• ‘Billions of pesos’ discovered missing from ‘substandard’ Yolanda housing project

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    A contractor from the National Housing Authority (NHA) is facing estafa and plunder for allegedly misusing billions of pesos intended for the construction of homes for victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda”, lawmakers at the House of Representatives said on Wednesday.

    In an ocular inspection of the housing site in Leyte on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, one of the hard-hit provinces of what has been considered as the strongest typhoon to hit land, Rep. Alfredo Benitez of the Third District of Negros Occidental, chairman of the housing and urban development committee, and other members were appalled by what they saw of the project that was entrusted to JC Tayag, the main contractor of the NHA in Eastern Samar and Leyte.

    “Nakita namin na ang mga relocation sites did not have electricity, it did not have water. [The housing] has incomplete facilities, which hampered the transfer of the intended beneficiaries. Livelihood, di kumpleto. To sum it up, I think there was a very substandard construction of the facilities,” said Benitez in a press conference..

    (We saw that the relocation sites did not have electricity. It did not have water. . . Livelihood isn’t complete . . .)

    Benitez also said that it was during this visit that a whistleblower whom he identified as Engineer Camilo Salazar, a sub-contractor of Tayag, came forward in a public hearing in the province on Sept. 1 to detail the alleged anomalies in the project that was intended to build new homes for 14,000 families.

    But Rep. Vicente Veloso of the Third District of Leyte said that only 33 percent of the houses were completed, four years after the disaster.

    “P75.5 billion ang total allocation with the supplemental budget. 60 billion was already appropriated pero ang completed pa lang is 33 percent. Sa ngayon, wala pa sa kalahati ang nagagawa,” said Veloso.

    (The total allocation in the supplemental budget was P75.5 billion. About P60 billion has been appropriated but what has been completed was only 33 percent. So far, the construction is not even half way.)

    “So there are billions of pesos that are actually missing, and therefore somebody has to answer and somebody has to be accountable. Billions ang nawawala dito. This accounts to be a case of plunder,” Veloso said.

    ( . . . there are billions missing.)

    Benitez said Salazar admitted under oath that the materials were substandard, citing eight-millimeters of steel were used in building the houses, instead of the 10 millimeters that Tayag had declared in his costing.

    The 10-millimeter steel was valued at P115 per piece, while the eight-millimeter steel cost between P70 and P80.

    The committee is also pushing for the Commission on Audit (COA) to make a special audit to determine whether or not the houses that were built were safe.

    “Sa mga temporary shelters, four years na sila. Yung iba bumalik sa mga danger zones. Isipin mo, tinamaan na sila ng trahedya tapos [ganito],” Benitez said.

    (They have been staying in temporary shelters for four years. The others have returned to the danger zones. Imagine, they have been hit by this tragedy, and then this.)

    “Ito nga eh, during the [public hearing held in Tacloban]tinanong natin sa NHA allowed ba ang subcontracting. On record, NHA admitted na it is allowed if it is authorized. As of today, there has not been any authorization for sub-contracting.”

    (Look at this, we asked the NHA whether subcontracting was allowed.)

    “NHA ang dapat magbigay sa main contractor nila na mag-subcontract pero in the same breath, sabi nya kaagad there has not been any approval for sub-contracting. So itong si Engr. Salazar, nagpakita ng mga dokumento, mga billing statement. It is in preparation for the court.”

    (It is NHA that should authorize its main contractor to subcontract but in the same breath, it said that there has not been any approval for sub-contracting. So Salazar showed documents, billing statements.)

    Aside from this, the lawmakers also said that Tayag was guilty of estafa since he promised the government to build safe houses for the victims, but the results suggested otherwise.

    “I will say JC Tayag is guilty of estafa, when his corporation impressed upon the government na kaya nyang magpagawa ng livable, matinong mga bahay, only to find out na very, very substandard ang mga ginamit na materials. Yung specifications na binigay ng DPWH hindi nya sinunod,” said Benitez.

    ( . . .that he could construct livable, well-constructed houses, only to find out that the materials used were very, very substandard. The specifications given by the DPWH were not followed.)

    DPWH is the Department of Public Works and Highways.

    “Gusto nating bigyan natin sila ng pagkakataon na magbigay ng side nila, we just heard it from Engineer Salazar, yung regional director ng NHA nandun tapos isang engineer nandun din, so we will do it properly and we will call them so we can hear their side. As of now, there are possible cases that can be filed against them, especially plunder,” Benitez said.

    (We want to give them a chance to air their side. We just heard it from Engineer Salazar, the regional director of NHA, another engineer . . .)

    “Actually this is an initial pa lang. Yung mga na-discover naming yung pinuntahan pa lang talaga naming pero we are expecting na marami pa ito na makikita. Tapos meron pa yung mga lalabas pa na mga details later on kasi we would like to continue on investigating these through committee hearings,” Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela said.

    (Actually, this is an initial phase. What we discovered was only what we saw but we expect to see more. And then there are other details that we expect to surface later on . . .)

    Supertyphoon Yolanda was considered one of the deadliest to hit land in recent history. It killed over 6,300 people, displaced millions and destroyed millions of pesos worth of infrastructure. RALPH EDWIN U. VILLANUEVA

     

     

     

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