Singson on bunkhouses

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2014 - 12:00am

We’d always pictured Public Works Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson as one of the President’s worthy Cabinet members, and so we were shocked by presidential assistant for rehabilitation, former Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s charge of the bunkhouses being built by the Department of Public Works and Highways to house homeless survivors of super typhoon Yolanda as being overpriced and substandard. Not surprisingly, the public pointed a nasty finger at Singson.  The President and his trusted men immediately came to the secretary’s defense, describing him as beyond reproach. Singson replied that if Lacson found instances of corruption in the building project, he (Singson) would immediately resign. Thankfully, he has not resigned. As of today, nothing has been heard from the former senator from Cavite.

On the history of the bunkhouses, Singson said that after the Yolanda disaster, three types of shelter have been  provided the survivors. The first type quickly put up were the “emergency shelters,” which included tents or tarpaulin covers. The second were shelters provided by the United Nations through many international partner-agencies. The DPWH then started building “temporary shelters,” or bunkhouses, consisting of more durable structures for families to stay while waiting for “permanent shelters” which will be under the jurisdiction of the National Housing Authority.

Targeted for DPWH construction are 222 bunkhouses in different super typhoon-stricken areas. So far, 138 have been built by Christmastime, which is usually the rainy season in Leyte and Samar, the rest to be ready for occupancy at the end of this month, Singson said.

At the start, problems were encountered. First, contractors could not find carpenters or construction workers locally because they preferred lining up before welfare groups for food and P500 cash, to receiving only the minimum wage for eight hours of work. So contractors had to bring in workers from other provinces.

Another problem was that over the years, makers of GI sheets, plywood, iron bars and even nails have been turning out materials  (roofing, marine plywood, external walling) below international standards, and the materials of sufficient quality and quantity were not available in the disaster-hit areas.

Another problem was political: the squabbling between a mayor and the provincial governor delayed the construction projects.

The UN resident representative expressed surprise that DPWH was able to start work on temporary housing early, when in other disaster sites, temporary shelters were put up only months later. As to not meeting building standards to the letter, Singson said, the UN agencies or contractors were able to share their “standards” with the DPWH only after the bunkhouses had been put up. But Singson’s men did the best they could.

As to the complaint that the spaces were too small, Singson suggested that the dividing wall between two units could be knocked down to accommodate a bigger number of family members. The trouble is that relatives would come in and share the expanded space. And there is the suggestion that boys should be separated from the girls. Singson put up his arms in exasperation. Surely, you can’t please everybody.

Singson expressed relief about the Supreme Court ruling declaring the PDAF or Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional. This meant the end of collusion between legislators and contractors. Previously most public works projects were run under a standard operating procedure, meaning an amount, usually 6 percent of the total project cost, was set aside for the losing bidders and for the local bids and awards committees. DPWH has been able to reduce the cost of public works projects, usually bloated by graft, about P19 billion.

To improve services and rid the department of a very-corrupt agency image, Singson said  in his program for 2014, contractors will have to be accredited, there will be no more letters of intent and credit line commitments, which enabled contractors to participate in biddings without proof of assets; terminating 4,000 unnecessary personnel, and hiring 40 cadet engineers for efficient performance.

His job is difficult, Singson, 64, said. When he was offered the DPWH job, he attended a spiritual retreat with the theme “Heroic Leadership.” The participants were told if they wanted to be good disciples, they should accept jobs joyfully. With a grateful heart – and guts and determination – Singson accepted the job.


A cause for alarm is the proliferation of cyber abuse of children.  The Philippine STAR reported that British police are working with Australian and US counterparts in breaking up a Philippine pedophile ring that has been streaming live scenes of child abuse over the Internet. The National Crime Agency (NCA) has been investigating the ring since it discovered obscene videos on a British pedophile’s computer two years ago, and said that child abuse has become “a significant emerging threat” in developing countries.

The government has not been sleeping on the job. Responding to this news, the Interagency Council Against Trafficking – composed of government and law enforcement agencies – has been tasked to rid the country of a pedophile ring victimizing minors, said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. He said the government is “determined to stop human trafficking in all its forms and manifestations through concerted action by all concerned government agencies in cooperation with other countries.”

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, gung-ho on running after the Internet child abusers, has said that lack of resources is hampering the government’s drive against human trafficking rings including those engaged in child abuse. If we know her, she will not rest till the perpetrators are put behind bars.

Meanwhile, Sen. Loren Legarda expressed in a privilege speech the need to make full use of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to arrest and prosecute offenders of cyber pornography.

Legarda, principal sponsor of the said law, expressed alarm over a proliferation of cases of children being subjected to online pornography, some even by their own parents and guardians.

“Police authorities have already deemed cyber pornography as the top crime in the country today,” she said. “The fact is already hard to take. What makes it even more unimaginable is that many of the victims of this high-tech form of illegal human trade are children. We need to put an end to these kinds of abuses,” she said.

The senator explained that under the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, harboring a child for purposes of prostitution or production of pornographic materials is considered trafficking.

Furthermore, “(the) crime is not plain trafficking but qualified trafficking when the offender is the parent, guardian or someone who exercises authority over the child. Any person found guilty of qualified trafficking shall serve life imprisonment.

Legarda added that The Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Law, a measure she likewise authored, also penalizes sexual acts, including prostitution, committed against a woman or child.

“We support the Department of Justice, as head of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, and the National Bureau of Investigation for the full and effective implementation of the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.”

She hopes the Supreme Court will create special courts to expedite the prosecution of human trafficking cases especially those that involve children. She  also supports a massive information and education campaign against trafficking and cyberporn.

The senator filed a bill that would protect minors from accessing pornographic materials over the Internet. Under Senate Bill No. 532, the Anti-Computer Pornography Act, acts such as transmitting or offering to transmit information containing indecent materials to a minor and providing access to transmission of said materials to a minor will be considered a crime.

 Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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