Press Release
July 11, 2015

Students are displaced too when schools become evacuation centers - Recto

So that classes will not be disrupted when public schools are used as evacuation centers during calamities, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph G. Recto has proposed the construction of disaster-resilient gyms that can serve as refuge for people displaced by man-made or natural catastrophes.

Recto explained that disasters displace two kinds of people: those who are directly hit, and the children, who, though unscathed, have to temporarily give up their classrooms to evacuees.

"When classrooms become the default evacuation areas, it creates another class of evacuees - students, whose schooling is disrupted," Recto said.

"In any calamity, students are the collateral damage. 'Pag may sunog, eskwelahan kaagad ang ginagawang boarding house. 'Pag umapaw ang ilog, at kailangan magpalikas ng tao, sa mga paaralan pa rin ang takbo," he lamented.

"Even in conflict areas, schools automatically become the temporary shelter of those displaced by fighting," Recto said, "and if the latter lasts for weeks, then students go on early or unscheduled vacation."

Although it will be "totally impossible to firewall schools from the misfortune of the communities where they're located," Recto said there are schemes that will prevent schools from being "the only available hostel for the unfortunate."

One of these is the establishment of a network of disaster-proof gyms nationwide.

"What is being envisioned is a multi-purpose civic center, which can be the venue for events on ordinary days but when calamity strikes, could take in evacuees," said Recto.

"Ang gym na ito ay hindi lang pang-disaster, pero pang sports pa. Ibig sabihin, sa panahon na walang bagyo or sakuna, pwedeng pagdausan ng sports tournaments, o kaya ng mga programa, seminars, or assemblies," he said.

"Kahit sa dami ng evacuees natin taun-taon, hindi naman praktikal na magtayo ng mga dormitory para sa mga magiging biktima. Unang-una, magastos. At kung walang kalamidad, e di nakatiwangwang lang ang mga ito," he said.

"So why not adopt the Swiss-knife kind of a structure? One that can, for example, host programs during summer, and then can hold evacuees during typhoons," Recto said.

The gym, he explained, can be the place where disaster rescue equipment, emergency supplies are stored, and "the rallying point for emergency rescue personnel."

According to Recto, such a structure will hit two-birds with one stone. "Address the shortage of covered sports facilities in municipalities and the need for a safe building people can seek shelter in during a calamity."

He recommended these "quake-, flood-, typhoon-proof gyms" be built in all of the country's 1,490 towns and big barangays in the 144 cities nationwide.

"The ideal is to have a one-gym-per-town program. At kung pang-disaster yan, its design must include provisions for water, toilets, as sanitation is one problem during disaster evacuation," he said.

Recto also said that building new gyms is cheaper than retrofitting existing ones.

To fund this, he urged Malacanang "to pilot the building of these through an appropriation in the 2016 national budget."

"Kung tatlong trilyong piso ang budget next year, baka naman pwede maglaan ng pondo para matayo kahit ng ilang prototype. Dapat tingnan ito bilang isang disaster-mitigation spending," he said.

A parade of cyclones from 2004 to 2014 left 14,150 dead, 46,691 injured, 4,169 missing; damaged 4.5 million houses and destroyed P338 billion worth of property.

40,696 fire incidents from 2010 to 2013 claimed 990 lives, injured 2,874, and destroyed P27.1 billion worth of property.

"We are the second most disaster-prone country in the world. Mass evacuation is a predictable event in this county. Yet against this certainty, we respond in an ad hoc manner by sequestering schools as temporary shelter when we can have a better go-to place during emergencies," Recto said.

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