Sparing schools

September 05, 2019

It’s a basic principle of physics – no two or more solid objects can occupy the same space at the same time.

The same formula should also apply to emergency sheltering programs of the government when natural calamities or man-made disasters strike.

Public school facilities have historically played and still serially play a double role – that  as formal venues of education of young minds and as refuge from calamities, conflict, and other problems damaging or destroying communities and displacing people from their homes.

But when this happens, one problem is temporarily solved, but another one is created – the displacement of students from their rightful places and disrupting classes and upsetting curricular calendars.

It’s not a win-win solution but a zero-sum proposition.

Thus, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto is calling for the construction of multipurpose gyms in all municipalities and cities to serve as evacuation centers during calamities or disasters.

Recto correctly noted that "schools have traditionally been utilized as default evacuation centers in times of calamities, disasters, conflicts, and emergencies. However, they are not well equipped to accommodate evacuees since they lack the necessary facilities for displaced families".

If passed into law, Senate Bill 47, he said, would direct the Department of Public Works and Highways, to undertake the construction of a multipurpose gym in every municipality and city throughout the country which “shall serve as a civic center and as an evacuation center for residents during calamities and disasters”.

The use of schools, he said, displaces students, as families cannot immediately vacate school premises because their houses have not been repaired or reconstructed.

This relegates students to makeshift classrooms that are not conducive to learning, the senior lawmaker noted.

"The use of schools as evacuation centers could take away from the meager budget what could be used for more permanent solutions to problems brought about by disasters," he said.

The former Socio-economic Planning chief said the construction of multipurpose gyms in the country's 1,489 municipalities and 145 cities would be a permanent recourse for evacuation in times of calamities and natural or man-made disasters.

"The gym must be able to withstand typhoons, earthquakes and other disasters. It must also be designed to have space that can be used flexibly for social activities, sporting events, and as sleeping quarters during the evacuation," he said.

Under the proposed bill, the facilities “shall be easily accessible to evacuees and to emergency rescue personnel. It shall also be kept at a safe distance from danger areas or hazards”.