While the Department of Education (DepEd) has allowed the use of 17,910 classrooms in the National Capital Region (NCR) as isolation and quarantine facilities, Senator Win Gatchalian said that a permanent evacuation center in every city and municipality should be part of the country’s efforts to ‘build back better’ from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though Republic Act No. 10821 or the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act mandates that the use of classrooms as evacuation centers shall only be a last resort and only for a brief period, Gatchalian observed that Local Government Units (LGUs) still end up using classrooms to provide temporary shelter to displaced persons during calamities.
According to the lawmaker, the continued use of classrooms as evacuation or isolation facilities does not contribute to the building of safe schools and the efforts to embed a culture of safety in the basic education system under the new normal.
This practice is also not sustainable and could delay the resumption of classes in the aftermath of disasters. Gatchalian recalled that when the Taal Volcano erupted early this year, the DepEd reported that the use of 3,083 classrooms prevented 18,314 students from immediately returning to school.
Gatchalian also emphasized that the vulnerability of the Philippines to natural disasters adds urgency for municipalities and cities to have their own permanent evacuation center, which is the objective of Senate Bill No. 747 or the “Evacuation Center Act,” which the senator filed.
Under the proposed measure, these evacuation centers will provide immediate and temporary evacuation for people who have been evacuated or displaced due to typhoons, floods, storm surges, drought, fire, and the outbreak of diseases and illnesses.
Since the construction of permanent evacuation centers in all local government units at the same time is not feasible, the bill mandates the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and LGUs to identify areas that will be given the highest priority. To ease the pressure on the use of classrooms in areas where it will be difficult to have new evacuation centers, the bill also gives the option of constructing additional facilities in schools.
Gatchalian added that when public health emergencies or disease outbreaks occur, these centers can be used to provide additional bed capacity or serve as isolation facilities. He pointed to the example of how the COVID-19 pandemic is straining the healthcare system. As of August 19, 82 percent of ward beds, 69 percent of isolation beds, and 66 percent of intensive care unit beds in NCR are occupied.
“Dahil madalas nakakaranas ang ating bansa ng mga sakuna kung saan kailangan nating ilikas ang mga naapektuhang mamamayan, kailangang pagsikapan din nating magkaroon ng permanenteng evacuation center ang bawat lungsod at munisipalidad sa bansa. Hindi lamang nito patatatagin ang kakayahan ng ating mga lokal na pamahalaan na rumesponde sa mga sakuna, makatutulong din ito upang maiwasan natin ang paggamit sa mga silid aralan at masiguro nating mas mabilis makakabalik ang ating mga mag-aaral pagkatapos ng isang sakuna,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.