What's wrong with 'Yolanda' bunkhouses?

By Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 07 2014 06:53 PM | Updated as of Jan 08 2014 05:55 AM

MANILA - What's wrong with the bunkhouses being built for survivors of supertyphoon "Yolanda?"

Plenty, according to urban planner and architect Jun Palafox, who said the bunkhouses he saw in Tacloban were way below international standards.

Palafox said the designs he saw when he visited the bunkhouses last December showed disregard for the safety and decency for the families that will be living there.

The architect said the international standard for bunkhouses must be at least 22 square meters per unit, with at least three bedrooms, windows for proper ventilation, floor level must be one meter above the floodline, and materials should not be a fire hazard.

What he saw in Visayas bunkhouses, Palafox said, is nowhere near those standards with each unit less than 9 square meters, only two small bedrooms, poor ventilation, and the materials used such as plywood are fire hazards.

"If you design a house, you should design a house that you are willing to put your family in. Daughters must have separate rooms," he said.

Palafox said they are now in the process of designing bunkhouses according to international standards to be used by local government units, international and national corporations and other agencies that may need guidelines in constructing bunkhouses.

The architect designed bunkhouses a decade ago in Sri Lanka during the earthquake in Indonesia that was followed by a destructive tsunami.

Palafox refused to give comment on the issue of overpricing of bunkhouses. He said if the reports are true, the victims of Yolanda are doubly victimized.

"What I saw is not building back better. I hope it is not just a slogan," he said, referring to the order of President Aquino to build better after the destructive typhoon.

Palafox noted the irony that at the height of Typhoon Yolanda, many houses were blown away but the mausoleums in cemeteries made of concrete were not destroyed.

"Some nations build monuments for the dead but can't even provide decent houses for the living,' he said.

Palafox said the permanent houses which will later be built in devastated areas must conform to the building code. One of the requirements in the code is that a structure should withstand up to 250 km/hr wind speed.

Substandard, not overpriced

Rehabilitation Czar Secretary Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the issue with the bunkhouses is not really about overpricing but the use of substandard materials.

Lacson clarified that the contractors may have complied with the price cap set by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) but they may have used cheaper materials in order to make a profit.

DPWH Secretary Rogelio Singson previously said the contractors who built bunkhouses in Tacloban would not be making a profit.

"We have no issue with the Secretary of DPWH. Nagtutulungan kami. Ang problema, baka may pulitiko na gusto makinabang sa bunkhouses na ito. That we intend to find out," Lacson said.

Lacson has asked the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police to conduct an in-depth investigation into the bunkhouses in view of possible referral and filing of charges at the Ombudsman.

"There is a possible collusion between some contractors and politicians," he said.

He added the DPWH is now making necessary adjustments as to the design of the bunkhouses.

"Nire-retrofit na nila yung area para magkasya ang isang pamilya sa 2 or 3 units," he said.

Lacson called the attention of DPWH about the bunkhouses when he visited the sites last month. He said the alleged "overpricing" will also form part of the CIDG investigation and if proven true, the DPWH will be accountable for such.

"Wala pa namang information as to the overpricing. Ang indications ay underspecs [under specification]," he said.

Singson yesterday offered to resign if it could be proven the bunkhouses were overpriced.

Adopting Yolanda towns

Lacson also announced the latest development in the rehabilitation efforts.

He said several private and large corporations in the country have already adopted several towns and cities for its rehabilitation, particularly the building of hospitals and classrooms.

"For example, sa mga classrooms, may shelter classroom na gagawin. Mas resilient siya kaysa sa ibang classroom, na sya lang maiiwan kapag may destruction," he said.

He said the challenge remains as far as coordination is concerned between the private companies, national agencies and local government units.

Lacson is set to visit local government units in the Visayas next week to coordinate the tasks ahead.