Rep. Benitez to sue Yolanda contractor in Eastern Samar project for perjury

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substandard construction work Typhoon Yolanda
Inspection of substandard construction in Typhoon Yolanda housing project.

MANILA, Philippines – Negros Occidental Representative Alfredo Benitez is readying perjury charges against one of the contractors of housing projects in Eastern Samar for victims of typhoon Yolanda for using substandard materials.

Benitez said he will sue contractor Juanito Tayag of J.C. Tayag Builders, Inc. for denying in a committee hearing on September 18 that the materials used in the resettlement houses were not based on the specified requirements.

In a news conference, Benitez said Tayag may also be liable for breach of contract. A series of inspections conducted by the House committee on housing and urban development, headed by Benitez, showed that instead of using 16mm steel bars, the contractor used 12mm bars. And, while the specifications required 10 mm bars, 8mm bars were used as reinforcement for the houses.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone and Ilocos Sur Rep. Deogracias Victor Savellano expressed support to the move to file cases against Tayag.

“Definitely, there’s breach of contract, and we’re also studying the angle of syndicated estafa. I am filing it in an individual capacity,” Benitez said, adding that he would lodge the cases before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

Benitez said J.C. Tayag bagged the contract for P800 million worth of houses in Eastern Samar as part of the rehabilitation program for families affected by the storm surge when super typhoon Yolanda hit the Visayas in 2013.

“The total contract of J.C. Tayag is P800 million, and based on the costing of the undersized bars, there’s a price difference of 30 to 40 percent,” he said.

The issue is currently being investigated by the committee on housing based on House Resolution No. 599 field by Evardone in December 2016. The resolution was seeking investigation into the “perceived snail-paced implementation” of housing relocation and resettlement projects for the Yolanda victims, and for those living in danger zones.

Several lawmakers recently visited several resettlement sites in Leyte and saw the condition of the families.

The Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery or OPARR was created post-Yolanda and drafted the Yolanda Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan that was submitted to then Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in August 2014.

The eight-volume, 8,000-page plan was approved three months later and became the country’s biggest rehabilitation effort since World War II, requiring a total cost of PhP 170 billion to implement programs, plans, and activities in four clusters: infrastructure (PhP 33.9 billion), social services (PhP 26.7 billion), resettlement (PhP 75.7 billion), and livelihood (PhP 33.7 billion). The target is for the rehabilitation to be 80 to 85 percent accomplished before President Aquino completes his term in June 2016.

According to Benitez, the government should have built a total of 205,128 housing units since 2013.

“As of today, four years have passed. Only 23,414 housing units are occupied, a mere 11.4 percent,” he said, adding that according to the National Housing Authority (NHA), around 33 percent or close to 70,000 units have been completed.

Benitez said they also received reports that 73,286 units are still undergoing construction.

Benitez said that during their site visit, they met a subcontractor, who testified about the substandard materials used for the housing units.

The “whistle blower,” Camilo Salazar, an engineer from Balangiga, Eastern Samar, revealed that, for example, instead of using 10 mm steel bars, what were used for some of the houses were 8 mm, which shortchanged the government by 30 percent of the price paid.