New Hope Village – a hamlet of 500 families set in a small corner of Leyte’s provincial capital, Tacloban, in the Visayas region – is exactly what its name says it is. For these people it’s where life starts anew after having that life put on hold – first by the brutality of Mother Nature in the form of Typhoon Yolanda, one of the worst natural disasters ever to visit the Philippines, then by the incompetence and bungling of a bureaucracy mired in red tape, gross inefficiency and who knows what else.
Those government officials, the weavers of red tape, have now been put on notice by President Rodrigo Duterte – finish the entire re-housing project of 14,433 homes by March when he returns to Tacloban, he’s told them, or be prepared to carry crosses on their backs around the city. He dismissed a proposed completion date of July.
New Hope may be small population wise, but as a symbol of its folks’ resilience, it stands tall. Its inhabitants are among 200,000 families who were still without a permanent roof over their heads last November – three years after Yolanda tore though Tacloban on 8 November 2013, ripping the city from the earth it stood on and turning homes into pulverised concrete and matchwood.
Soon, that small community will double in size and become home to 1,000 families. And every one of them who shared that same grim past, can then start to share a hopeful future.
The stats from the typhoon were all bad – up to 10,000 dead by some accounts; across the Visayas region some 4.4 million people were displaced from their homes. In Tacloban, which took the brunt of Yolanda’s force, 90% of structures were destroyed or damaged. But that stat – that three years on, there were still 200,000 families living in tented bunk houses and no nearer to having a home of their own – in its own way was just as bad. That wasn’t nature’s work; it was the result of a deplorable work ethic by national and local government officials and hired contractors.
As soon as Duterte heard of the pitiful state of the re-housing programme last November, he removed it from the control of Vice President Leni Robredo – who’d been heading it up in her capacity as chairwoman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC). He passed the responsibilities to Michael Dino, Presidential Assistant in the Visayas. And since then, Robredo stepped down from the HUDCC chair, Duterte’s former campaign manager, Leoncio Evasco Jr, stepped up to replace her and the re-housing programme was thrown into high gear.
The status of the Yolanda-victims projects today is very different to what it was just over two months ago. Bidding has been completed for all 14,433 housing units of which just over 8,000 have been built; 6,000 of these are now occupied. And though the goal was to have this entire project put to bed by late December, the fact is that in those two months between last November and now 4,000 new homes have been built – and that’s equal to what the previous administration achieved in three years. That puts the scale of this scandal into perspective.
Back in November, according to the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), 62% of planned new permanent homes – funded by cash donations and by Asian Development Bank aid – were still waiting to be built. DSWD Secretary, Judy Taguiwalo, has criticised her predecessor department’s handling of the recovery and rehabilitation effort and has implemented a full review of all funds that were earmarked for the entire programme.
Meanwhile, though, Duterte – in New Hope Village yesterday attending its inauguration – isn’t letting up the pressure. Still extremely displeased by the way an emergency re-housing programme was allowed to slide so badly and for so long – Robredo had suggested it still required another full year to deliver; end of 2018 was her target – the president’s March deadline is final. There’ll be no more extensions. Furthermore, it doesn’t just involve construction of the remaining housing units, it requires all services – water and electricity – to be connected by then and all families to have moved into their new homes. And to get that done he’s instructed government workers to work extra shifts.
Clearly, President Duterte is still very angry over what transpired with the shambolic Yolanda-victims’ building programme, and has told government officials to resign if they’re incapable of doing their jobs. As he pointed out at New Hope’, Village yesterday, they’ received their salaries over the past three years while they neglected those in dire need.
But whether we’ll be seeing government officials paraded around Tacloban’s streets in March carrying crosses or not, what does need to happen is that all those responsible for creating this horrendous backlog, which made a complete mockery of emergency relief – those who put Yolanda’s victims through three long years of unnecessary homelessness – should be removed from their posts.
Yolanda, sadly, won’t be the last super-typhoon to wreak damage like that on the Philippines, and so the last thing the country needs in tackling such an event in the future is people who are prepared to sit back, blame others for their indolence, and let the victims suffer. And then, of course – as usual – there’s the question of how the money was spent.