Senators want 'stronger' classrooms after typhoons batter Luzon

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 16 2020 11:25 PM

Teachers clear a room of debris from the destroyed ceiling of the Sibacungan Elementary School in Bato, Catanduanes on November 6, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Several senators on Monday pushed to revise some laws that place a cap on the cost of school buildings, saying the government needs to build stronger infrastructures, after a series of typhoons battered the main island of Luzon earlier this month.

The government is only allowed to spend up to about P2 million per classroom but "that is not enough to build a stronger classroom," Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said during budget deliberations.

"Baka in typhoon-prone areas, baka puwede na nilang gawin ang bagong design kasi kung hindi, every year we will be spending more on repairs," he said.

(Perhaps they can change the designs in typhoon-prone areas because if not, we will be spending more on repairs.)

"It will be more prudent to spend for buildings that can withstand 200-300 kph winds," he said.

Sen. Richard Gordon pushed to amend the National Building Code of the Philippines to give the government more leeway in the designs on new classrooms.

"Para makarami naglalagay lang tayo ng civil minimum. Marami nga pero marurupok. Isang buga, durog agad," he said.

(To build a lot of classrooms, we just place a civil minimum. We have a lot of classrooms but they are not sturdy. One gust, and they are destroyed.)

"There must be a national plan... We don't have to build every time there is typhoon kung matitibay naman talaga... hindi yung civil minimum," he said.

(We don't have to build every time there is typhoon if we build strong ones... instead of just the civil minimum.)

Sen. Pia Cayetano, who will sponsor the Department of Education's (DepEd) 2021 budget in plenary, said that the agency has increased its allocation for the construction of classrooms.

"The costing that they have for their classroom is different. It was so much more expensive," she said, without giving exact figures.

"The budget now includes [the construction of] bathrooms [in schools]," she said.

Gordon also suggested construction of shower areas in schools as educational facilities in the Philippines are often used as evacuation centers during calamities.

Funding for shower areas in schools have yet to be included in the 2021 budget, but "that is something we can include," Cayetano said.

As of November 10, 1,390 schools were damaged due to several typhoons that plowed through the country in the last quarter of 2020, according to data from DepEd.

This amounts to P4.6 billion in damage to education-related infrastructure, the agency had said.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the chamber to allocate more funds to build permanent evacuation centers instead of just relying on classrooms as temporary shelters for calamity victims.

"We need to focus on our preemptive response at kasama sa preparedness ang adequate evacuation centers," she said.

"We do not have to rely on Filipino resiliency when we can roll out programs that make our communities disaster-resilient," she said.

Zubiri said he is open to realign a portion of the P19-billion anti-insurgency fund for typhoon aid programs should there be no other sources of funding.