6 years after Yolanda, shelter still a problem
On November 8, 2013, Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons to reach the Philippines, unleashed its wrath on Eastern Visayas and plowed through central Philippines.
Edd Gumban / File
6 years after Yolanda, shelter still a problem
Miriam Desacada (The Philippine Star) - November 6, 2019 - 12:00am

GUIUAN, Eastern Samar, Philippines — Six years have passed since Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines and Eastern Visayas’ economic rise is more visible than ever, yet families still suffer from a housing crisis in the region.

With no trace left of the destruction brought by the disaster, high-rise buildings, commercial establishments, malls and grocery stores can be seen in many cities in the region.

On Nov. 8, 2013, Yolanda, one of the strongest typhoons to reach the Philippines, unleashed its wrath on Eastern Visayas and plowed through central Philippines.

Unleashing heavy rains and powerful winds at 315 kilometers per hour at their peak, Yolanda made landfall at about 9 a.m. In a short while, it left the flooded islands of Samar and Leyte a ghastly wreck, killing an estimated 6,300 people, leaving more than 4.4 million homeless and the rest stunned in disbelief.

They lost their houses and their loved ones to Yolanda. Through six long years, they have held on to the promises of politicians that they will be provided with new houses at a relocation site to regain a semblance of dignity. To this day, these Yolanda victims remain homeless – and neglected.

In Guiuan town, Regina Ortela and her five children luckily survived the onslaught of Yolanda by clinging to their neighbor’s rooftop as 10-foot high floodwaters swirled around them at around 6 a.m. that fateful day.

In the aftermath of the super typhoon, Regina and her kids have had to move on to survive the wasteland. The Ortela family, together with thousands of similarly homeless families, clung to their hope for government help.

Hundreds of units in a housing project at Barangay Sapaw in Guiuan were unfinished and left to rot with neglect. Millions of taxpayers’ money have been wasted on the project that was supposed to be awarded to the homeless and displaced Yolanda victims.

A teary-eyed Regina could only sigh in despair. “We have been calling concerned local and national government officials to act on this. We should have been residing in these houses,” she lamented in Waray dialect during an interview with Opinion 8 this week.  

Former Guiuan mayor Sheen Gonzales, in a separate interview, said that during his term, the town’s chief executive had no power to fast-track the project of the National Housing Authority (NHA). What he could do then was only to issue the necessary permits as required, he said.

The NHA had projected to construct more than a thousand housing units in three sites. The one at Barangay Sapaw had the highest allocation with at least 600 units. But the project contractor, Macasuhot Construction, failed to finish the project for reasons undisclosed.

“Well I was surprised myself. I’m disappointed because this project had gone to waste. The homeless and displaced families during Yolanda could have been living here already,” Gonzales said. 

Those who grew tired of waiting decided to return to the place where they had their houses when Yolanda swept these away.

“They have no other option but to return to where they were before in order to survive. They only restored their destroyed houses there,” Gonzales added.

In Tacloban City, there are NHA housing projects that are among the most problematic sites in the region. The city government has been undergoing a process of revalidation of housing beneficiaries due to allegations that some barangay chairpersons committed anomalous selection of beneficiaries endorsed to the NHA.

Ted Jopson, chief of the city government’s housing division, said that at least 12,000 out of 14,000 housing units given to Yolanda victims were already occupied, while the list for the remaining units is being revalidated. 

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