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Collateral damage

As if the destruction wrought by a super-typhoon were not enough, now we have a man-made disaster of substandard, sloppily constructed bunk houses for survivors staring us in the face, for shame, for shame.

Jullie Yap DazaThere is a difference, however, between overpricing of those temporary shelters (that look like outhouses) and use of substandard materials and design (scrimping on costs to meet budget requirements). The houses for 24 families are built of wood, plywood, GI sheets, and concrete (for the raised flooring) and cost the government P836,000, discounted from P960,000 when the contractors were persuaded to donate their profits.

Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson was quoted as saying it was possible the contractors did not establish or follow “specified” standards. But as the person in charge, he bore the brunt of widespread suspicion that as usual, DPWH is in on the age-old racket of immoral kickbacks which mark government projects like a loud tattoo – especially as, right on cue, Secretary Ping Lacson echoed reports of “one politician” demanding a 30-35 percent cut from contractors. One politician has openly denied the charges, apparently to kill the story before it would kill his reputation, rightly or wrongly. Is this Yolanda’s collateral damage to our psyche? We suspect every other one of stealing and then selling imported relief goods, we silently accuse government workers of repacking bags of food and clothing, we wonder how many million dollars will be lost between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Happily for Mr. Singson, he has opposition Rep. Rodolfo Albano III to vouch for his integrity, and an architect and urban planner of world renown to come to his defense. Jun Palafox says he did not accuse Mr. Singson of corruption when he “commented on the shelters being undersized and substandard.” But after a telephone conversation where the DPWH chief was “made aware” of international standards based on Mr. Palafox’s experience, the secretary “went to the disaster site to check, and initiated (steps) to improve the designs.”

That’s what doers do that doesn’t land them in the papers, Jun Palafox: “I worked with Babes Singson before, when he was BCDA chairman, with no (taint of) corruption. We need him in our nation-building.”

But first and fast, let’s get moving with the rebuilding. Forget the televised Q-and-A’s in aid of public relations.