katarungan from Giporlos, Lawaan, Balangiga, General MacArthur in Eastern Samar province, added that they “have to pay for these scandalous substandard housing units…within the next 25 years that will put their lives in serious jeopardy.”
“Taxpayers money—their hard-earned money have also contributed—are used to finance the rebuilding wrought by Typhoon Yolanda. Yet they are stolen and allowed to be squandered by these highly irresponsible officials,” read their affidavit.
Tacalan recalled that when Yolanda destroyed 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 and the deeds of evil men punished. With high hopes, we lodge this complaint as part of our journey of closure and healing,” they said.
The group also filed a motion to intervene in the administrative and criminal complaints earlier filed by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission against 12 erring NHA officials in connection to the same bungled Yolanda housing projects.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, and more housing project anomalies will be uncovered. We may need the cooperation of those affected parties to file these complaints to the PACC,” Dante Jimenez, PACC chairman, told reporters in Tacloban on Oct. 11.
Jimenez said they found out that one private construction company had cornered the 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 Nov. 27, 2017,” Jimenez said.
The private contractor failed to fulfill its obligations despite receiving at least P207.2 million in total payments, Jimenez said.
“Because of the issues in the housing projects, there are 50,000 housing units that remain unoccupied,” said Fara Gamalo ng Freedom from Debt Coalition Eastern Visayas, citing a report from Inter-Agency Task Force Yolanda during their dialogue last Sept. 3, 2019.
Gamalo said that the still unoccupied housing units cost around P15 billion.
“They have wasted the money of the public because the anomalies have never been stopped and no one was made to answer on it,” she added.
Earlier, Senator JV Ejercito and Rep. Albee Benitez also investigated the Yolanda housing anomalies.
But the CYSP said they have yet to see an official or agency being prosecuted or thrown into prison from the results of the different government-led investigations in Yolanda-devastated communities.
“In this year’s sixth Yolanda commemoration, we are urging our fellow Filipinos to look back on the issues of the government reconstruction projects, and also see the present condition of the Yolanda survivors,” said Ilagan.
While the Duterte administration merely inherited the dismal Yolanda reconstruction program, typhoon victimes feel they have been let down by the President, saying he failed to keep his promises.
Land rights advocate Danny Carranza recalled that at the third anniversary of Yolanda in 2016, Duterte said he was dissatisfied by the slow pace of recovery work.
“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!” he said.
CYSP bewailed the lack of effective communication between affected populations and government agencies.
Above all communities continue to feel that their ideas have been ignored and that the responsible instrumentalities of the state remain utterly deaf to them.
In July 2019, NHA Chairman Marcelino Escalada Jr., however, said they target to complete at least 62,668 housing projects between 2019 and 2020, adding that they have already completed 119,670 housing units from the targeted 205,128.
Of this number, 56,877 are already occupied and 62,793 are ready for occupancy, the official said.
“Within 2019 and up to 2020, another 62,668 houses and lots will have been completed, and 22,790 housing units will be in various stages of documentation prior to project starts,” NHA report said.
The Department of Budget and Management said it released P67.1 billion covering 2013 to 2017 alone for the rehabilitation works in the Eastern Visayas region.
During their visit to Yolanda communities from Tacloban, Eastern Samar and Busuanga, Coron and Culion towns in Palawan province, Carranza and his team saw how “profoundly disappointing” the reconstruction is.
In Pampango village in Tacloban, a community remained on tenterhooks.
“They had been told that their NHA houses in Greendale and Richview were ready for occupancy and that they should demolish their old houses in Pampango by Sept. 24. Never mind the ‘no-dwelling zone’ or not. To their surprise a demolition team comprised, they said, of soldiers and a backhoe arrived on Sept. 16. We even heard of one resident who was in her house taking lunch as the team started to take her house apart,” he said.
According to CYSP, most residents worried that the new houses had no regular water supply.
“While residents are uncertain about moving, especially since they are aware that waterlines and electricity are still not in place and that they will face considerable time and expenses in getting to their sources of livelihood, they feel that they have been given no option but to accept the housing that is on offer,” said CYSP.
The residents said they had misgivings about moving because they would incur more expenses to go to their jobs.
In Sitio Can-amo, Brgy. 8, Lawaan, the site is still incomplete with 949 houses and a distance of 3.5 kilometers upland from the town, reached by a road which is still only partially cemented.
“There is no regular water supply, with inadequate water supply available from pumps available in the lowest portion of the site. Electricity supply has yet to be connected and there is no street lighting from either grid or the solar supply,” he said.