Coordination & devolution in ‘Yolanda’ reconstruction

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Rick B. Ramos

Rick B. Ramos

There appears to be a lack of coordination between the national government and the private sector on the shelter provision for the survivors of the super-typhoon Yolanda. Based on the news reports in the mass media and the paid advertisements of corporations for their housing projects, they seem to be going on their own separate ways.

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Overlapping or duplication of housing construction will sadly result in absolute waste of public funds when the private sector is already building the homes of the victims of the super-storm. The national government might as well consider giving its funds to the private sector, which can do a far better job as it has often proven in the past.

I have written two articles on the private-sector initiative in disaster management with the organization of the Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF) in early December last year. The business sector and the non-government organizations (NGOs), including the Catholic Church, have wisely banded together to consolidate their efforts on disaster relief and rehabilitation with the sharing of information and resources.

First and foremost of five key areas identified by the PDRF for recovery is the shelter for the survivors of the Yolanda devastation. Thus, as Mr. Manuel V. Pangilinan (MVP), PLDT & Metro Pacific Investments Corporation chairman, said: “the private sector has an important role to play in making our country more resilient.”

MVP is the co-chair of PDRF together with Ayala Corporation chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Tagle. Mr. Pangilinan has ostensibly taken the lead in institutionalizing the effective recovery from the devastation of each calamity with his former special assistant, Rene “Butch” Meily. As president of PRF, Mr. Meily is also the former president of the PLDT & Smart Foundation.

Last week, Vice-President Jejomar Binay in his capacity as hairman of the Housing & Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC), announced that the National Housing Authority (NHA) will construct 60,000 houses for ‘Yolanda’ victims in the next two years (2014-2015). The permanent housing units will replace the controversial bunkhouses being built by the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH).

(My previous two columns of January 11 and 18, 2013 were about the despicable bunkhouses with undersized rooms reported to be overpriced and built with substandard materials. BBC News has mentioned the January 11 article entitled “Real Issue on Bunkhouses: Substandard Quality Unfit for Human Beings” in its report on the Philippines.)

The HUDCC chairman, who heads the country’s key shelter agencies, was reported in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last 17 January 2013 that “work will begin in the initial eight project sites in Leyte and Eastern Samar this month.” The “housing czar” added that the “two-year project will cover 171 towns and cities in 14 provinces in across six regions.” Actually, it is only four regions with Regions 6, 7, 8 and the MIMAROPA.

However, the Inquirer also quoted Mr. Binay as saying “the NHA is also finalizing the design and costings of the housings to be built…” There seems to be a contradiction between the report and the actual quote. How can the NHA start actual construction in Leyte and Eastern Samar this January when there are still no final designs and costings? The housing units also still have to be bidded out and awarded to the winning contractors.

The figure of 60,000 housing units was based on the “DPWH data,” which could change depending on the NHA validation on the number of the actual houses that were partially or totally damaged and the number of families in need of relocation. Hence, there is even the possibility that the NHA will build more than 60,000 houses.

The probable duplication in the housing of the ‘Yolanda’ survivors is not remote. The Habitat for Humanity Philippines has already targeted building 30,000 houses for the victims of the devastation with the participation of companies like the Ayala group of companies. Other donors are the customers of 7-Seven stores in Japan that gave $1.0 million and the American logistics company, UPS, that gave the same amount.

Like the Habitat for Humanity, the Gawad Kalinga (GK) is also involved in the construction of houses for the survivors of the super-typhoon. My estimate is that GK will build at least 10,000 units through the support of companies like PLDT, Smart and those under the Metro Pacific Investment Corporation (MPIC) of Mr. Pangilinan (MVP).

There are other conglomerates that are committed to building thousands of houses. The SM group published a full-age advertisement last week in the newspapers on their “Building Homes for ‘Yolanda’ Survivors” where they announced their commitment to “build 1,000 houses for the survivors.” SM has already begun the construction of 200 housing units in its “SM Cares Village” in Bogo, northern Cebu.

Aside from business corporations, there are also local and foreign charitable foundations that are quietly doing their work in the housing reconstruction. One such group is the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity based in Taiwan. My friend and colleague Maribel Ongpin has written a beautiful article about Tzu Chi in her column in The Manila Times. Same for Mr. Ramon Tulfo in his Inquirer column of 18 January 2014.

Thus, it would be more cost-effective if the national government makes a substantial contribution of at least P1.0 billion to the private sector for the shelter program of the ‘Yolanda’ survivors. That amount will be better spent than if the NHA will do it. We have yet to see an NHA project that the Filipino people can be proud of. For the same cost, the private sector can build far-better housing units for the victims of the super-storm.

The direly-needed coordination between the national government and the private sector is under the purview of the job of Rehabilitation chief Panfilo Lacson. The former senator can recommend the “devolution” to the private sector for funding of the design and construction of the future homes of the victims of the super-typhoon Yolanda.

Rick B. Ramos at rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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