Senators flag lack of housing assistance offered to residents in Taal danger zone

Senators flag lack of housing assistance offered to residents in Taal danger zone
The Department of Agriculture-Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Operation Center said 2,772 hectares of land planted with rice, coffee, cacao, banana and other high-value crops as well as 1,967 animal heads were affected by ashfall.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — Almost no help has been given to Filipinos whose homes were decimated or damaged by the eruption of Taal Volcano this year, senators said Wednesday. 

This was pointed out by Sens. Nancy Binay, Risa Hontiveros and Ralph Recto after the National Housing Authority told a Senate panel that it has yet to receive funds for response to the disaster — over nine months since the volcano island was covered in ash. 

"For 2020 and 2021, we have not received any allocation for Taal," NHA General Manager Marcelino Escalada said. 

"But as an option and strategy, your honor, we have opened up our inventory for the Taal evacuees, so meaning to say, there are close to 10,000 available housing units within the provinces of Batangas as well as Cavite and Laguna that we offer them," he added. 

However, only around 600 evacuees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) have chosen to relocate to Ibaan, Batangas, according to Escalada, while the rest have decided to stay in their respective areas.  

Secretary of Human Settlements and Urban Development Eduardo del Rosario said that 2,600 totally damaged houses required rebuilding, but 500 of these families were already relocated by the NHA, leaving 2,500 families still in need. 

He added that another 14,565 houses that were partially damaged by the volcanic eruption. 

"We have created the regional task force Taal and they have been coordinating with the interventions that are needed in their recovery. And out of nine municipalities adversely affected, four have submitted already their budgetary requirements to the Office of Civil Defense, to be charged from the National Disaster Risk Reduction [and] Management Fund," Del Rosario said. 

"We are waiting for the other municipalities to submit their requirements. Our regional office assisted them in the crafting of their resettlement plan," he added. 

No funds for emergency housing, NHA says

Both totally damaged and partially damaged houses fall under the purview of the Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP), but Escalada said that the P1 billion in funding allocated to the program for 2020 has not yet been released by the Department of Budget and Management. 

"We are more than willing to share the EHAP in forms of cash from P5,000 to P30,000, if [houses are] totally damaged, but again the question is we haven't received the funds yet for that purpose," he said.  

When pressed by Binay on why these funds have not yet been released, the DBM officials present for the budget deliberations said they could not answer because they were from another division of the department. 

Binay further questioned if this lack of funds were also affected by other disasters such as typhoons which Escalada confirmed. 

"Isipin niyo dumaan yung Taal, ngayon may bagyo tapos walang mabibigay doon sa mga nasiraan ng bahay, (Consider that Taal [erupted], and now there's a typhoon, and there is nothing to give to those whose homes were destroyed)," the senator said. 

The DMB granted only 5.22% of the 2021 budget requested by the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development and its attached agencies, downsizing the over P76 billion budget proposed by the department to around P3.9 billion. 

The DHSUD is requesting that senators restore 12.55 billion in total to its 2021 budget. As of this writing, deliberations are still ongoing. — Bella Perez-Rubio

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