CATEEL, Davao Oriental—Josie (not her real name) was all praises for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for allowing her and her family to stay in the bunkhouse that the agency built in the village of San Rafael here.
“Typhoon ‘Pablo’ destroyed our house, that’s why we are so thankful to the DSWD,” a smiling Josie told the Inquirer inside her temporary shelter, just one of the 10 rooms of the bunkhouse.
But her mood changed when told that she was living in a P550,000 structure. “What?” a visibly surprised Josie said. “This is made of coconut lumber and plywood,” she said.
When shown the bunkhouse’s cost breakdown provided by engineer Ramos Eusebio, head of the DSWD’s team assigned to build temporary shelters in typhoon-devastated areas in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental provinces, Josie was even more surprised.
Outside the bunkhouse were residents waiting for their turn to receive relief goods. Some of them gathered as the Inquirer told them about how much the bunkhouses cost.
Its kitchen and two sinks, based on Eusebio’s budget breakdown, cost P47,388.38
“That’s just coco lumber and plain sheet,” a resident said.
“And the sinks are just made of concrete with holes in the middle,” another resident said.
The six bathrooms and toilets, three each for males and females, have a total budget of P65,425, also based on Eusebio’s estimate.
“That’s too much for bathrooms that have plywood for walls and basic toilet bowls,” a resident said.
“If the bathrooms have tiled floors and concrete walls, maybe it would cost that much,” he added.
Checking on Eusebio’s list, the residents were shocked to see the P63,107.23 budget for the bunkhouse’s “concrete slab,” or floor.
“How can that be when this used to be a basketball court?” a resident said.
The bunkhouse budget also included P28,602.77 for a “perimeter pathway/hallway.” When checked, there was no need for this as the bunkhouse was built on an existing basketball court.
The bunkhouse in San Rafael is just one of the 21 units that the agency built here and in the towns of Boston and Baganga, which were the hardest-hit by Pablo in the province. Thirty-nine more bunkhouses were built by contractors at P650,000 each. But the San Rafael bunkhouse is, in a way, different from the others—it was built by soldiers belonging to the 544th Engineering Combat Battalion.
DSWD engineer Melvin Cejas, who was in charge of overseeing the construction of the San Rafael bunkhouse, admitted that at least 20 soldiers built it. He said each soldier was paid P100 per day for 10 days for the doing the job.
DSWD records, however, do not show that there was payment of P100 per day to the soldiers.
When asked, Cejas pointed to financial analyst Cris Anne Pormento, a signatory in documents for the liquidation of expenses for labor for the bunkhouse.
Pormento, in a phone interview, said the payment for the soldiers were “lumped,” the reason the “P100 per day” payment could not be seen on the record. She said the soldiers signed the liquidation form after receiving the full amount.
Pormento also said the soldiers were not supposed to be paid for the job as this would mean “double payment,” them being government employees. The “P100 per day” served as food allowance for the soldiers, she said.
Pormento said since food was not available in the area at the time of the construction because this happened just days after the typhoon struck, they had to charge it to “labor.”
DSWD records do not show food allowance was given to the soldiers. Also, nowhere in the two folders with 34 “labor” liquidation forms that the Inquirer checked on Friday and Tuesday, that the signatories have ranks to indicate that these were the soldiers.
Pormento said the soldiers were instructed to sign without their ranks to avoid questions of double payment.
Aside from missing ranks and “P100 per day” entries, the DSWD liquidation records for the eight bunkhouses in Cateel town also lacked the information that would indicate where the units were built. This makes it even harder to determine which documents belong to which bunkhouse.
The liquidation records show varying rates of P200 or P300 for labor; P350, P400 and P500 for carpenters, and a higher rate for foremen.
Lt. Col. Honorio Abenoja, chief of the 544th Engineering Combat Battalion, admitted his soldiers received the P100 per day food allowance when they helped build the San Rafael bunkhouse.
“We were in the area to help in the clearing of debris and relief distribution. So when we heard about the bunkhouse construction, we volunteered to help. While working, they (DSWD) offered to give food allowance,” he said, stressing that the soldiers did not ask for it.
Told about DSWD’s records not showing the payment given to the soldiers, Abenoja said: “We do not know about that. We were there to help.”
Residents of San Rafael said soldiers were at the forefront of the construction of the bunkhouse, prompting them to question Eusebio’s labor cost breakdown that would amount to P70,000.
At the DSWD regional office, Eusebio refused to talk to the Inquirer, saying questions should be answered by the agency’s public information office.
Contrary to claims made by Cejas and Pormento, Mila Segovia, assistant DSWD regional director for administration, said Eusebio’s team explained that the soldiers were paid “cash incentive food provision.” She, however, could not say if this payment was reflected on the liquidation records, which were also signed by regional financial analyst Annabelle Jabla.
Segovia, admitting that the materials were procured “one-time” for all 21 units, also said materials for the concrete floor and hallway of the San Rafael bunkhouse “may have been used in other bunkhouses.” If it were so, then a bunkhouse somewhere in the three towns has a concrete floor thicker than DSWD’s standard of 4 inches.
Failing to explain where the funds for the concrete floor went, Segovia, also a signatory of the documents, insisted that a “post audit” will be conducted on the projects.