Bicol solons propose disaster-resilient evac centers

August 3, 2022 People's Tonight 378 views

WITH more than 8,000 families or over 33,000 persons displaced by the magnitude 7 earthquake that jolted Northern Luzon last week, four CamSur legislators led by Representative LRay Villafuerte have pressed for the establishment of fully-equipped, fully-operational evacuation centers not only in Abra and the rest of the tremor-hit provinces but in all other cities and municipalities nationwide for the benefit of underprivileged families who suffer the most during typhoons, tremblers and other natural disasters.

Villafuerte and his three province mates – Representatives Miguel Luis Villafuerte and Tsuyoshi Anthony Horibata and Bicol Saro Rep. Nicolas Enciso VIII – have filed House Bill (HB) No. 1091 providing for immediate and temporary accommodation for people who have been evacuated or dislocated from their homes because of emergency events such as earthquakes; typhoons, floods, storm surges, droughts, and other severe climate disturbances; fires; and disease outbreaks that present imminent danger to life and property.

As thousands of families were forced to flee their homes and seek shelter in temporary evacuation centers or makeshift tents or stay with their relatives or friends after the July 28 trembler, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. ordered during his subsequent inspection of the quake-hit areas the distribution of tarpaulins for the temporary makeshift shelters of the affected families.

In its latest situation report, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) bared that 82,336 families or 314,161 individuals from 996 barangays in the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) were affected by the July 28 earthquake.

The NDRRMC said that Thursday morning’s tremor displaced 1,113 families or 3,891 people in 42 evacuation centers as of this week. Another 7,422 displaced families comprising 30,400 persons were not in evacuation centers.

“The dislocation of thousands of families as an offshoot of the magnitude-7 earthquake that jolted Abra and other parts of the North has underlined anew the urgency of establishing disaster-resilient evacuation centers for the temporary shelter of those adversely affected by the onslaught of natural calamities and disease outbreaks,” said LRay Villafuerte, who had long batted for the establishment of disaster-resilient evacuation centers across the country.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and this latest earthquake have heightened the need for the construction of permanent evacuation centers in every city and municipality to ensure that evacuees have enough safe, well-ventilated, comfortable private spaces to go to during times of disasters,” added Villafuerte, who is vice president for political affairs of the National Unity Party (NUP).

HB 1091 provides that evacuation centers shall be constructed and designed to withstand super typhoons or wind speeds of at least three hundred kilometers per hour (300 kph) and seismic activity of at least 8.0 magnitude.

The bill specifies that these facilities must be calamity-resilient, built with sturdy materials, and following the specifications of Republic Act (RA) No. 6541, otherwise known as the “National Building Code of the Philippines”, or shall be at par with the standards set by the International Building Code.

“The Philippines is susceptible to natural hazards, unforeseen disasters, and other calamities because of its location along the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, an area where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are more recurring than in any other areas of the world,” Villafuerte and his three HB 1091 co-authors said in their bill.

“The country fronts the Pacific Ocean, making it vulnerable to frequent typhoons and related weather disturbances regularly, especially at the onset of climate change,” added the four solons who come from one of the country’s provinces most vulnerable to the adverse impact of erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.

They pointed out in HB 1091 that catastrophic incidences create a disastrous state in the lives of the Filipinos and that “among the Filipinos, the underprivileged are the ones who suffer the most during these times. They have lost their shelters; they have no food to eat; sometimes, even lives are taken by these calamities.”

“While the State cannot control the indefinite occurrence of these calamities, it can, however, control the preparedness of the government and its people in facing such unfortunate incidents. The more prepared we are, the less impact these disasters can leave in the lives of the people,” they said. “Thus, there is an urgent need for the State to establish evacuation centers in all cities, provinces, and municipalities.”

The Philippines belongs to the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) Group comprising the world’s economies facing the most climate risks.

Rep. LRay Villafuerte first proposed the construction of permanent evacuation facilities in September 2018, following the onslaught in Luzon of supertyphoon “Ompong”, which killed at least 65 people and sent over 100,000 people fleeing to evacuation centers.

He said the construction of “climate-resilient” centers will do away with the use of public schools as evacuation sites, a practice that has been strongly discouraged by the Department of Education (DepEd) as it disrupts classes until the evacuees can return to their homes.

In HB 1091, Villafuerte and his co-writers tasked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to determine the location of every evacuation center in close coordination with the particular local government unit (LGU) concerned.

According to the bill, these permanent facilities must be: (1) centrally located in the chosen communities; (2) of safe distance from large trees, structures where hazardous materials are used and stored, or high-voltage power lines; (3) near health facilities; and (4) located on geo-technically stable land to avoid the risk of landslides or exposure to a potential landslide of adjacent lands.

The bill states that these evacuation centers must not be located near military base camps, camps of insurgent groups, power plants, factories, and other areas where the occurrence of human-induced disasters is very high.

HB 1091 tasks the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to: (1) take charge of the construction of these evacuation centers; (2) ensure that the construction is based on standards, issuances, and other guidelines set by the DPWH; and (3) make sure these are compliant with the provisions of the National Building Code.

For HB 1091’s authors, the proposed evacuation centers must be well-ventilated and can accommodate a large number of evacuees.

These facilities must have the following minimum amenities:

Sleeping quarters for the evacuees;

Separate shower and toilet facilities designated for males and females, with one (1) facility for every twenty (20) persons;

Amenities to enable access by persons with disabilities (PWDs);

Emergency exit doors;

Food preparation areas with adequate ventilation;

Trash and waste segregation and collection areas;

Health care areas which shall include isolation or quarantine area for potentially infectious persons;

Rainwater harvesting and collection facilities; and

Other facilities as may be prescribed by the appropriate authorities.

LGUs are mandated by HB 1091 to be primarily responsible for the operation, supervision, and management of these evacuation centers and are authorized to issue rules and regulations on the proper use and maintenance of these facilities.

HB 1091 directs the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to enter into Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with LGUs for the maintenance, operation, and management of the permanent evacuation centers in their respective areas of jurisdiction.

The NDRRMC shall likewise coordinate with the DPWH and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) on the design specifications, cost estimates, and construction details of the evacuation centers.

Within 60 days from the effectiveness of this proposed law, the NDRRMC shall, in consultation with the DPWH, DOST, League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP), League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), and other concerned government and private agencies, promulgate the necessary rules and regulations on the construction, operation, and maintenance of these evacuation centers.

HB 1091 states that the amount necessary for the initial implementation to fund the construction and maintenance of multi-purpose gyms to serve as evacuation centers shall be charged against the budget provided for this purpose under the DPWH.

Thereafter, such amounts necessary for the construction of these evacuation centers shall be included in the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

After LRay Villafuerte first raised his proposal on the construction of permanent evacuation facilities in September 2018, he proposed this plan anew when 50,000 residents of Cavite and Batangas were forced to flee their homes after the Taal volcano erupted in January 2020.

Villafuerte underscored again the urgency of building permanent evacuation centers in disaster-prone areas following the trio of strong typhoons – “Quinta”; “Rolly”; and “Ulysses” – that caused massive destruction and flooding in his home province and other Bicol provinces in just a span of two weeks later that year. Randolph S. Flores