Sponsorship Speech on Senate Bill No. 2451 under Committee Report No. 139 Ligtas Pinoy Centers Act


Ligtas Pinoy Centers Act

Senate Bill No. 2451 under Committee Report No. 139

Sponsor: Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada 

Mr. President, distinguished members of this august chamber, ladies and gentlemen, as your Chairperson of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, I have the honor of sponsoring Senate Bill No. 2451 under Committee Report No. 139 or “An Act Establishing Evacuation Centers for Every City and Municipality, and Appropriating Funds Therefor.”

This substitute bill, authored by six of our colleagues, namely Sen. Christopher Bong Go, Sen. Ramon Bong Revilla, Jr., Sen. Win Gatchalian, Sen. Lito Lapid, Sen. Raffy Tulfo, former Public Works Secretary Sen. Mark Villar, and this representation, taking into consideration House Bill No. 7354, is among the priority legislative measures identified in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2023-2028. 

In the World Risk Index 2022 which assessed the disaster risk for 193 countries, Philippines was identified as the country with the highest disaster risk, followed by India and Indonesia. The report measured the countries’ disaster risk from two main factors of exposure (or the extent to which populations in hazard-prone areas are exposed to and burdened by the impacts of extreme natural events or the negative consequences of climate change), and vulnerability (or its susceptibility, ability to cope, and adaptive capacities). 

We ranked also fourth among the 193 countries with the highest exposure to earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, coastal and riverine floods, drought and sea-level rise, as we are only behind China, Mexico and Japan which comprised the top 3. 

Moreover, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction reported that the Philippines was among the top 5 countries in the world who experienced the highest number of disaster events from 2000 to 2019 with 304 events. Furthermore, the Philippines was included in the top 10 countries by total population affected by disasters at 149 million, and in the top ten countries most affected per 100,000 inhabitants, for the twenty-year period. 

In view of the foregoing, policies promoting disaster preparedness and resilience should be at the top of the nation’s agenda, as it directly affects the attainment of the country’s development goals. 

The proposed “Ligtas Pinoy Centers Act” aims to establish permanent, disaster-resilient, fully-equipped evacuation centers for every city and municipality in the country. These evacuation centers shall provide decent temporary shelter and will be the safe refuge of the displaced population caused by natural calamities, human-induced disasters, or public health crises. 

This measure aims to institutionalize the ongoing program of the Department of Public Works and Highways which started in 2016. As of July 25, 2023, 380 evacuation centers have so far been completed, 44 are on-going, and 8 are for implementation. 

Mr. President, according to the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), this initiative will serve as a concrete example of “Investing for Resilience” which is one of the priority actions in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (UN SFDRR 2015-2030), where the Philippines is a signatory. 

The bill provides for the minimum standards for the essential facilities and conditions of each evacuation center to ensure that it is positioned and built on a safe and accessible location, it is able to withstand super typhoons or wind speeds of at least 300 kilometers per hour – that is more than the 185 kilometer per hour super typhoon signal – and seismic activity of at least 8.0 magnitude. 

Nais nating matiyak na ang mga itatayong evacuation center ay matatag at magiging ligtas na silungan ng ating mga kababayan sa panahon ng kalamidad. Sa assessment na isinagawa ng International Organization for Migration (IOM) at UNICEF noong 2014, isang taon matapos ang hagupit ni super typhoon Yolanda, napag-alamang walong porsyento (8%) na lamang o 53 evacuation centers mula sa kabuuang 634 evacuation centers sa Eastern Samar ang mapapakinabangan pa; habang ang 166 ay tuluyang nasira, at 415 ang hindi nagagamit dahil sa matinding pinsala. The catastrophic damage to these evacuation centers caused numerous deaths and injuries due to substandard construction, extreme winds and surges. Ayaw na po nating maulit ito. 

The bill also provides the minimum facilities and amenities to ensure the humane living conditions of the evacuees. Kabilang po dito ang mga sleeping quarters, shower at toilet facilities, kitchen at food preparation and dining areas, health care station, women and child-friendly spaces, standby power for lighting and operation of medical and communication equipment, at iba pa. 

According to the country’s mid-term report on the implementation of the SFDRR or the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, while LGUs are able to enforce pre-emptive and forced evacuations, only about 62% of them have evacuation centers with minimum facilities. And most active evacuation centers have limited facilities, which pose challenges to the living conditions of persons affected by disasters. 

Under our Committee Report, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) shall be tasked with the construction of the evacuation centers, and the upgrading and conversion of existing structures into permanent evacuation sites. 

Another important aspect of this legislation is the provision on the prioritization in the establishment of the Ligtas Pinoy Centers taking into account the absence of an evacuation center in a given LGU, and its susceptibility, exposure and vulnerability to hazards, and readiness in implementing the construction thereof. 

The prioritization criteria or checklist shall prevent duplication and waste of our limited resources. Site inspections conducted by a technical working group (TWG) organized by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) revealed that some LGUs received two or more evacuation centers, while some who are more at-risk from disaster were not able to get support. 

As seen in this map of the Bicol region provided by Agap Banta[1] (a network of non-government organizations and Disaster Risk Reduction experts), there are a number of municipalities with high- to very high-risk (shown in red color), and even those with moderate-risk (shown in yellow), which do not have permanent evacuation centers, while municipalities with very low- to low-risk already have theirs. 

Kailangan po natin ng isang maayos na sistema na siyang tutukoy kung anong bayan ang siyang pinaka-nangangailangan at dapat unahing mabigyan ng suporta sa pagkakaroon ng sarili nilang evacuation centers. 

The evacuation centers will then be turned over to the LGUs who shall be in charge of the maintenance, operation, and management of such. Local governments may prescribe guidelines on the utilization of the structures, perhaps as civic centers or as multi-purpose buildings, when they are not used during disasters. 

Finally, construction of permanent evacuation centers addresses the frequent disruption of learning of our students, as classrooms were usually the go-to sites for displaced families affected by disasters. This is still the practice despite the enactment of Republic Act No. 10821 or the “Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act” last May 2016, which provides that classrooms may only be used as evacuation centers as a last resort, and only in cases where there is no other available place or structure which can be used as a general evacuation center may a school or child development center be used as an evacuation center.

As cited under the Philippine Development Plan, 35,648 classrooms in 11,522 schools in the country have been used as temporary evacuation centers, thus displacing or suspending the teaching or learning activities in them. 

Noong nag-alburuto ang Bulkang Mayon sa Albay nitong Hunyo, humigit-kumulang dalawampung libong (20,000) katao ang lumikas, at marami sa kanila ang sumilong sa mga silid-aralan ng iba’t ibang paaralan. Dahil dito, maraming klase ang apektado. Pinilit ng ating mga guro na ipagpatuloy ang pagtuturo sa kanilang mga estudyante sa mga village halls, chapel, gymnasium, garden at maging sa ilalim ng mga puno. 

Sa Mayon Volcano Bulletin na inilabas ng PHIVOLCS ngayong araw, nananatiling nakataas ang Alert Level 3 sa Albay. Ayon naman sa pinakahuling ulat ng NDRRMC, dalawampung (20) eskwelahan at 290 classrooms ang ginamit bilang mga evacuation centers. 

In light of the human toll and devastation brought about by more frequent and more intense natural calamities caused by our rapidly changing climate, it is imperative that we have permanent evacuation centers which will not only offer sanctuary for the affected families during the onslaught of the disaster, but also provide them shelter while rebuilding their homes. 

It is imperative that we have these structures built and ready, as we do not know when the so-called “The Big One” will happen, or when another Yolanda will cross over our islands. Ang nakakalungkot po dito, ang mga mahihirap ang tinatamaan at ang palaging napupuruhan sa pag-ragasa ng mga kalamidad. 

This representation humbly asks the support of our dear colleagues in passing this important legislation that aims to enhance our existing disaster resilience mechanism, significantly strengthen our disaster preparedness and response, and ultimately save lives of our countrymen when disaster strikes. 

Thank you, Mr. President.

[1] Agap Banta is an initiative of NGOs and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) practitioners advocating for policies on disaster preparedness.