Now two years passed since typhoon Yolanda hit most part of the Visayas, the status for most of the survivors is still far from okay. The immediate needs identified by the survivors themselves at the start of the rehabilitation work by the government remain unresolved up to this day. One that may be considered as common sentiment for those affected by the disaster is the provision on permanent housing. However, based on the report of the National Housing Authority (NHA) presented before the House Special Committee on Climate Change, as of October 22, 2015, of the 205 128 housing needs for 12 provinces affected by the typhoon Yolanda, only 3424 has been completed. In the case of Tacloban City, for example, the progress is very slow with only 660 completed permanent housing units against the 14 433 total identified by the local government. This rather stagnant pace of response had been met with much criticisms coming from different outfits yet, and frustratingly, it seems to appear now that everyone else’s from both the local and national government had already shifted mode to business as usual. In addition, the overwhelming media mileage typhoon Yolanda enjoyed before is now caught in great fatigue and was reduced to a rather symbolic, sensationalized, annual commemoration.
The NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NFR) has long been involved with the issues besetting the rehabilitation of Yolanda-affected communities especially in coastal areas. It has especially documented peculiarities of the fishers regarding what intervention might be acceptable for them. It is through this advocacy of consultative solution that led the organization to conduct a Fact Finding Mission with the objective to keep track of any development and emerging issues now that a significant amount of time has lapsed. The municipalities covered by this rapid study were Tacloban City, Palo, Basey, Marabut, Tanauan, Guiuan, Salcedo, and Mercedes. Together with the other members of the civil society, NFR developed one discussion guide for both key informant interview (KII) with local government officials and focus group discussion (FGD) with the different sectors. The discussion guide mainly touches the following points: (1) knowledge about the government policy on Safe Zones, Unsafe Zones and No Dwelling Zones or better known as the No Build Zone, (2) knowledge on how the local government implemented the policy, (3) perception on the policy whether they agree with it or not, (4) to know whether there have been any consultation conducted on the policy and on resettlement and livelihood, (5) to know whether there have been cases of displacement and disruption to livelihood due to enforcement, if any, of the policy, and (6) recommendations to further improve the policy.
STILL REFERRED TO AS “40 METERS NO BUILD ZONE”
It is important to stress out from this point that there were no consultations conducted by the government on the policy on Safe, Unsafe Zones, and No Dwelling Areas or still referred to by the communities as the 40 Meters No Build Zone. The basic understanding of the FGD participants in the nine municipalities on the policy is its prohibition on having their houses from being fixed if it happens to be located within the 40 meters reference point. They said that this policy only came about right after the typhoon Yolanda hit. When asked from whom they learned this information, all they can think of are the markers put up by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). They have always heard of that the reason for the 40 Meters No Build Zone is to keep them away from the dangers of flooding, river overflow, and storm surges. In the case of Brgy. 83-A and Brgy. 88 in Tacloban City, local officials presented to them hazard maps and pointed out that areas marked in red are the danger zones. Notwithstanding its worth, residents of the two barangays found hard time locating exactly their dwellings in the maps. It then came to our knowledge that the reason for the disjunction is that the hazard maps of Tacloban City only got a 1:10000 resolution or one that has a city-wide view instead of an area-specific.
Except in some selected barangays in Tacloban City, no one really from the local government explained to the communities anything about danger zones. Rather, large chunk of information dissemination and awareness on risks was shouldered by non-government organizations (NGOs) as the participants in Guiuan revealed. Apart from preventing people from rebuilding their houses, FGD participants closely associate No Build Zone to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s (DWSD) Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) Program which amounts to Php30000 for totally damaged houses and Php15000 for those with partially damaged. According to them, the same policy was used by DSWD to deprive many survivors of the cash grant. This is because after typhoon Yolanda hit, due to the absence of housing alternative then and even until now, most people returned to their original dwellings to rebuild their houses–only to find out later that some of these areas have already been categorized to be No Build Zone. This selective giving of assistance is very evident in Tacloban City and Marabut but not in other municipalities. In Salcedo, those living within the 40 meters where just made to sign a waiver in order for them to claim the money.
It was only the local government of Tacloban City which passed an ordinance to enforce the government policy of 40 Meters No Build Zone. According to FGD participants in Brgy. 83-A, though there was no any case of forced relocation that has happened yet, an impending one has already been set before the year ends. If this proves to be true, residents of Brgy. 88 said that this will have big impact on dangit production since they contribute more than 60% to its total yearly production.
Instead of a hard-line enforcement of the policy, what may be considered as subtle imposition of the 40 Meters No Build Zone was the relocation made by the nine local government units (LGUs) –Guiuan has1000 transitional shelters in Brgy. Cogon and 600 permanent housing units in Brgy. Tagpuro, Salcedo has 107 transitional shelters in Brgy. Palanas and 79 in Brgy. Caga-ut, and Marabut has 148 transitional shelters in Brgy. Mabukali. These housing units were mostly sponsored by NGOs and it is because of this fact that FGD participants in Mercedez and Salcedo believe that they were the ones who in some way enforced the No Build Zone policy. They said that one condition before receiving either a transitional or permanent housing unit has been to agree to have it build beyond the 40 meters danger area. The case however is different in Palo for residents have successfully negotiated with NGOs to have their transitional shelters built from where they originally lived despite the presence of a river in the vicinity of barangays. On a different note but related to assistance giving, some participants in Mercedez pointed out that those survivors living on the hilly portion were only given tarpaulins.
Given the dynamics of NGOs, it is clear that majority of the survivors still live in transitional housing sites and not in permanent houses. One reason for this is that LGUs do not easily pass requirements of the National Housing Authority. The Municipal Planning and Development Officer of Salcedo shared that NHA disapproved their first endorsed site for permanent housing in Brgy. Palanas. In a different circumstance, Mercedez has still yet to confirm with NHA if the municipality was indeed included in its housing program.
THE RELOCATION WAS VOLUNTARY
The transfer of people to transitional and permanent relocation sites was said to be done on a voluntary basis and not because they were forced to. Participants who agreed to be transferred only did so because they do not have the money to rebuild their house. In particular to those in transitional relocation sites in Guiuan, they agreed to be relocated because it’s the only way they could get to permanent housing. However, they now have this feeling of insecurity brought about by whether they were really included in the beneficiary list for permanent housing or not. They too are not sure about the details of the relocation including when will be the houses finally completed and what will be the payment arrangement.
Regarding the beneficiaries of housing projects given by NGOs, the situation was not similar for everyone. Lucky were those whose NGOs answered both the housing and land purchase like what AMURT did with the 80 beneficiaries coming from barangays Hagnaya & Asgad in Salcedo. But for NGOs that could only finance the house itself and the LGU having no money to purchase land, the survivors were made to enter into a rent payment scheme. This was observed in both Mercedez and Salcedo wherein beneficiaries negotiated with the private landowner that they will just pay the rent for the portion of land that they will be using to establish their transitional house. It is said that rent ranges from Php50.00 to Php100.00 per month. In Brgy. Cambante in Mercedez, the female barangay captain generously allowed them to use her land for the establishment of transitional housing units.
IMPACT ON LIVELIHOOD
As the case has been after the typhoon hit, survivors either transferred to transitional and permanent housing or just stayed in their former location. With these variants in terms of domicile, impact on livelihood and overall social being was asymmetric for everyone. Fishers of Brgy. 83-A in Tacloban City, Marabut, Tanauan, Salcedo, and Mercedez who did not agree to be relocated recorded no change in their livelihood. The same is true for the fishers of Palo who now continue to catch balanak, bangus, sardines, dilis, sugpo, hipon, alimasag, alimango, and gather various seashells including talaba, tuway, and susu in San Pedro Bay. However, they shared that the bay is now being flooded with illegal fishing activities including dynamite, troll, and hulbot hulbot fishing. Another problem faced by the fishers of Palo is that most of them have small boats and for those with bigger boats, though they could sail until 10 kilometers off the municipal water, they don’t have the appropriate fishing gears to catch fish. Further, they shared that the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) only gave them plywood and nails to fix their damaged boats.
The case is different for those fishers who are now living in transitional relocation sites. In Guiuan, they now have to shell out additional Php30.00 transportation expense for a roundtrip tour back to their former location. This happens when they are to eat lunch in their houses in the resettlement site then go back to the shore again to continue fishing. One female participant whose source of income is through fish vending also has to spend on transportation expense — the amount depending on how many trips she has to make, which is influenced by the request/demand of her loyal patrons. This trend has also been observed in Brgy. 88 in Tacloban City. In addition to transportation expense for livelihood reason, they now also need to spend extra money for transportation in sending their children to school. One female participant in Brgy. 88 shared that she has to spendPhp100.00 in sending her child to school. Participants from Brgy. 88 also mentioned of the relatively higher price of basic commodities in resettlement sites. There was also this case in Brgy. 88 wherein a fisherfolk father who returned to the barangay to earn living found a new partner while his wife and children are in the relocation site.
YES BUT WITH RESERVATIONS
The residents of Brgy. 88 in Tacloban City firmly said that they are not in favor with the No Build Zone policy. One major consideration weighed in for this decision is livelihood with them being mostly fishers and Brgy. 88 is situated near Cancabato Bay. Despite the standing municipal ordinance on No Build Zone, majority opted to build shanties in their original dwelling location. If the concern is on safety, they said that they would just evacuate during typhoon since PAGASA has means to predict its date of landfall. And though relocation sites are indeed free from any threat of storm surge and flooding, they reasoned out that they are just gonna die in starvation there. They proposed that instead of relocating them to the northern, remote part of Tacloban City, on-site housing with tenurial security must be given. Relocation is also seen not as an option for the FGD participants in Palo. They said that only twice did it happen when rivers in barangays and this was not during storm surge brought by Yolanda. Moreover, when asked if they are willing to shift livelihood, the answer was not. They also raised concern whether the new environment that will be introduced to them would be as peaceful as where they are currently living.
The rest of the participants from the nine municipalities cannot entirely say that they too are in favor with the policy for they have reservations. If relocation should not be avoided, all they wanted is for the government to speed up the construction of permanent housings and provide them with sustainable livelihood. FGD participants would also like to ensure that the relocation sites are equipped with water and electricity connections, health center, church, market, and transportation service since most of these sites are far from municipal center. As long as there is no sure permanent housing, residents of Marabut would continue to stay in the No Build Zone areas because of livelihood concern. Residents of Guiuan pointed out that the row house designs of NHA are too small hence not really comfortable especially for large families and again raised doubt on why they should pay for the housing unit. And with the rather selective choosing of beneficiaries, FGD participants of Tanauan suggested for the government to have a credible, independent survey system. Another common sentiment shared by most is that if the government cannot provide permanent housing, they are fine with evacuation centers.
Article written by Mr. Erlo Matorres