Ako Bicol Partylist, through Rep. Rodel M. Batocabe, strongly urge local government units to stop using classrooms as emergency evacuation centers in light of the numerous problems encountered by stakeholders in the on-going Mayon eruption.

Since the placement of the Mayon Volcano under Alert Level 3 last September 16 this year, a total of 12,931 families have been forcibly removed around the six-km-radius permanent danger zone and seven-km-radius expanded danger zone. An estimated total of 57,000 individuals are now living in cramped and inadequately equipped 48 evacuation centers in Albay, all of which are situated inside public school campuses.

During the recent hearing in Legazpi City of the Special Committee On Bicol Recovery And Economic Development, headed by Batocabe, the dismal and inhumane living conditions in the evacuation centers were exposed with classrooms accommodating between 30- 60 families or around 120 people including women and children. It was also revealed by the Department of Education that there are 39,317 students in 40 schools who were evicted from their classrooms since these are presently being used as evacuation centers.

“It is about time that there must be a paradigm shift from conveniently using our classrooms as evacuation centers for victims of calamities to sending evacuees to other   government lands and edifices, including setting   up permanent evacuation centers and/or sites. As it is, instead of solving evacuation woes, we are creating a new set of evacuees as a result of the displacement of our teachers and students from their respective classrooms.” Rep. Batocabe said. “Worse, these classrooms are not designed and prepared to adequately meet the needs of these evacuees who face scarcity of water supplies and toilet facilities, poor ventilation and lighting, and overcrowding.”

The Committee members inspected classrooms being used as evacuation centers and found out that aside from being over-crowded, the windows, blackboards, and other instructional materials such as books were damaged since classrooms could not adequately absorb the evacuees. Moreover, students displaced hold classes in temporary congested classrooms, which are usually hot and not conducive to learning.

Batocabe notes that instead of setting up temporary classrooms as alternative learning sites, which reportedly cost 18 M, plus an additional 5 M spent to procure chairs, the amount should have been spent in building temporary shelter for evacuees in other sites.

“Putting evacuees in our schools does not only disrupt the educational process as it destroys the conduciveness of our campuses to learning, but also serves as a magnet for health and sanitation problems. Just imagine an ordinary school with a student population of 900, accommodating at least 500 families or an additional 1,500 people. What we have is a chaotic school campus cum marketplace and an instant barangay located in a small area. Aside from the costs of maintaining our evacuees, we can not adequately quantify the psycho-social costs and productive losses to our schoolchildren, teachers and victims because of this chaotic and congested situation.” Batocabe also stressed that this kind of practice wastes government funds since once the evacuees return to their respective barangays, the schools have to repair damaged classrooms while alternative learning sites temporarily constructed in the campus can no longer be used productively by the school.

The province of Albay under Gov. Joey Salceda, usually undertakes pre-emptive evacuation in school classrooms of residents in geo-hazard zones during typhoons to maintain its claim of zero casualty in disasters. In the on-going Mayon eruption, the province evacuated residents even beyond the 6-kilometer permanent danger zone recommended by the Phivocs, causing congestion and overcrowding in public schools. Unlike victims of other disasters, the Mayon evacuuess have been staying in evacuation centers located in different public schools for almost two months already with no certainty as to when they will be able to return home.

However, after the hearing by the Special Committee on Bicol Recovery and Economic Development, the Albay provincial government allowed the return of evacuees from barangays not falling within the permanent danger zone.

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