Yolanda survivors refuse NHA houses

In Photo: A group of residents from Balangiga, Samar, stages a protest in front of the offices of the National Housing Authority (NHA) in Samar as they hold a statement refusing to accept what they call the “unsafe” houses built by the NHA for them and other survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda.

TACLOBAN CITY—Under the sweltering heat of a sunny morning, 42-year-old Elena Enciso joined a group composed mostly of women as they marched to the National Housing Authority (NHA) to formally file a notice rejecting the houses scheduled to be awarded to them soon.

Leaving behind her kids and taking a one-day leave from vending fish in their community, Enciso joined hundreds of residents from the historic town of Balangiga to join a protest in Tacloban to express their dismay over the housing projects.

Chanting “pabahay, pabahay sasayaw-sayaw” at the entrance of the National Housing Authority regional office here, the slogan underscores the quality of houses being built for the survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda whose houses will be forcibly removed because they are built in so-called high-risk areas.

“We are dismayed at the manner the houses were built. They have not yet been turned over to us, but you see some houses already have cracks on their walls,” she said. “We fear for our safety in those houses more than we fear the typhoons.”

The NHA is building 480 units in Barangay Cansumangkay, an uphill village 3 kilometers from the coastline of Eastern Samar’s Balangiga, a sleepy town made famous by the Balangiga Massacre in 1901. Balangiga is historically known for the rousing victory of the locals against American soldiers during the Philippine-American war. The defeated American soldiers at that time retaliated by killing all men over 10 years old, making Samar a “howling wilderness”.

Many of the houses are almost finished and may be endorsed for awarding to the beneficiaries within this year. From a distance, the concrete houses look functional and some painting could make them appear typical of other mass housing projects in the country. But those who witnessed firsthand at the workmanship attest that these are structural failures.

Together with leaders of Community of Yolanda Survivors and Partners (CYSP), a broad coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) supporting the housing rights of  Yolanda survivors, the residents of Balangiga formally submitted the notice of refusal to the NHA regional office. There was no NHA official present to meet the group and nobody of the rank-and-file employees present was authorized to speak to the rallyists and the media.

“This is our firm refusal of the worthless relocation site being forced upon us, Yolanda survivors,” said Tessie Elacion, chairman of Kusog Este, a community organization in Eastern Samar. “We have survived Yolanda, but we may not be so lucky with the relocation sites.”

Elacion said among the problems hounding the shelter reconstruction for Yolanda survivors include its culturally inadequate relocation plans, substandard workmanship, lagging construction, job displacements, lack of basic social services, weak accountability being exhibited by government agencies, exclusion of affected communities in the decision-making process  and insecure land tenure. “We have been telling the government these problems for the last four years, but it doesn’t seem to care,” she said. “All our demands have fallen on deaf ears.”

Earlier this year, the NGO  Rights Network organized a fact-finding mission in Balangiga to verify reports of poorly constructed housing amid complaints of some intended beneficiaries the houses are haphazardly done and some of the concrete houses shake when the wall is pushed.

Balangiga Municipal Engr. Fiel Inting, who joined the mission, was convinced the houses do not look safe and do not meet the minimum structural specifications.

“The workmanship is not of standard quality. They are terribly built. You will see steel bars where they are not supposed to be seen, and you don’t see them where they are needed,” he said. “For me, this is not fit for occupancy.”

Image Credits: Elmer Recuerdo