Singson: I will resign if bunkhouses are overpriced

The public works secretary says politics may be involved in reports of overpricing, but admits some bunkhouses may be substandard

REBUILDING TACLOBAN. The Department of Public Works and Highways is working to complete 222 bunkhouses for Yolanda victims and denies reports of overpricing. File photo by Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – “It is not overpriced. If it is overpriced, the following day I will submit my resignation to President Aquino.”

These were the words of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson on Monday, January 6, following reports that bunkhouses or the temporary housing the government is building in areas hard-hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) are overpriced.

Singson insisted at a Palace briefing that the reports are not true and only said “there is politics involved” when asked for the source of the rumors. He said it could stem from politics in Eastern Samar, but refused to divulge details.

While Singson promised overpricing was not an issue, he admitted however that some bunkhouses possibly do not follow the specifications of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).

He said “overpricing” and “underspecs” must be differentiated, clarifying the latter meant some bunkhouses could be substandard.

Singson said no contractors have been paid by the government yet.

“I can definitely tell you if [bunkhouses] are substandard, we will not pay them,” he said.

Because many of the contractors are helping build the bunkhouses voluntarily, Singson said the overhead margins and profit margins will be waived. He also expressed doubt over reports that some contractors are colluding with at least one local politician in the area in exchange for 30-35% in commission or kickbacks.

“I don’t know where the 30-35% is coming from, because we haven’t paid any contractors,” Singson said. “I did talk to Sec Ping and I said if he has specifics, then let’s address that.”

Singson was referring to rehabilitation czar Ping Lacson, who was assigned by President Benigno Aquino III to head recovery efforts in areas ravaged by Yolanda. (READ: ‘Kickbacks on Haiyan bunkhouses at 30%’)

On Friday, November 8, Yolanda, known as the world’s strongest typhoon, made landfall in Eastern Visayas, killing 6,166 people and leaving 1,785 others missing, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

This made the storm, which also left 4.4 million people homeless, one of the deadliest natural disasters in Philippine history.

Delayed deadline

DPWH is aiming to build 222 bunkhouses. It has so far built 126, according to Singson.

Singson said the government’s original plan was that each bunkhouse would have 24 rooms, which would accommodate 24 families. He said they have since changed it so families would have two units, upon recommendation of international experts who are on the ground.

This has also helped decrease the cost of each bunkhouse.

“One bunkhouse is P83,017. That’s for the original 24 units. Now, when we took out the partitions and it became 12 units, it went down to P788,587 per bunkhouse, including the common toilet and common kitchen, so that’s the cost. So if there’s 200 bunkhouses, that’s about P14 million,” he said.

The reconfiguration also means it will take an additional two months to complete the 222 bunkhouses, since the government is also addressing other issues like common space, drainage, and security, among others.

“As far as the bunkhouses, the target is 6,000 families by end of January. But because of reconfiguration, we will have to reduce the families that will be accommodated,” he said. 

The government is also taking into consideration the recommendations given by experts from all over the world who are helping in the efforts. (READ: 8 features of a typhoon-resistant house)

“We started constructing before they arrived, so we’re now making adjustments,” he said.

Singson said it would be the local government units (LGUs) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that would decide which families will be able to move in, adding the decision will largely be based on their income levels.

Families are expected to stay in bunkhouses for up to two years, after which the bunkhouses will be dismantled. 

Two years not enough

Aquino has asked DPWH to speed up its construction not just of temporary housing but permanent housing as well, in hopes of moving affected families as soon as possible.

Singson said the government is currently looking for areas where they could build permanent housing. (READ: Leyte reconstruction: MGB maps ‘no build zones’)

He gave assurances DPWH would do all it can before Aquino’s term ends in 2016, but said realistically, the shelter program will not be completed in two years.

“We’re not saying everything will be done in two years. We’re telling you it can’t, with the scale of devastation there,” he said.

Singson is set to return on Tuesday to Tacloban, the area hardest hit by Yolanda, to check on the government’s reconstruction efforts. Rappler.com