TWO months after super-typhoon Yolanda struck last November 8, 2013, the Filipino people and foreigners alike were shocked to learn that more than 1,000 dead bodies in Tacloban, Leyte, still have to be buried amid complaints about the strong foul odor and the serious health hazard to the residents in the area.
Yet as if this miserable failure of the national government to bury the dead in two months is not enough, another shocking issue surfaced: the overpricing and the substandard quality of the more than 200 bunkhouses (with 24 units each) for the survivors being built by the Department of Public Works & Highways (DPWH).
In my column last week, I wrote that the real issue is the substandard quality that does not make the temporary shelter units fit for human beings to live in. It is truly bad enough that the intended beneficiaries are already victims of an “apocalyptic” devastation, but even worse are the subhuman conditions that they forced to live in.
Thus, if DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson is to resign on the bunkhouses debacle, it will not be over the alleged overpricing, but over the substandard quality that includes undersized rooms of 8.64 sqms and materials that are subpar to the specifications. The despicable bunkhouses simply show that nothing much has really changed with the DPWH over the past three-and-a- half years insofar as corruption and incompetence are concerned.
The question is why DPWH Secretary Singson, who is greatly admired by President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd and showered with annual commendations as his favorite Cabinet member, approved the design of the undersized bunkhouse units. The area of 8.64 sqms of each unit is barely enough for one person and yet the DPWH would like the devastated families, with an average of five members, to live in that size room.
If Secretary Singson is supposed to be honest and clean, why then did he allow construction of more than 200 substandard bunkhouses even after he had visited and inspected them? Did the DPWH Secretary not see the deficiencies of the design of the bunkhouses or was he just playing blind? Or is it because he really does not know any better and his people are simply running circles around him?
The same question applies to both President B. S. Aquino 3rd and DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman who have both visited the DPWH bunkhouses in Tacloban, Leyte. There was even a photo of the two of them in the Inquirer last November 6, 2013 looking proud of the bunkhouses. Most unfortunately they, just like Secretary Singson, saw nothing wrong. Perhaps they all did, but could not care less?
President Aquino and his Cabinet members like Singson and Soliman could not see the obvious deficiencies of the bunkhouses. The question is what they can really see at all! Can they see what is wrong in front of them if they really do not know any better?
After the media expose early last week on the substandard and undersized bunkhouse units, the DPWH Secretary halved the number of units in the remaining 90 bunkhouses from 24 to 12 units. That effectively doubled the area of the rooms from 8.64 to 17.28 sqms. This is a vast improvement from the original size per family of five persons that is estimated to be only the size of two ping-pong tables.
The revision from 24 to 12 rooms per bunkhouse is an admission of the great mistake committed in the design of the bunkhouses. What took Mr. Singson so long to realize that big blunder? Imagine more than 100 bunkhouses worth about P100.0 million with 250 undersized rooms for devastated families to live in subhuman conditions.
Mainstream and social media probably pressured Secretary Singson to rectify the monumental mistake after the Inquirer published the findings of the global shelter group, Camp Coordination & Camp Management (CCCM), in its 15-page report. The DPWH Secretary may have not taken any action at all – not knowing any better? – if the controversy did not spread like wildfire in mass media and went viral in social media.
Other than the serious concern with the substandard of the DPWH bunkhouses, the question now is the construction of the bunkhouses. Why not proceed to build permanent houses for the Yolanda victims instead of providing them with temporary shelters that are not even fit for human beings? This is what the private sector is doing now through the Habitat for Humanity and Gawad Kalinga (GK).
Yesterday, the SM group published a full-page advertisement in the newspapers on their “Building Homes for Yolanda Survivors.” SM officials announced that “they are committed to build 1,000 houses for the survivors.” Last December, they started the construction of their SM Cares Village in Brgy. Polambato, Bogo, Cebu, for 200 families whose homes were completely destroyed by the super-typhoon.
Other than the initial project in Bogo, Cebu, the SM Cares Housing Program will also build homes in Concepcion, Iloilo; Culasi, Antique; Tacloban, Leyte and Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The houses are designed to be “disaster-resilient and [have]plenty of ventilation.” Community centers, playgrounds, basketball courts and other amenities will also be built to complete the facilities of the housing projects.
There is no doubt that DPWH’s building the more than 200 bunkhouses worth P200 million is a sheer waste of public funds. This position is shared by myriad of Filipinos and foreigners alike.
The victims of the super-storm can continue staying in tents while their permanent homes are being built. Others who are now not in tents can move to sites where tents can be installed. There should be no serious problem for the survivors in to live in tents even for one year. The Syrian refugees in Turkey have been living in tents for almost three years now since the outbreak of their civil war.