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Yolanda housing contractor may be held for plunder, estafa —House panel

The contractor for the Yolanda housing project in Eastern Visayas may face plunder and estafa complaints over the allegedly anomalous construction of housing units for the victims of the typhoon in 2013.

This was revealed by Negros Occidental Representative Alfred Benitez, chair of the House Committee on Housing and Urban Development.

The House panel investigated the perceived snail-paced implementation of housing relocation and resettlement projects for those affected by Typhoon Yolanda.

Benitez said their investigation showed that out of the target 205,128 housing units covered by the project, only 11.4 percent or 23,414 units were occupied, while only 33 percent or 73,286 units are undergoing construction.

This, even as more than P60 billion of the P75 billion allocation for the project sourced from the 2013 national budget have already been utilized.

"When we visited the site, we were not convinced that this is the actual number. We asked the Commission on Audit (COA) to do the investigation and validate these figures," the congressman said.

"Four years, nakakaawa po. The victims of the calamity are still suffering today," he added.

Benitez also revealed that according to a whistleblower, Engr. Camilo Salazar, the materials used for the construction of the housing units were "substandard."

Salazar is an authorized subcontractor of J.C. Tayag Builders Incorporate, the main contractor for the project.

"We were able to stumble [upon] one whistleblower who testified that the materials they used for the project were substandard," he said.

The lawmaker said that based on Salazar's testimony, 10 millimeters of steel rods were supposed to be to use for the structure for the housing units.

However, he said Salazar claimed what they used were rusty 8-millimete steel rods.

"J.C. Tayag cornered 80 percent of the projects in Eastern Samar," Representative Ben Evardone said.

"We will also ask the NHA (National Housing Authority) to explain why the contracts went to J.C. Tayag," he added.

Leyte Representative Vicente Veloso, for his part, said J.C. Tayag is guilty of estafa.

"When he impressed upon the government na kaya niyang magtayo ng livable na mga bahay, only to find out na substandard ang mga bahay," he said.

NHA officials, meanwhile, can be held liable for gross negligence, Veloso added.

But for Benitez and Evardone, J.C. Tayag can already be held liable for plunder, since the amount involved is more than P50 billion.

"Yung principal na contractor, essentially plunder 'yan," Benitez said, adding that they will still look at the other possible cases that may be filed.

The House panel is planning to conduct a deeper investigation into the matter, with the help of the Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability.

The COA and the Department of Public Works and Highways should also look into the structural integrity of the houses constructed for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda, they added. —ALG, GMA News