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Bunkhouses issue may scare donors

Belmonte to Lacson: Clear air on overpricing

HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Tuesday allegations of overpricing in the construction of bunkhouses for the families of those affected by super typhoon Yolanda could hurt efforts to entice donors to continue supporting the rehabilitation and rebuilding in calamity-stricken areas.

Belmonte added that the allegations should be investigated as they could cast doubts on the rebuilding process in Leyte and Samar.

Belmonte said, however, that he had “great confidence” in Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, who is on top of the project.

Belmonte also urged rehabilitation czar Secretary Panfilo Lacson to identify at least one politician who might be colluding with contractors to purportedly pocket 30 percent to 35 percent in commissions from the construction of bunkhouses.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III, an opposition lawmaker, also vouched for Singson’s integrity.

Singson earlier denied reports of overpricing and said he would resign if proven wrong.

In separate interviews, Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento and House Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna expressed opposing views on whether Congress should investigate the allegations.

Sarmiento, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Party, said the issue should be left with the executive department.

“Let the executive branch look into it,” Sarmiento said. “If there is non-compliance to the specification then let the contractor retrofit the said structure chargeable to their original contract cost for it to meet the standard without additional expense on the part of government,” he added.

“That’s why there is a retention clause in government contracts for things like this and blacklist the said contractor,” Sarmiento said.

Albano also believed that a congressional investigation would “only delay Singson’s work.”

“There is no need to investigate the issue in aid of legislation,” Albano said.

But Tugna disagreed.

“I believe that the allegation of overpricing can be the proper subject of an inquiry in aid of legislation to give a proper and pinpoint definition of a calamity and the elements when a public bidding need not be conducted. This way, possibilities of graft and corruption such as overpricing can be avoided,” Tugna said.

Lacson, a former senator and chief of the Philippine National Police, he has already ordered an investigation into reports of contractors colluding with “at least one politician” in the overpricing of the bunkhouses.

Opposition Senator JV Ejercito on Tuesday also called for a Senate investigation.

“This is not the time to take advantage of the situation when the Visayas is in shambles. We should all be helping to get them back on their feet rather than take advantage of their predicament,” he said.

Singson on Tuesday reiterated that his department would not pay contractors who did not build the bunkhouses to specified standards.

The bunkhouses are supposed to be built with wooden frames, GI sheet roofing, plywood walls, raised flooring, and cement footing.

“There might be a possibility that some of the contractors may have not followed the specifications, and therefore we call them [but] those are two different problems: overpricing and under specification,” he said.

Singson warned that contractors will not be paid if they fail to comply the specified standards unless they correct the defects.

He again assured the public that the bunkhouses were not overpriced.

Each bunkhouse, built on sites identified by local government units, is made up of 24 units for the same number of families, and were completed at a cost of P836,017, which was lower than the original estimated cost of P959,000, Singson said.

He explained that the DPWH was able to cut down the construction costs of bunkhouses after contractors agreed to waive their profits and overhead expenses.

Bunkhouses are temporary shelters for families left homeless, since it will take time to construct permanent housing for them, said Singson.

“With thousands of families with totally damaged houses and nowhere else to go, our government has to act and address immediately the need for temporary shelter,” Singson said.

Also on Tuesday, Senator Loren Legarda, chairman of the committee on climate change, stressed the importance of building safe and resilient homes in communities devastated by disasters.

“We have to realize that these survivors have already lost their homes, and many even their loved ones,” she said.

“We need to rebuild communities with the confidence that we are not rebuilding the risks again. We need to ensure that construction of homes, even the temporary shelters, will be on safer ground following sound construction standards,” Legarda said.

Legarda said Yolanda is the new benchmark for disaster prevention and the country needs to raise the standard for structures.

For instance, structures must be designed to be able to resist winds of more than 300 kph, she said.

She added that local government units must include in their development and investment plans the establishment of shelters that are resilient to typhoons, storm surges and tsunami. With Macon R. Araneta and Joel E. Zurbano

 

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