A decade-long suffering: Yolanda survivors still deprived of essential services

Inside the house of a resident of Greendale, a resettlement area in Tacloban North. (Photo by Gene Albert Coles)By GENE ALBERT S. COLES


TACLOBAN CITY – As the world remembers the aftermath of Yolanda (international name Haiyan), survivors residing in Tacloban North face their daily nightmares in their newly found homes haunted by poverty and inequality exacerbated by poor social and economic services.

In 2013, Tacloban City was among the worst hit by super typhoon Yolanda. The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council reported that its trail left approximately 6,300 casualties, over 28,000 injured, more than 1,000 missing, and approximately P93 billion worth of infrastructural damage. Moreover, it also left approximately 16,000 families homeless.

The National Housing Authority (NHA) in 2014 spearheaded the construction of over 14,000 socialized housing units, which began to be distributed to beneficiaries in 2015 and later turned over to the City Government in 2020, in response to latter’s demand for control and jurisdiction so as to bolster action to address issues and problems affecting the communities.

As new doors opened, the past ten years remained challenging for the survivors. Several post-disaster studies documented that some communities, if not all, are deprived of access to quality essential social services.

A decade after Yolanda, survivors have to grapple with the absence of reliable and potable water supply, inadequate housing space and absence of certificate of ownership, high transportation costs, limited income opportunities and food insecurity, and absence of clear mechanism to hear grievances.

Lack of potable water supply

In 2015, City Councilor Jerry S. Uy, chairman of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, in a forum with several NGOs discussed some of the salient issues in the resettlement areas. He highlighted that provision of basic services such as potable water remains a pressing concern for residents despite the pronouncement of Tacloban City Mayor Alfred Romualdez that he would not permit transfer to permanent housing if there is no potable water supply.

To this day, the problem of potable water supply remains prevalent.

For some families, especially the urban poor, access to clean and potable water in resettlement sites remains a luxury, and is considered as a scarce resource that tends to exclude less affluent households and families.

‘Primo’, 55 years old, a resident of Greendale for six years, and a for-hire water delivery boy, mentioned that they have to pay P4.00 per plastic container with a capacity of around five gallons.

He added that the water they get from a provider, which he refused to mention, is not potable and only good for ‘laundry’ and ‘dishes’. He also mentioned that their supply depends on the volume of the water delivered by a local water concessionaire. Hence, when the last drop of water runs out, their entire block will have no supply of water for the rest of the day and they will have to wait for the next ration.

Another water delivery boy, Ricky Bostillos, 52 years old, also a resident of Greendale for seven years, also complained of the lack of clean and potable water supply. He stated that he has to visit Guadalupe heights, a nearby village, to fetch water that costs 2 pesos per ‘jug’.

“Those who request for my service pay P2 for the water. They preferred paying such an amount because the water is good compared to ‘hand pumps’ where water becomes dirty after a day,” Bostillos stated, adding that their water source is far so he complains for having to spend a 30-minute walk to carry water from Guadalupe heights back and forth.

Bostillos also mentioned that since the water tank was built, residents are already paying for it. But their supply stops from noon onwards, as immense heat from the sun dries their water supply.

Both Primo and Bostillos mentioned that the said water is not potable so they are pushed to buy ‘mineral water’ from a local supplier costing an average of 25 to 30 pesos per ‘jug’. Thus, aside from the lack of potable water source, their experience also suggests the lack of reliable water supply.

Meanwhile, one of the households connected with a local water concessionaire, Rodolfo Basas, 79 years old, mentioned that their water supply only lasts until 6:00 in the morning, so they need to begin collecting water as early as 4:00 in the morning.

Moreover, aside from the lack of potable water supply, poor sanitation is also seen as another related problem arising in the communities in resettlement sites.

In a press conference after the Grand Launching of People Museum for Climate Justice at UP Tacloban College last November 6, Judah Aliposa, a private sector representative for Disaster Resiliency from Regional Development Council, mentioned that the cholera outbreak in 2022 stems from resettlement site’s lack of clean and potable water supply and absence of proper collection of garbage.

“Mayor said why [did] we have [an] incidence of Cholera last year? It is because there is no water, no proper collection of waste, and proper transportation,” Aliposa said, adding that up until today supply of water remains a key problem where residents have to pay for water per gallon.

Lack of affordable public transport

Aside from problems on sanitation and access to systematic garbage collection, Aliposa also highlighted the issue on transportation. His statement supports Uy’s statement in 2015 where he estimated that public transport is costly for residents who earn relatively lower income.

Marites Demesillo, 65, a housewife and resident of Greendale for seven years, stated that a one-way trip to the downtown area costs an average of P35 to P40 pesos.

For a senior citizen like Demesillo, she must spend an average of P70 to P80 pesos for transportation expenses to avail of health and financial assistance. The same goes true for minimum-wage workers earning P250 to P375 pesos per day.

The relatively high transportation cost to reach nearby destinations inhibits residents from accessing needed services such as healthcare.

Concordia Bucatcat, 70, a stroke patient from Greendale, stated that she wants to visit GMA village for a free consultation and request for medical supplies but she is unable to do so due to lack of budget for transportation.

“I am very eager to go to GMA, a nearby village, but I cannot afford it because I don’t have money to pay for transportation,” Bucatcat said in Waray.

Rodolfo Basas (left), 79, and Concordia Bucatcat (right), 70, sitting in front of their house. Condordia is a stroke patient who cannot afford to visit hospital for consultation. (Photo by Gene Albert Coles)

The case of Bucatcat exemplifies how social mobility and access to health becomes a luxury for the urban poor in the resettlement sites.

Income opportunity and food insecurity

Moreover, there are not enough livelihood opportunities for those living in the resettlement areas.

This absence of income opportunities is exacerbated by gaps in education and skills as well as capacity to sustain transportation expenses.

For instance, a resident mentioned that he only reached Grade 3 and he is unable to hear clearly. Although his body can still do manual labor, he is worried that his hearing disability may affect his performance at work, hence, he resorted to becoming a water delivery boy, earning an average of P50 to P100 pesos a day.

“If only I am not disabled I could have had work, but income becomes difficult for someone like me.. For others, earning is not difficult because they have a healthy body so they have no problem finding a job. For me it is a challenge, because if I apply, I may be accepted but I anticipate that one week is already long before being kicked out. So I take the opportunity to be a water delivery boy while households have no water connection, but soon it will become a problem for me when they already have their own faucets,” Bostillos said, adding that he might get kicked out because he might not be receptive to instructions and orders from his immediate supervisor.

Bostillos, who is residing with his wife, mentioned that because of the limited income opportunity, they have to endure food insecurity. For them, viand is a luxury.

“Sometimes we can barely afford to buy viands for over a week, and we rely on rice. So when I earn more than a hundred from delivering water, we prioritize buying rice. Because if we choose to buy viand our money is not enough, so we prioritize rice at least we can pair it with salt,” Bostillos related.

He also added that they supplement their needs with anything from his small backyard. “We eat sauteed sweet potato tops from lunch to dinner, and as I mentioned, if ever I earn money from delivering water, we prioritize rice to viand because rice may last for two days while viand does not, and we try to budget our food so we can survive,” he said.

Rodolfo Basas, 79, who previously worked for 20 years carrying goods and commodities in Tacloban City Public Market, shares the same challenges.

Basas’s ability to generate income, however, is limited by his aging body, which makes it a challenge for him to support his personal needs and the needs of his dependents.

“Since senior citizens were prohibited from traveling due to Covid-19, I already stopped going to the market. Second, I’m already weak, I cannot even lift a single container, so I already stopped,” Basas said.

Basas and his wife rely on the ‘irregular support’ provided by their children and the stipends for senior citizens amounting to P3,000 pesos which they receive once every six months. He complains that the P3,000 support is inadequate to support them with their daily needs.

On most days, Rodolfo Basas and his wife only have salt to go with rice. (Photo by Gene Albert Coles)

“The stipends for senior citizens are only good for paying debt. But debtors only permitted us to incur loans when they heard that pay-out for seniors was near. The P3,000 is not enough no matter how hard we try to skimp on expenses,” Basas said in Waray.

Legal ownership of housing units and inadequate space

Bostillos also expressed concern about the status of ownership of their housing unit. As of today, they have not received any certification that they own the property, and it made them worried that even though they have been in the place for over seven years, they are not yet secured since they hold no legal document.

“We believe that our stay is temporary and there would come a time that we would be asked to leave because we have no certification that proves our ownership. I’ve been worrying about this but we hope that it will not happen since we have been here for seven years,” Bostillos said.

Aside from the absence of legal proof of ownership, the houses are not also suitable for big families.

Divina Magpili, 20, a resident of Greendale since 2015, belongs to an extended family of 13 members.

Magpili lives with three other families in a single housing unit owned by his late father.

Divina Magpili lives in this housing unit with 13 other individuals. (Photo by Gene Albert Coles)

“In this house, we are like sardines. There are four families and 13 members living together,” Divina stated, adding that their roof is leaking, their backdoor is prone to flooding while the door of their comfort room is prone to clogging.

Magpili relies on her husband who is an electrician, and her mother who is a vegetable vendor. She was only able to reach Grade 12 because her family can no longer support her college education.

Lack of clear mechanism to address grievances

Based on interviews with 20 different representatives of homeowners associations in Tacloban North, a common complaint they shared is the long queues before actions are taken to address their plights.

One resident who requested anonymity said that before they can implement a project or conduct an activity, they are required to seek permission first from authorities. From simple declogging of sewage to feeding programs, and livelihood to social activities, all these have to be coordinated and approved first by the concerned barangay and authorities.

Unequal recovery

Ten years after Yolanda, the survivors residing in Greendale continue to be haunted by poverty, and marginalized by the lack of access to essential basic services.

A 2022 study by Ginbert Cuaton and Ladylyn Mangada highlighted that residents in some resettlement sites continue to be confronted by the issue of inaccessibility of essential social services such as water, education, and healthcare.

In their seven-page article, the researchers concluded that the challenges experienced by the communities is a result of poor development choices. “.. [t]hese challenges are consequences of various actors’ poor development choices and actions during the contentious processes of post-Haiyan recovery and rehabilitation,” they pointed out. (RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

*The author is editor-in-chief of UP Vista, student publication of University of the Philippines Tacloban. This story is supported by the German Embassy Manila as part of Bulatlat’s project titled, “Advancing human rights reporting in the Philippines as a tool for upholding gender fairness, democracy and accountability.” 

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