The heated confrontation between People Surge members and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Regional Director Nestor Ramos today resulted in a recommendation from the Regional Office to distribute the much needed Emergency Shelter Assistance (ESA) to those living in No Dwelling Zones (NDZ).
In a letter addressed to DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman, Director Ramos recommended “financial assistance to survivors (affected families) in ‘no build zone’ while waiting for their completion of their permanent housing units.”
At present, the Memorandum Circular No. 24 (MC24) or the ESA Guidelines prohibits those in NDZs to receive the said cash assistance.
“No less than the Regional Director has affirmed that NDZ dwellers deserve cash assistance,” Pol Escalona, Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY)-Tacloban Chapter said.
“This is one step victory for us disaster survivors. DSWD “Dinky” Soliman should ultimately scrap the memorandum and give to NDZ dwellers what they duly deserve. Two years of waiting is more than enough,” he added.
In the petition letter signed by several organizations under the banner of People Surge, the biggest alliance of disaster survivors in the country, the alliance argued that the ESA does not serve its purpose since its distribution has not been timely.
No less than Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon Soliman conceded she said in a media (ANC) interview that ESA should just be a “shelter assistance” and no longer an “emergency shelter assistance.”
ESA versus pabalay?
In a statement, KUSOG Han Barangay 37, a local organization of KADAMAY in Barangay 37 Reclamation Area Tacloban and affiliate of People Surge, said that ESA and permanent housing should not be made mutually exclusive.
“The government has always reasoned out that those living in NDZs should not be given ESA because we are the priority in the permanent resettlement. But where are those houses? The National Housing Authority itself said that completion of the resettlement would still be in 2017,” the statement with a subtitle “ESA vs pabalay” reads.
The group argued that disaster survivors should benefit from both ESA and permanent resettlement, stating that the budget for each was appropriated to two different government agencies: ESA was budgeted under DSWD while the permanent housing under NHA.
The rationale of the ESA, as stated in the Memorandum itself, is an “urgent assistance for the purchase of housing materials for the repair and reconstruction of their damaged houses.”
“We ask you, Director, doesn’t your good office want us to live in resilient homes while we wait for the promised shelter? The National Housing Authority said the completion of the project would still be in 2017. If your good office is genuinely concerned about our safety and welfare, EMERGENCY Shelter Assistance should be given to us while we await for the permanent housing,” People Surge petition letter reads.
In her speech before the DSWD office, KUSOG member and internally displaced Anaceta Ugcela, said the City Housing told them that the permanent housing would only be free for five years. After five years, they have to pay Php 200 every month, not inclusive of water and electricity, for thirty years. After ten years, monthly rental would cost Php 600, she said.
ESA in numbers
Ramos, during the dialogue, said the ESA distribution has already been completed, stating that ESA in Daram, Samar has already been downloaded by virtue of an order from the Malacanang.
Daram, Samar was earlier reported to be the sole municipality in the Visayas where ESA has not been distributed. It is an island-town in Samar considered to be a ‘high-risk zone’.
Negotiators from People Surge argued that if the national government can bend with the MC24 rules just to save itself from embarassment, then why can’t it do the same for the rest of the NDZ dwellers affected by Yolanda (international name: Haiyan)?
People Surge believes that distributing ESA to NDZs is just a matter of political will.
In its petition letter, the alliance said that there is still a possible remaining budget of Php 1.87 billion since DSWD only reported Php 7.5 billion released out of the Php 9.4 billion ESA budget released for Eastern Visayas.
“The amount could well serve 62,280 households in Eastern Visayas if distributed. On top of this, a Commission on Audit (COA) report also noted that there still remains Php 923 million disaster funds lying idle in banks,” the petition letter reads.
In Tacloban alone, there are still roughly 10,000 families living in NDZs awaiting for the ESA.
The 79 members of KUSOG Han Barangay 37 was joined in by fellow disaster survivors from San Jose, Apitong and Diit, all in Tacloban City. People Surge chapters in Tanauan and Julita, Leyte also attended.
People Surge in Tanauan brought up the issue of converting the ESA to a voucher.
They said totally damaged houses in Tanauan did not receive the entire Php 30,000 cash assistance originally intended. They were given Php 10,000 and those with vouchers were given tin roofs and construction materials which, based on their computation, do not amount to Php 20,000.
People Surge-Tanauan leader Mario Abelgas said this is not the way ESA should be distributed.
He said their group already trooped Tanauan Mayor Tecson Lim. Lim, however, said he is not following the process of MC24. Instead, he distributed the ESA on the basis of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) which he signed with the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office (MSWDO) way before the MC24 came into order last November 2014.
For his part, DSWD Regional Director Ramos said Local Government Units (LGUs) should abide with the MC24 in its distribution of ESA.
Meanwhile, People Surge Julita also brought to the attention of Director Ramos the issue of their local government restricting them from receiving ESA on the basis that they are beneficiaries of housing programs by certain non-government organizations (NGOs).
Alfredo Silvano, People Surge leader of Julita, Leyte, said distribution of ESA should not be selective because Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) had not been selective in its destruction.
Silvano also reiterated that ESA and housing should be treated separately and not use the latter as a precondition for the former.
The group also held a dialogue with the MSWDO on the matter but said they are yet to confirm of distribution. The national office of DSWD responded via email that local MSWDO should stick to MC24 guidelines.
The groups which trooped to the DSWD Regional Office earlier was close to 100, contrary to Director’s conservative assumption of “at least 20 people.” Groups which joined the protest earlier were KADAMAY, KUSOG Han Barangay 37, Senior Citizen—Barangay 37, Persons with Disabilities—Barangay 37, Gabriela Women’s Party, People Surge—Tanauan, People Surge—Julita, and individuals from Barangay 88 San Jose. #