TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – By November 8, 2015, or two years after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit this city, only 1,128 permanent houses would have been constructed by both the National Housing Authority (NHA) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for displaced families.
This represents not even 10% of the target of 16,331 permanent houses for the typhoon victims living in the no-build zone areas in the city.
Records from the Tacloban City Housing Office revealed that out of 14,162 permanent houses the NHA planned to build, only 572 had been constructed, while NGOs had built 556 out of their planned total of 2,169.
And because of this slow construction effort, around 2,000 families are still living in bunkhouses and transitional shelters, suffering from the twin disasters of Yolanda and government negligence.
Gina Supang, a 30-year-old mother, lighted candles on two tombstones in Basper cemetery, one of the mass grave sites in Tacloban.
One candle was for her 4-year-old son Greg, who died in the storm surge during the typhoon. Another was for her daughter, Gray Jane, a Yolanda survivor born on January 4, 2015. Gina blamed her death on the inhumane living conditions in the small and cramped bunkhouse where they resided.
Because of the heat in the bunkhouse, baby Gray Jane or "Iday," suffered from recurring cough, Gina said. She said she brought this up with the government officers who came to visit their bunkhouse, but no permanent shelter was made available to her family.
They brought Iday to 3 different hospitals in Tacloban but they were just passed from one to another. The first hospital said no doctor was available because it was a Sunday. The second one said they didn’t have enough facilities.
Baby Iday succumbed to pneumonia and took her last breath on September 22, 2015, at the Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center (EVRMC), one of the most crowded public hospitals in the region.
“Ginhimo nira nga hayop an anak ko (They treated my child like an animal),” she said.
Almost two years of waiting
Gina has been waiting for the promised permanent shelter since January 31, 2014. She said they were among the first batch of occupants in IPI Bunkhouse.
Two years after the typhoon, the IPI Bunkhouse still shelters over 400 households, contrary to the declaration of Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman that by end of October 2014, all of the residents will be transferred to promised permanent shelter sites.
The government conducts a raffle draw to select the households who will be transferred to the permanent housing in Barangay Cabalawan, in the northern part of the city. The game of luck, however, has not been favorable to the Supang family.
Asked about her reaction to Soliman’s statement that there will no longer be bunkhouses by the end of October, Gina said she has had enough of false hopes regarding the shelter program.
The government promised them that they would only stay in the bunkhouse for 6 months. It was later extended to another 6 months to cater to the school year. But one school year already passed and they’re still there, two years since Yolanda.
“My child already died waiting for that promise of permanent shelter,” Gina said.
Uncertain living conditions
Gina, a housewife, and her only surviving child, 8-year old Jamaica, depend on her husband, Greg. He works as a public utility vehicle driver plying the Tacloban-Ormoc City route.
Gina was told that the permanent shelter would only be free of charge for 5 years of their occupancy. After 5 years, they will be paying P200 ($4.26) every month, exclusive of water and electricity costs, for 30 years. The P200 may also increase every year, she said.
Despite the financial uncertainty, on their part, of living in the permanent shelter, she still wants to leave the bunkhouse to move on from the pain of her two children’s untimely demise.
Sea wall vs water system project
But even with 1,128 houses built by the NHA and NGOs ready for occupancy, the city government of Tacloban opted not to transfer the families due to the unavailability of potable water in the area.
Mayor Alfred Romualdez said it’s not enough that the city government delivers water every day to families living in the transitional shelters. What they need is a water system.
"I am asking help from the national government," Romualdez said. "We just need P4 billion ($84.35 million) to build a water system in the northern barangays just to ensure that there will be proper utilities in place for the people."
Romualdez claimed that the water system does not seem to be a government priority, referring to the approval of a sea wall project to protect coastal areas in Leyte from storm surges.
The national government, through the Department of Public Works and Highways, prioritized the construction of a P7.9-billion ($168.5 million) 27.3-kilometer stretch of steel and a 4-meter high concrete sea wall to protect people from storm surges in Tacloban, Palo, and Tanauan, Leyte.
"I am not against this sea wall project. Ang sa akin lang, unahin muna ang (for me, the priority should be the) housing project of the people and fix the water system and go to mitigation measures," Romualdez said. "[The mandate] is to move the people into safer grounds."
"Bakit kailangan pa tayo gumastos ng (Why we do we have to spend) billions of pesos for the northern barangays if may plano naman pala (if there was a plan all along) to construct a sea wall?" Romualdez added.
Romualdez foresees conflict that may arise in the future because of this sea wall, as families living in the coastal areas may refuse to transfer to relocation sites, thinking that they are now protected by the sea wall. – Rappler.com
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