Gov’t hit for delayed Haiyan shelters

Paterno Esmaquel II
The government has moved only 20% of homeless Yolanda survivors to bunkhouses, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr says

TILL WHEN? Rina Etang, 39, waits for the government to move her, along with her children and other relatives, to a bunkhouse unit. She lives in the shanty right behind her. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Heavy rain fell, and winds blew hard again. Nervously, 39-year-old Rina Etang opened the window of her shanty Thursday, February 13.

Natakot na naman ako,” Etang told Rappler. “Titingin ako doon sa dagat, titingnan ko, kasi natatakot na kami, baka lumaki ang dagat, lumaki ang tubig.” (I became afraid again. I looked toward the sea, because we’re afraid the sea would rise again, the waters would rise again.)

The rain brought back her worst memories. A hundred days ago on Sunday, February 16, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) became the strongest storm to make landfall, and triggered waves that killed more than 6,200 people, including her own mother, 59 years old.

The house she lives in – too weak to withstand the strongest of winds – worsened her fear.

For 3 months, Etang has lived in a make-shift house along with her children, 5-year-old Rhealyn and 2-year-old Rheanna Mae, and 4 other relatives.

The government promised to move them to a bunkhouse unit. She said 58 of her neighbors have moved to these shelters, which aid groups initially criticized as poorly built. (READ: DPWH didn’t know standard for shelters)

Etang, however, will have to wait. The government hasn’t finished repairing these units after aid groups complained. (READ: Erring Haiyan contractors off the hook?)

TEMPORARY SHELTERS. For Yolanda survivors, the government built 222 bunkhouses with 12 units each. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, chair of the Senate public works committee, chided the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for this delay.

‘Hurry up,’ DSWD told

Marcos belied a report that the DPWH has finished constructing all 222 bunkhouses.

Nagulat ako at nakakita na ako ng report na galing sa Region VIII ng DPWH na tapos na lahat ng bunkhouses, eh kita naman ninyo hindi pa tapos ang iba,” Marcos told reporters after inspecting the bunkhouses Thursday. (I was surprised to see a report from the Region VIII of the DPWH that it has finished all bunkhouses, when, in fact, you can see not all bunkhouses have been completed.)

Sought for comment, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson admitted more work is needed.

“What is lacking would be the corrections of the deficiencies. Painting was not planned but we decided to paint them also,” Singson said in a text message to Rappler.

The bigger problem, Marcos said, is the DSWD’s delay in “processing” the residents.

Based on his calculation, only 20% of homeless residents have been transferred to bunkhouses. (Watch more in the video below.)


Sa DSWD, sana they can hurry up their processing, para talagang maging mas mabilis ang paglipat ng mga nakatira pa sa mga tents,” Marcos said. (I hope the DSWD can hurry up the processing, so that those who live in tents can transfer as soon as possible.)

Rappler is still trying to reach Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman for comment as of posting time.

‘Bureaucratic process’

Marcos brought up the same topic in a Senate hearing last February 6.

He quizzed Thelsa Biolena, DSWD director for disaster risk reduction and response operations, over the agency’s “bureaucratic process” when it comes to bunkhouses.

In that hearing, Biolena said as of January 30, only 54 families have moved to the Tacloban bunkhouses. She said the rest of the families “are being jointly assessed by the DSWD with the regional offices together with our local government units.”

The basic criteria include the following: 

  • With an income “below the food threshold of the region,” which is P5,000; and

  • With “seriously ill or sick family members, with pregnant or lactating mothers, with children below 12 years old, single parent-led or child-led”

'POORLY BUILT.' The original design of these bunkhouses failed to meet international standards. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

She said the DSWD made “additional qualifications,” such as the following:

  • Without housing assistance from other government agencies, non-governmental organizations, or individuals;

  • With household heads “incapacitated as a result of the disaster”;

  • With heads who “are seriously ill, incapacitated to work, or differently abled” and cannot provide for the family’s needs; and

  • With elderly heads “not receiving social pensions or other kinds of retirement pensions”

Given these criteria, Marcos said, it’s “not surprising” that only few families have moved to bunkhouses. He told Biolena, “Pag-aantayin ba natin sila?” (Will we make them wait?)

Biolena, in turn, said the DSWD is “now fast-tracking the identifying of these families, and limiting the criteria that we have to use.” She said the agency is also “going to beef up the manpower requirements in terms of going to the municipalities and validating.”

Poor coordination

Marcos’ cousin, Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, pointed out other problems.

In an interview with reporters during Marcos’ visit, Romualdez said coordination problems led to substandard bunkhouses.

“I think it should’ve been coordinated properly with the engineers and DSWD,” he said.

LIVING IN TENTS. The government needs to accommodate hundreds more in bunkhouses. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

The mayor of Palo, Leyte, for her part, appealed for more help.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Mayor Remedios Petilla said 81 homeless families have moved to bunkhouse units in Palo. These families occupy 22.5% of the 360 units available.

Gradual naman ‘yung pag-transfer,” Petilla said. (The transfer is gradual.)

She said Yolanda left 1,300 people homeless in her town.

The local government will construct more bunkhouses for them, she said. The one being constructed now has 468 units.

These statements confirm a warning by the United Nations (UN) that “huge needs” remain in typhoon-hit areas. Luiza Carvalho, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for the Philippines, said the need for durable shelters “is critical” a hundred days after Yolanda. (READ: ‘Stop exodus of jobs after Haiyan’)

The UN itself, however, drew flak for reportedly refusing to fund permanent shelters. 

Yolanda left at least 550,928 houses totally damaged, the government said. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.