Congress’s interest brings fresh hope to Yolanda shelter beneficiaries

BALANGIGA, Eastern Samar—Residents of Barangay 6, a coastal community of over 400 households of this historic town, are edgy when visitors come to make inquiries on their issues with the housing project of the National Housing Authority (NHA).

They have a valid reason for their anxiety. While Supertyphoon Yolanda flattened almost all of the more than 400 houses except for about a dozen or less, the NHA has identified only 165 households qualified for relocation in the resettlement site. Those identified for relocation have issued a “notice of refusal”, citing the poor structural design of the houses built.

“We will just be transferring from a danger zone to a death zone,” rationalized 55-year-old Merlita Alvarina, a fisherman’s wife with 11 children. “We have been raising this concern to the regional office of NHA. We do not want to live there.”

On September 14 officials of the NHA regional office came to Balangiga—the first in almost four years after Yolanda hit—raising hopes of the locals that their concerns will finally be addressed. To their dismay, the visit was only meant to orient the people of the do’s and don’ts when they transfer to the resettlement site.

Alvarina said NHA officials also made an additional listing of beneficiaries of the housing units from two outskirt villages not within the identified danger zones, apparently to anticipate a complete refusal of listed qualified beneficiaries who are presently living along the danger zones.

“This is a mockery of the real intent of the government’s shelter program for Yolanda survivors, which is to help become more resilient to future disasters,” she said.

The NHA is set to construct 460 houses in this municipality, but only two have been completed to date and both houses are being used as sleeping quarters of the workers. Status reports of the project show 230 are “ongoing” construction and the other half have not yet started.

When the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development resumes its congressional hearing on the Yolanda housing this week, two shelter beneficiaries from Eastern Samar are scheduled to testify on the problems surrounding the implementation of the NHA shelter program.

Lita Bagunas, a farmer and president of Uswag Este-Katarungan, said she will bring to the attention of the legislators the formal land and property-rights issue that impeded the implementation of timely construction of government shelters.

“We are asking for our own houses on our own lands. Urban solution is not the solution to farmers’ housing needs,” Bagunas said. “The Congressional committee’s proposal to accept tax declaration, in lieu of titles, is good but we need titles so we will not be excluded from aids.”

Bagunas cited the recommendation of Rep. Alfred B. Benitez of the Third District of Negros Occidental, chairman of the House Committee on Housing, for the NHA to skip the requirement of acquiring only titled lands. This recommendation came in the heels of Benitez confirming with Commission on Audit that requirement of land titles was imposed by NHA itself.

For 47-year-old Imelda Tacalan, a mother of five children, this pronouncement of the lawmaker provides a glimmer of hope to have an acceptable resettlement site for her family.

“Since the NHA has only started building half the number required here, we hope that the other half will be built near our barangay so that the fishermen will not be displaced from their source of income,” she said. “I hope the NHA will not continue building the remaining 230 houses in the same location.”

Residents of Barangay 6 have been endorsing a parcel of flat land some 200 meters from their community as a potential resettlement site. This site was earlier turned down since it was only covered by a tax declaration, instead of a land title.

“We have very high hopes that the Congress will listen to us. We are thankful that they came here for a dialogue to listen to our grievances. It was the first time that a government entity came to hear what we want to say,” she said.





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