Bicol refugees continue to live in tents

By Ephraim Aguilar
Southern Luzon Bureau
Last updated 06:02am (Mla time) 07/05/2007

LEGAZPI CITY – They’ve been there for seven months now—the Supertyphoon “Reming” refugees living in tents, and they don’t know when they will finally be relieved from all the hassles of tent life.


Amid calls by local government officials for a speedy release of funds for disaster rehabilitation, President Macapagal-Arroyo on Tuesday ordered the fast implementation of programs that will provide permanent shelters to thousands of villagers displaced by lahar late last year.


Newly appointed Public Works Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, also the National Disaster Coordinating Council chair, said the government “has given enough resources and it’s just a matter of implementing this in coordination with the local government units.”


But LGUs and government agencies say the funds were not just late, they were also just a “drop in the bucket.”


The government has released P10 billion under the Calamity Assistance, Rehabilitation Effort (CARE) project of the government, to be divided among line agencies. As to how much more are expected to be released, no exact figures were given to the media.


DPWH regional director Orlando Roces earlier said that his office had received P1.3 billion, but it would not be enough to fund long-term projects for rehabilitation.


“The amount is too small if you look at the damage caused by the disaster. Only P770 million would be allotted for Albay out of the total budget for Bicol and it will be used for short-term projects like the repair of roads, bridges and some flood-control facilities,” Roces said.


The DPWH reported to have already completed almost 80 percent of the infrastructure projects worth P1.8 billion and 25 percent for CARE projects amounting to P1.3 billion.


Albert Perfecto, deputy area management officer of the National Housing Authority in Bicol, also said that the agency received the Special Allotment Release Order (Saro) only on June 1 for the P500 million intended for the NHA resettlement plan. The Saro signals the start of the bidding process before the purchase of materials.


A total of P250 million was initially released to the NHA from the fund.


Site development


“We were expecting to receive the funds during Holy Week because it would have been better to develop the relocation sites during summer and not during the rainy season,” Perfecto, an engineer, said.


He added that the NHA was supposed to fast-track site development, creating drainage systems, water and power supply systems, and road networks, but the delayed release of funds “paralyzed” the agency.


Due to the pressing need of relocation, nongovernment organizations like the Gawad Kalinga, Daughters of Charity, Habitat for Humanity and many others, had to start building houses even if the relocation sites were not yet developed.


Perfecto said Albay had already 10 relocation sites with a total area of 96.56 hectares, which will require P306.17 million to develop.


Four more sites totaling 39.45 ha will be acquired, and their development will cost P126.25 million.


Site development would take three to four months in a compressed schedule and six to seven months in a normal schedule, Perfecto said.


The NHA still needed P500 million more from the government to develop enough relocation sites of 100 more ha, he said.


No date was announced as to when families living in tents and makeshift shelters would be transferred to new homes.


Jaimelyn Elep, 32, who is staying at a camp in Barangay Anislag, said that each time a batch of newly built houses was being raffled by the Daughters of Charity, she could only wish it would be her name that would be picked.


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