At long last, the substandard quality of the controversial bunkhouses built by the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH) for the survivors of super-typhoon Yolanda was finally confirmed last 27 January. This was exactly three weeks after it was first exposed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on 06 January 2014.
No less than former Senator Panfilio “Ping” Lacson, who is now the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation & Recovery for the victims of the super-storm devastation, divulged his findings on the use of substandard materials with the DPWH bunkhouses. The revelation on the subpar materials for the temporary shelter of Yolanda survivors was made in a press conference at the Office of the President in Malacañang.
“There is no question about it on the substandard materials, those under specifications, even substituting of materials, these did not follow the specs of DPWH,” Mr. Lacson revealed. He further said “even (DPWH) Secretary (Rogelio) Singson admitted that there were shortcomings in the actual implementation.”
Well, the shameless substitution of construction materials for the Yolanda victims is not just “shortcomings,” but both acts of crime and sin. The DPWH contractors who built the bunkhouses not fit for human beings have no conscience to speak of. As the Presidential Rehabilitation Chief once described them, they are “AMORAL!” like the DPWH officials who connived with them.
So the question now is, what sanctions will be imposed on these amoral contractors and the incorrigibly corrupt officials of the DPWH, the same national government agency that President Benigno S. Aquino III is so proud of? In the 115th anniversary of the DPWH in June last year, P-Noy heaped praises on the “vastly-reformed” DPWH and even gave a ludicrous bonus of P10,000.00 each to its employees.
So far, the only thing that “Secretary Babes” Singson will do is that “they (contractors) will not be paid,” Mr. Lacson said. But what will now happen to the earlier payments made by the DPWH before the expose was made?
The bad news is that the only punishment the DPWH can do against the erring contractors is withholding their payments until the deficiencies (substandard materials) are corrected with their compliance to the prescribed specifications.
Sadly, the government cannot file charges against these unscrupulous contractors because of a provision in Republic Act 9184 on the Government Procurement Reform Act (GPRA) that allows contractors to undertake repairs for 60 to 90 days. I completely agree with former Senator Lacson that R.A. 9184 on the GPRA should be amended and not allow contractors to rectify their “mistakes” so charges can be filed against them.
Now, for the Good News on the despicable bunkhouses: the national government will already stop the construction of more bunkhouses after building the first 220 temporary shelters for the survivors of the devastation. The Yolanda Rehabilitation Chief said that he has “conferred with Secretary Babes (Singson) that they will do away with the bunkhouses.” This is the ultimate admission that the DPWH leadership was wrong!
The final scraping of the despicable transition shelter is definitely welcome news. It was reported in the newspapers two weeks ago that the DPWH plans to build another 200 bunkhouses based on the request of the local government units (LGUs). It is quite obvious here that the LGUs and the corrupt DPWH officials are looking at the bunkhouse projects as another rich source of making money from public funds.
The new approach is for the national government to give the construction materials to the survivors who want to build their temporary homes until they are eventually relocated to their permanent housing. Mr. Lacson estimated that the P40,000.00 worth of materials is about the same cost of the bunkhouse units. This is new approach makes more sense than the subhuman condition for families to live in rooms with an area of 8.64 sqms.
I now go back to the issue on why DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson, the favourite Cabinet member of President B.S. Aquino III, approved the undersized bunkhouse units. Furthermore, why did Mr. Singson allow the continuation of the construction of substandard temporary shelter for Yolanda survivors after having inspected them?
“Secretary Babes” should already have seen the obvious deficiencies of the undersized rooms built with substandard materials that are subpar with their own (DPWH) specifications. Yet Mr. Singson only acted after the Inquirer expose with the reduction of the number of the units per bunkhouse from 24 to 12 units on the remaining 90 of the 220 bunkhouses contracted by the DPWH.
The latest good news is that the Senate started the probe on the ‘Yolanda’ rehabilitation last Thursday, 06 February, to find out what had happened in the past three months since the devastation in Leyte, Eastern Samar, northern Cebu and in northern Iloilo, Capiz and Antique in Panay Island.
The inquiry to be conducted by the Senate Committee on Public Works chaired by Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. will include the issue on the substandard quality of the DPWH bunkhouses for thousands of the survivors of the super-typhoon. It would be helpful to Senator Marcos and his committee members to read the four articles that I have written on the subject in my column.
The DPWH bunkhouses have become an absolute waste of public funds. Sayang! Instead of now giving construction materials to the victims of the super-typhoon, why not proceed with their permanent homes that will only take two-three months to build. If the construction started the first week of January this year, then they would have been completed by March before the summer season.
In the meantime, the Yolanda survivors can temporarily stay in tents while their permanent houses are being built. As I wrote in a previous column last 18 January 2014, the Syrian refugees have been living in tents across the border in Turkey for almost three years and they have managed. The Filipinos, who have been acclaimed to be the “most resilient” people in the world, can do likewise, if not even better.