Rappler - Probe culprits of ‘overpriced shelters’

9 January 2014

By Ayee Macaraig | Rappler

rapplerMANILA, Philippines – Not satisfied with Malacañang denials, senators want to conduct their own investigation into allegations that bunkhouses for victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) are overpriced and substandard.

Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr filed separate resolutions on Thursday, January 9, calling for a Senate investigation into the issue.

“It is crucial to look into [these] issues to make sure that the victims of Yolanda will no longer be victimized further by corruption and abuses perpetrated by the callous culprits who take advantage of the desolate condition in the affected areas,” Marcos said in Senate Resolution No 439.

Santiago, Marcos and Senator JV Ejercito urged the chamber to look into the report of the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) group, which is affiliated with the International Organization for Migration.

More transparency, accountabillity

In a report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, CCCM described the Department of Public Works and Highways’ (DPWH) temporary shelters for the Yolanda victims as “noncompliant in many respects with internationally recognized standards and best practices.”

Panfilo Lacson, presidential assistant for rehabilitation and recovery, said he is also investigating reports that at least one politician in the typhoon-hit area is colluding with contractors and discussing commissions of 30% to 35% of the bunkhouses.

Santiago said the Senate investigation is aimed at strengthening laws to ensure efficiency, transparency and accountability in disaster relief projects, especially those involving international aid. Santiago is the chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee.

“The national government owes local and international typhoon relief donors transparency and accountability, and therefore must ensure that the typhoon victims should receive relief by observing internationally recognized standards and best practices,” Santiago said in Senate Resolution No 436.

“This controversy multiplies the suffering of our countrymen in the typhoon affected areas, as they have faced both devastation from a natural disaster and the evils of corruption from what is supposed to bring them relief,” she added.

Santiago said laws like the Government Procurement Reform Act should be amended “based on the national experience with tragedies.” She cited the natural disasters and the pork barrel scam as grounds for revisiting these laws.

The scam raised fears that aid for victims of Yolanda will also be lost to corruption. The world’s most powerful storm to make landfall, Yolanda killed 6,190 people when it devastated the Visayas on November 8. It flattened entire towns and cities and left 4.4 million people homeless.

Unfit for human habitation?

In his resolution, Marcos cited the statement of architect and urban planner Felino Palafox Jr that the bunkhouses are undersized and substandard based on international standards, and are “therefore, unfit for human habitation.”

The senator said a Senate investigation aims to institute “corrective measures” to ensure the safety and security of the typhoon victims.

Marcos’ cousin, Alfred Romualdez, is mayor of Tacloban, one of the worst-hit areas. His mother, former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep Imelda Marcos was born and raised in Leyte, one of the provinces that bore the brunt of the typhoon. (READ: Bongbong Marcos visits Tacloban)

Drilon: Overpricing allegations counterproductive

Singson and Malacañang have been under fire over the bunkhouses. Reports of overpricing and substandard shelters forced the DPWH to expand the space allotted to each family in the bunkhouses from 8.64 square meters to 17.28 square meters.

Despite the criticism against Singson and senators’ calls for an investigation, staunch administration ally Senate President Franklin Drilon dismissed the allegations of overpricing.

Drilon said Wednesday that the accusations were “counterproductive,” especially at a time “when DPWH’s attention is badly needed elsewhere.”