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MANILA, Philippines – Lost in the flurry of quick-response actions in the wake of monsoon-induced rains and floods is the impact of disaster on public schools that have always been used as instant evacuation centers.
Besides disruptions in the school calendar, the use of such facilities as temporary shelter also aggravates the run-down status of many schools and jacks up their utility costs.
Thus, there’s a move to entitle such schools to calamity funds so they can pay for the electricity and water consumed, and for the clean up of the facilities used by the evacuees.
“What is happening today is that after typhoon evacuees have left the school , the latter is left with utility bills to pay, trash to be collected, and rooms and toilets to be cleaned ,” Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara of the lone district of Aurora said Sunday. He chairs the House Committee on Higher Education.
“In some cases, there is unintentional damage caused , minor ones though , like broken chairs or misplaced books, which can’t be avoided due to the emergency nature of their taking refuge,” he added.
Right after rains, induced by the southwest monsoon or habagat, poured steadily for nearly three days last week, most of Metro Manila and huge parts of Central Luzon were flooded, forcing hundreds of thousands to seek shelter in public facilities, including 160 public schools.
The repair and replacement of the facilities are eventually shouldered by the school, out of its measly MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses ) funds , but in most cases by teachers , out of their own pockets, said Angara.
According to him, the MOOE devolved by the Department of Education to a school “comes to about P230 per student per year,” a measly one peso per student per school day. “And money for water , electricity, test materials, the salary of security guard , supplies and all other operational expenses is taken from the MOOE fund.”
The government can help schools used as evacuation centers during calamities by reimbursing part of the “unforeseen expenses” in hosting displaced persons, according to Angara.
The reimbursement, he said, can be drawn from the Calamity Fund , which has a budget of P7.5 billion this year, and if they can afford it , from local governments, whose annual budgets carry reserve accounts for contingencies.
He said a little help in defraying the cost in hosting evacuees will go a long way in helping schools normalize operations and resume classes early.
As most schools lack or are without janitors, the tidying up of the campus ultimately falls onthe hands of the students. “The big mess is usually left to little children to clean, “ Angara said.
“Mahirap kung ang first day of class ay parang Brigada Eskwela ulit na magkukuskos ng dumi ang mga bata. The turnaround will be faster if there is help from outside.”
It’s bad enough, he noted, that “their [children’s] school days were reduced by the class suspensions; when they don’t get help in cleaning up or fixing their schools, that’s double jeopardy.”
The use of the Calamity Fund is to be governed by budgetary special provisions, he noted. “Perhaps what we can do is add a new provision that defines how qualified schools can avail of the fund.”
Mandatory teaching of disaster preparedness
Earlier, Angara filed a bill seeking to include the teaching of disaster awareness and mitigation in all elementary and high school curricula throughout the country.
Angara said House Bill No. 460, which aims to instill disaster awareness and promote active participation of the students, will be "a step in the right direction" as it will somewhat address the need to minimize loss of life and property damage during natural disasters.
Based on the latest data from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRCC), the torrential rains and floods have already claimed the lives of 63 persons, while affecting more than 2.4 million
An average of 20 typhoons every year enter the country with their strong winds, storm surges and floods frequently damaging many properties and lives.