NHA admits design 'failure' in Zamboanga City housing project

MANILA, Philippines – The current chief of the National Housing Authority (NHA) admitted the agency's lapses in designing the housing units for residents displaced due to the 2013 Zamboanga siege.

NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada Jr acknowledged this failure as the House committee on housing and urban development continued its probe into the condition of the Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction (Z3R) project on Tuesday, May 29.

"The present administration of NHA, with respect to the stilt housing units, we acknowledge the fact there is the failure of the design," said Escalada.

The congressional probe into the housing project comes after politicians – among them housing and urban development panel chairperson Alfredo Benitez himself – fell off a footbridge that collapsed inside the Z3R project.

It turns out, the weaker gmelina species of wood – instead of the stronger yakan species that was initially picked – was used as a foundation not just for the footbridge but for the stilt housing units as well.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Zamboanga Peninsula Director Carlito Guballa said unlike gmelina, yakan is a strong type of wood that can withstand being submerged in water for a long time.

Former NHA chief Chito Cruz and Guballa both did not want to take the blame for the wrong type of material used, however.

Cruz said gmelina was ultimately picked because yakan was not available in the market at the time of construction. He said the DENR had advised the NHA that they could use alternative species of wood instead.

Guballa agreed, but he said they had also advised the NHA to change the structural design if a different wood species would be used.

"Sa kanila na po 'yun (That's on them already).... We will only be telling them you can substitute them with either gmelina or mahogany. 'Yun lang ang role ng DENR (That's the only role of the DENR)," said Guballa.

'Palpak'

Samar 1st District Representative Edgar Sarmiento called the NHA's housing projects "palpak" (a failure), citing the many complaints being raised nationwide. (READ: Why P600-a-month housing is still a burden to the poor)

Sarmiento had filed the resolution that called for the probe into the Z3R project.

"Para bang karamihan ng issue sa housing, palpak. I'm sorry to say this. You are the agency tasked for the housing in this country. Ano ang ginagawa natin? Masaya po ba kayo na mababa ang presyo? Masaya po ba tayo sa binibigay nating housing sa mga naghihirap nating kapatid?" said Sarmiento.

(It seems all of the issues involving housing are a failure. I'm sorry to say this. You are the agency tasked for the housing in this country. What are you doing? Are you happy with the cheap cost? Are you happy with the quality of housing you give to the poor?)

Moving forward, Escalada said he has already instructed the Z3R housing project's contractor and assigned regional managers to redesign the stilt housing units. This includes using concrete posts for the units' foundation instead of wood.

Escalada also plans to apply the proposed structural changes already in the remaining 40% of the Z3R project's phase 4 which remains unfinished.

"I don't mind, your honor, on investing on the part of the NHA," he said.

Escalada has also issued show cause orders for 50 erring contractors of major NHA housing projects, including those for residents displaced by the Zamboanga siege as well as Tropical Storm Sendong (Washi), Typhoon Pablo (Bopha), and Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

Escalada said the NHA has already terminated its contracts with 20 out of the 50 contractors and is in the process of blacklisting them. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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