‘Like being hit again’
It’s like being hit by ‘Yolanda’ again. There is no day that they don’t fear for their lives and the lives of their children,” Efleda Bautista, one of the founders of People Surge, an alliance of disaster survivors, told this paper, which ran last week a three-part special report on the Yolanda rehabilitation efforts.
Bautista sums up the frustration of tens of thousands of Eastern Visayas folk who, it turns out, have yet to move into new houses promised by the government, or have been forced to live in holes-in-the-wall, five years after surviving the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan).
At ground zero in Tacloban City and other areas leveled by the storm, thousands of families still live in fishing villages within danger zones, deprived of their right to safe shelter.
It’s sheer luck that no other powerful storm has churned their way between 2013 and now.
It’s been five years, but the government is not even halfway done constructing houses for the survivors. Only 84,295, or 41 percent, of the 205,128 houses required for the survivors have been completed, according to the 2017 Commission on Audit annual report. And, of the completed dwellings, only 28,395 have been occupied.
How did this happen?
The failure of the Aquino administration to provide speedy relief, including decent housing, to the Yolanda survivors was one of the central campaign issues against it by then Davao mayor and presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte.
Mr. Duterte flew to Tacloban a day after Yolanda struck, wept upon seeing the bodies and the wide swath of devastation, and pounced on the Aquino administration’s shortcomings come campaign time. So powerful was his promise of an alterative course — that he would do right by the desperate victims — that it’s not an exaggeration to say that Mar Roxas, the administration candidate and Aquino’s point man in the immediate post-Yolanda days, lost largely on that signal issue.
But, close to three years after having taken over, the Duterte administration appears to be doing no better in the job, despite the President’s promise in his 2016 State of the Nation Address to speed up the transfer of survivors to relocation sites.
Why the government is taking this long to build the houses and relocate the victims is unconscionable. What’s even more disconcerting is Malacañang’s announcement last month that some P5 billion out of the P7.5-billion fund for Yolanda survivors would be diverted to fund the temporary shelters of Marawi siege victims. No question that Marawi’s displaced residents need urgent attention, too, but it’s clear that the rehabilitation work in Eastern Visayas remains yawningly unfinished, and would require all the resources it’s been promised.
Local resident Imelda Tacalan said there was a government offer to relocate them to houses built by the National Housing Authority (NHA) at Barangay Cansumangkay, Balangiga town, Eastern Samar. But the project was not only far from their fishing villages, the houses were also made of substandard materials. The materials are so light you could punch a hole through the walls, she said.
In Iloilo, 300 typhoon survivors occupied the NHA housing project in 2017 without waiting for the formal turnover, only to find to their horror that the houses could not withstand a low-intensity earthquake.
The ineptitude, inaction and apathy that have marked the post-Yolanda proceedings over two administrations now indicate the stark absence of a sense of urgency among officials, both national and local, to deliver on the government’s duty to help the typhoon victims get back on their feet.
Nobody seems to be in charge of the gargantuan task. Who should be made accountable for the housing lack that continues to plague the survivors, nearly three years into Mr. Duterte’s watch?
This pressing matter demands sweeping action from the President himself. Cracking the whip on the NHA and other government agencies to work double time to ensure the completion of housing units that are not only livable but are sturdy enough to withstand disasters should be the order of the day.
Every day that this task is further delayed is tantamount to inflicting another calamity on the survivors, by robbing them of the opportunity to move on and start anew.
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