NBI won’t probe bunkhouse anomaly yet

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Tuesday that the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will not yet conduct a separate probe into the alleged overpriced bunkhouses for families displaced by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

De Lima said the NBI's participation will depend on the developments of the controversy, which already pushed Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson to put his position at stake if proven that there was overpricing.

Aside from Presidential Assistant on Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Panfilo Lacson, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) is also looking into the alleged substandard bunkhouses.

Lacson said Monday that one politician and an official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are suspected of receiving kickbacks of 30 to 35 percent from contractors.

He declined to disclose the identities.

Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone, an administration ally, said that according to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), it was the mayor of Guiuan town who could explain the controversy behind the construction of bunkhouses.

"The DPWH approached him, thought he wanted his own contractor. So they asked him (and said) 'okay you can (have) your own contractor'. But there was no reply from him," Evardone said in a radio interview.

The mayor of Guiuan town is Christopher Gonzales, brother of Annaliza Gonzales-Kwan, who almost defeated Evardone in the congressional race in the May 2013 midterm elections.

Singson earlier told reporters that he suspects that local politics in Eastern Samar is to be blamed over the reported overpriced bunkhouses.

Singson, who visited typhoon-hit Tacloban City on Tuesday to investigate the issue, assured that they have not paid the contractors.

He said contractors who want to be paid must follow the specifications of the DPWH.

The DPWH's original design can accommodate up to 24 families in one bunkhouse but it was revised to make it more spacious.

In the previous design, one unit has an area of 8.64 square meters (sqm), but it is now adjusted to 17.28 sqm to accommodate 12 families.

The changes came after the design received criticism from international agencies monitoring the rehabilitation of areas battered by Yolanda last November 8.

Meanwhile, Senator JV Ejercito is calling for a Senate investigation as he expressed alarm on the reported overpricing of the bunkhouses.

Ejercito said people should not take advantage of the situation in Visayas especially during times when victims need a helping hand to rebuild their lives.

"We should all be helping to get them back on their feet rather than take advantage of their predicament," he added.

Senator Loren Legarda stressed the importance of building safe and resilient homes and structures, especially in rebuilding communities devastated by disasters.

Reports say that these temporary shelters were allegedly overpriced and non-compliant with safety standards and best practices.

"In aiming for a resilient recovery, the structural integrity of homes, buildings and other structures should not be compromised. We have to realize that these survivors have already lost their homes, and many even their loved ones," she said.

Earlier, the senator said that Typhoon Yolanda is the new benchmark for disaster prevention, which means that the country should raise the standard for building structures. She said structures must be designed to be able to resist winds of more than 300 kilometers per hour.

Legarda said that local government units must include in their development and investment plans the establishment of shelters that are resilient to typhoon, storm surge and tsunami.

"It is important that we immediately provide survivors with shelters to ease their suffering and to help them get back on their feet immediately. However, although the urgency is recognized, it will be imperative that these shelters are located and constructed safer," she added. (With Kathrina Alvarez/Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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