Sen. Bongbong delivers the sponsorship speech for the investigation of alleged substandard bunkhouses for Yolanda survivors
Seven months ago, the whole country was horrified by the unprecedented monstrous
typhoon “Yolanda” that claimed almost 7,000 lives, and caused unspeakable destruction that left 90% of the Visayas region ravaged. With more than 200,000 families displaced by “Yolanda,” and more than half a million houses wiped out, generous international and local donors, moved by sympathy and compassion, immediately mobilized global assistance to help the estimated 17 million people in 44 provinces and 171 cities and municipalities from the tragedy.
Like everybody else, I was shocked by the magnitude of the devastation and, at some point, almost refused to believe that it happened, and could happen again. But life has to go on, and we have to face the herculean challenges ahead. On the 18th of November 2013, after identifying temporary shelter sites, the government started building bunkhouses in Leyte and Eastern Samar, which were earmarked to serve as
temporary shelters for the families rendered homeless by the typhoon.
Secretary Panfilo M. Lacson, Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, together with Architect and Urban Planner, Felino Palafox Jr. and Architect Dan Lichauco, conducted ocular inspection of several bunkhouses on 16 to 20 of January 2014, in three different sites, namely: Guiuan, Eastern Samar and Palo and Tacloban City, Leyte. The initial assessment showed that the bunkhouses were poorly constructed, which led Architect Palafox Jr., who in his experience in handling post disaster rehabilitation plans in different countries all over the world, to question the quality of the units which he even claimed to be undersized and substandard based on international criteria.
The initial finding was bolstered by reports of an alleged collusion between contractors and “at least one politician” for possible anomalies in the construction of the bunkhouses. In a letter dated 8 January 2014, Secretary Lacson requested the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) to “conduct an investigation to the said allegations for the purpose of filing the appropriate charges against the perpetrators, if any.”
This led to the filing of Proposed Senate Resolution Nos. 436 and 439 by Senators Miriam
Defensor Santiago and this Representation, respectively, in order to determine if indeed the bunkhouses were truly substandard and overpriced as alleged; and likewise, to make sure that corrective measures are instituted for the safety and security of the suffering families displaced by the said catastrophe. Your Committee on Public Works, chaired by this Representation, conducted a committee hearing on 6 February 2014, and on 13 February 2014, subsequently inspected the subject bunkhouses in Barangays 62, 95, 91 in Tacloban City, and Barangay Tacuranga and Pawing, in Palo, Province of Leyte.
During the hearing, your Committee was able to unravel some of the important facts in connection to and surrounding the construction of the subject bunkhouses:
1. The bunkhouses were drawn up in detail by the DPWH. The construction materials for these temporary shelters consisted of coco lumber, corrugated galvanized iron roofing sheets, and marine and ordinary plywood. The floor area of the bunkhouses, with a common toilet and bath, totalled 255.28 square meters.
2. With an estimated total cost of P 959,345.00, the DPWH had asked the contractors to reduce the price of the bunkhouses to P836,0I8.00 by netting out the profit margin and overhead expenses.
3. When the construction of the bunkhouses was about to start, it was reported that many local contractors were not available to undertake the civil works since they were tied up with other projects elsewhere. To remedy the situation, the DPWH had to engage the services of contractors from other regions of the country to help in undertaking the construction works.
4. The contractors, however, were hard pressed to finish the construction of bunkhouses in a short period of just 30 days, as mandated, or in time for Christmas, despite the fact that the materials needed per specifications of the DPWH were not immediately available.
5. To beat the deadline, the contractors went on to start building the bunkhouses using whatever materials were available, even though they were not in conformity with the specifications prescribed by the DPWH. This meant that substitutes or alternative materials were used instead.
6. As of January 2014, the Committee was informed that 54 families had already occupied the bunkhouses. Per the DSWD, the award of each bunkhouses to the family-occupants was undertaken through a joint assessment by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) with its regional offices, and the local government units concerned.
Given the aforementioned factual background, our Committee has identified three major issues that need to be addressed and resolved in the course of the investigation.
1. Whether or not the subject bunkhouses were truly substandard and overprices, as alleged;
2. Whether or not the design of the bunkhouses was in accordance with international standards and current practices in the building of transitional houses; and
3. Whether or not there existed collusion between the private contractors and “at least one politician” that led to the suspicion that there was an anomaly in the construction of the bunkhouses.
After thorough deliberations and careful inspection of the subject bunkhouses, the
Committee respectfully submits the following findings:
1. The bunkhouses are under-specifications, as laid down by the Department of Public Works and Highways, thereby making these structures substandard. And this is mainly due to the following reasons:
• Unavailability at that time of construction materials that conform with the standards set or required by the DPWH;
• Lack of manpower to undertake the construction of the bunkhouses; and,
• Due to the existing exigencies, the bunkhouses had to be constructed and completed despite the lack of specified materials as required by the DPWH.
It is noteworthy to state, however, that despite the deficiencies, the questioned quality of the bunkhouse units are being remedied, and that necessary corrections have been undertaken by the contractors. It is indeed unfortunate that the technical and structural designs set forth by the DPWH were not complied with by the contractors understandably because the specified construction materials were not readily available at the time that the building of the said shelters had to be completed.
Considering the urgent necessity to build these structures, construction proceeded despite the limitations. After all it was argued that saving lives was the primordial goal that could not be compromised.
2. The bunkhouses were not really overpriced since the contractors had not yet been paid even with a single centavo for the expenses that they incurred in building the structures. Furthermore, price adjustment is a reasonable option as long as the underspecified materials are within the minimum standard of the DPWH. It was clear from the testimony of Sec. Rogelio Singson of DPWH that no payment, much less any down payment, had been made to the bunkhouses’ contractors who eventually were even required to correct the noted deficiencies and flaws of the shelters. The use of underspecified materials was not intentional but because the agreed materials were not readily available at the time When they were constructed. The contractors were required to construct within a period of 30 days to provide temporary shelter to our countrymen. Secretary Singson further explained that they are contemplating to make the necessary adjustments and corresponding deductions to the contract price of the bunkhouses so long as the questioned materials will meet the minimum requirement of the DPWH. The said move is acceptable and appears reasonable to the Committee considering the attendant circumstances that were present during the construction of the bunkhouses.
3. As regards the issue of non-compliance with international standards for bunkhouses, the Committee fouud that ideally, the guidelines in constructing temporary or transitional houses, among others, for people displaced by natural or man-made calamities are spelled out in the Sphere Handbook of International Standards. This handbook, which was used in several countries devastated by great calamities, contains life-saving humanitarian response to people affected and displaced by disasters. Nonetheless, the question raised was: Has this been followed in the construction of the bunkhouses in the Visayas region? The conclusion was that the bunkhouses were not in compliance with the international standards in building transitional houses. This is precisely because these were built using the available materials and resources which were not necessarily according to the specification. The prevailing emergency situation then compelled the government to undertake the immediate construction of the bunkhouses despite the lack of quality resources, with the objective of saving lives, which was considered as far more important than complying with the requirements of the law when compliance could not be possible given the constraint of time and resources.
4. The Committee on Public Works likewise looked into the alleged “collusion” between the private contractors and “at least one politician” that allegedly tainted the construction of the bunkhouses with anomaly. During the committee hearing, it was learned that Secretary Lacson had tasked the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police to investigate this matter thoroughly. P/CSupt. Benjamin Magalong of the CIDG testified that Secretary Lacson never mentioned any name of a politician involved in the alleged anomaly. The CIDG, however, assured the Committee of its commitment to undertake a more thorough investigation on this specific issue of collusion, and should there exist supporting evidence to prove the alleged anomaly, the issue would be addressed forthwith by pursuing the proper legal action against persons or entities found responsible for any irregularity.
Also, in the course of the investigation, it was revealed that the Department of Social Welfare and Development had imposed stringent requirements for families to be qualified for temporary shelter units. The extremely long and arduous bureaucratic processes have prevented family-beneficiaries to immediately occupy the bunkhouses despite the emergency situation that they were confronted with. This actually negated the earnest efforts and goals of the national and local governments to ensure and secure the welfare of the family-casualties, who continued to be exposed to the man-made and natural hazards, as they could not immediately transfer to the reserved bunkhouses due to impractical technicalities set forth by the DSWD and which could not be complied with given the loss of documents and other required data and information that had to be submitted to the DSWD.
In view of the foregoing, the Committee respectfully recommends that:
1. Legislative measures should be introducedamending Republic Act No. 6541, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1096 or the National Building Code, and other related laws that would clearly define the minimum design guidelines in building temporary structures, and even permanent evacuation centers to be built in local government units in calamity prone areas;
2. The proposal to create the Department of Housing and Urban Development introduced in both houses of Congress should be expeditiously approved in order to have a specific government agency that would be focused on the housing or shelter needs of the people.
3. A legislative measure should likewise be introduced for possible amendment to Republic Act No. 9184 or the Government Procurement Reform Act, that will introduce provisions that prevent unscrupulous contractors, government officials and employees from taking advantage of the emergency situation when the construction of buildings has to be undertaken as an aftermath of disasters by simply resorting to the use of substandard materials, thereby compromising the structural integrity and liveable quality of the structures.
4. The DSWD should be flexible enough to simplify the process and procedure of identifying family-beneficiaries qualified for comprehensive assistance from the government, giving priority to the provisions of basic and important necessities of the most needy and endangered.
5. The CIDG investigation on the reported collusion between private contractors and “at least one politician” that raised suspicion of alleged irregularities in the construction of the bunkhouses should be vigorously and expeditiously pursued. Should the facts and evidence warrant, appropriate administrative, criminal and civil charges should be filed against the perpetrators.
With the catastrophic horrors of Yolanda, our readiness to respond to such unprecedented scale of destruction has certainly been put to test. Admittedly, we can honestly claim that much has been learned from this disaster and other less devastating calamities.
As we move on beyond the pain from this unspeakable tragedy, we are now armed with a more resilient spirit and a firm resolve to face whatever future challenges nature confront us with.