132,000 Yolanda victims still live in tents
SOME 132,000 poor families remain homeless and still live in tent cities and bunkhouses in Tacloban City and other areas devastated by super typhoon Yolanda two years ago as President Benigno Aquino III has yet to approve the release of P54 billion for housing resettlement, former national treasurer Leonor Magtolis Briones said Friday.
Twenty months after Yolanda washed away homes and flattened Eastern Visayas, the government has yet to finish building resilient permanent homes for 205,000 families that were rendered homeless, a study by Social Watch Philippines and Christian Aid concluded.
The seven-month study tracked the P170 billion that was supposedly earmarked for reconstruction and rehabilitation.
“As of June 30, 2015, only 73,000 families of the 205,000 poorest families were resettled, leaving 130,000 families still living in tent cities and bunkhouses,” said Briones, who is also lead convener of SWP.
“This was because only a third or P21 billion of the P75 billion allocated for housing resettlement had been released by the Department of Budget and Management,” she added.
A second study by church-based and civil society groups confirmed the SWP findings.
In a forum Friday, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Caritas Manila, Focus on the Global South and the Freedom from Debt Coalition expressed concern over the Aquino government’s “sluggish” implementation of its reconstruction program, two days before President Aquino delivers his final State-of-the-Nation Address.
“The delivery of reconstruction assistance continues to be riddled with infirmities, irregularities and reported misuse of public funds and people’s money—while the majority of the people who bear the brunt of sufferings... remain poor, hungry and jobless,” the study, entitled “Portrait of the Reconstruction Initiatives in the Areas Affected by Super Typhoon Yolanda,” said.
The groups pointed to the “dismal” completion of only 2,100 houses by the end of 2014, well below the targeted 205,128 shelters.
They said the backlog in the construction of shelters was attributed to the availability of suitable lands, which would have been easier if the government had a proper inventory of lands.
Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, leader of the House independent minority bloc, lamented the delay in the releases of funds and urged the government to accord some “urgency” in the construction of “resilient and build-back-better compliant housing for Yolanda affected families.”
Briones said Leyte has the most number of damaged houses at 347,003, followed by Iloilo at 153,480, Capiz at 130,688 and Cebu at 103,318.
But Iloilo province recorded the most number of families in “unsafe zones” at 43,987, followed by Leyte at 30,632, Negros Occidental at 27,055 and Cebu with 22,423, she said.
Eastern Visayas had the most number of persons affected at 4.27 million followed by Western Visayas at 3.67 million and Central Visayas at 2.96 million.
“It is equally devastating to find out that the guidelines on emergency shelter assistance (ESA) effectively limited its scope, and excluded households who are poor and suffered destruction. The tool for assessment of houses damaged by Yolanda as ‘totally’ or ‘partially’ damaged was subjective,” Briones said.
The ESA was supposed to grant homeless families with up to P20,000 in financial shelter assistance, she said.
However, those who have managed to borrow money from friends and relatives to have their houses built were disqualified from becoming ESA recipients, Briones said.
“Who would want to wait for 20 months or two years to have no roof over their heads? Instead of getting refunded, the poor families found themselves delisted,” Briones said.
“It took the President a year to approve the P170-billion Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) in October 2014, also one year to release P52 billion to fund the CRRP and it took 20 months for [an] additional P32 billion to be released in June 2015 for a total of P84 billion,” Briones said.
Briones said the DBM did not announce additional fund releases for this year as the rest of the amount would be distributed in 2016.
“Snags in finding appropriate lands for resettlement areas continue to haunt the fast delivery of shelter to Yolanda survivors. Families who continue to stay in areas declared ‘unsafe’ and do not want to move to relocation or resettlement sites are not entitled to housing assistance and the government has no clear intervention for them,” Briones said.
The church-based and civil society groups, on the other hand, said only P2.4 billion of the targeted P26 billion for social services was funded in 2014.
“No less than the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) itself admitted the delays in the implementation of target rehabilitation projects were a cause for concern,” the groups said in their report.
The groups also raised concern over the indebtedness incurred by the government as the “financial requirements of the rehabilitation have become the government’s pretext in accessing loan obligations.”
So far, the country has a total of P126.2 billion debts when it contracted loans from multilateral financial institutions.
They also disclosed the government’s alleged misuse and misappropriation of Yolanda funds, citing as examples the substandard temporary shelters in Tacloban and the mangrove reforestation in Samar and Leyte.
“Again, this boils down to poor participation and lack of consultation with the people. Poor transparency and lack of accountability—no investigation of abuse and misuse of funds and Yolanda relief assistance,” the groups said in their report.