By Manly M. Ugalde
LEGAZPI CITY --- Permanent evacuation centers should have been built 20 years ago to provide better shelters to affected Albay residents whenever Mt. Mayon feels unleashing her wrath, but local government units (LGUs) in the province failed to grab the fund being offered by the Japanese government for the purpose.
The plan then was to build permanent evacuation centers in the key cities and towns of Albay and keep them safe until the volcano’s eruptive behavior stops and send the people back to their homes.
Former Assistant Regional
Director Oscar Cristobal of the Department of Public Works and Highways said that Japan Internaational Cooperation Agency (JICA) had as early as 25 years ago proposed to build permanent evacuation centers in Albay.
Cristobal said the proposal came along with the grant of P2B then that was used to construct dozens of so-called Sabo dams.
The dams were designed to block and contain sand and boulders from the volcano rolling down the lowlands that destroy agricultural lands, infrastructures and properties. Sabo is a coined Japanese word, for “sa” which means sand, and “bo”, which means to protect.
The former DPWH official said that in exchange for the grant, the Japanese government had asked for lots or sites as LGU counterpart on which to build the evacuation centers.
“The LGUs failed to provide the required lot. Consequently, JICAa withdrew its proposal, Cristobal said, adding he had the opportunity to discuss the matter with then-Gov. Fernando Gonzalez (2004–2007) who was himself surprised to learn about the proposed project’s withdrawal.
Cristobal said the cities of Legazpi, Tabaco, Ligao and the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan, Daraga, Santo Domingo, Malilipot and Malinao were initially considered as key locations for the evacuation centers.
Cristobal said the Jica proposal came following the February 1993 Mayon eruption that killed 75 farmers.
After the 1993 eruption, then-President Fidel V. Ramos ordered the relocation of Mayon residents inside the 6-km PDZ in several designated resettlement sites. With funding made available, thousands of housing projects were initially built at the Banquerohan resettlement site in Legazpi and the resettlement site in Barangay Anislag in Daraga town.
Today, more than 80,000 evacuees have fled the fury of Mayon. The last time they did was in 2014 when Mayon exhibited ruumblings and ash falls that aaffected the 16 municipalities and 3 cities of the province.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs) said the volcano has erupted 50 times since its recorded eruption on July 20, 1766.
Recent eruptions followed in 1984, 1993, 1999, 2009, 2010, and on May 7, 2013 aand August 12, 2014,
The 1993 Mayon eruption occurred at high noon under an excellent weather condition. The Phivolcs said 75 farmers in Barangay Mabinit in Legazpi were killed while they were in the middle of the farm during a harvest season. It was sudde, Phivolcs was not able to issue any warning before the eruption, according to resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said who has been with the agency for over 25 years now.
Party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol said it is necessary to build permanent evacuation centers in Albay’s key cities and towns as schools have served as evacuation centers during all kinds of disasters.
During the 2014 Mayon eruption, schools served as evacuation centers for close to three months, disrupting the students’ school calendar.
Batocabe said schools should not be used for prolonged period as evacuation centers. Students should not be dislodged from their studies in favor of evacuees who could be provided tents and other temporary shelters during disasters.
The lawmaker said the issue of permanent evacuation centers in Albay was raised in Congress 10 years ago, but the basic requirement of at least 3,000 square meters of land for the evacuation campss failed to materialize.
In October last year, a public outcry ensued after it was found out that the DPWH was “without fanfare” building a multi-billion peso circumferential road around the volcano which started in the First District of the Albay.