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Albay LGUs 'wasted' opportunity for Japan grant to build permanent evacuation centers 20 years ago.

Permanent evacuation centers should have been built 20 years ago to house evacuees in Albay whenever Mayon Volcano erupted, but local government units (LGUs) in the province did not use grant money given by the Japanese government for the purpose.

The plan then was to build permanent and lifetime evacuation centers in the key cities and towns of Albay for evacuees fleeing the devastating fury of an erupting Mayon Volcano.

Today, more than 80,000 evacuees have fled the fury of Mayon barely four years after its eruptions rocked the province of 16 municipalities and three cities for months in 2014.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Philvocs) said the volcano erupted 50 times since its eruption was first recorded on July 20, 1766.

Its recent recorded eruptions included those in 1984, 1993, 1999, 2009, 2010 and on May 7, 2013. Barely a year later on August 12, 2014, Mayon erupted again. This was followed on January 1, 2018, its most recent.

The 1993 Mayon eruption occurred at high noon under an excellent weather condition. The Phivolcs said 75 farmers at Barangay Mabinit in Legazpi were killed while they were in the midst of the harvest season. The 1993 eruption occurred suddenly, with no indication of Mayon abnormality. The Phivolcs was not able to issue any warning to Albay residents, Mayon resident volcanologist Ed Laguerta said.

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, with students and teachers doubly suffering from interrupted schools activities.

Evacuees have come from the 6-kilometer (km) permanent danger Zone (PDZ) around Mayon, often extended to 9 km when the alert level is raised to 4. The 6-km PDZ has long been declared a 'no man's land,' which LGUs are mandated to enforce. This means no houses must be constructed within the 6-km area.

Batocabe said schools should not be used for prolonged periods of time 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 Mayon eruptions.

Batocabe said the issue of permanent evacuation centers in Albay was raised in Congress 10 years ago, but the basic requirements of at least 3,000 square meters of land for the evacuation failed to materialize.

An official of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regional office said the issue of permanent evacuation centers could have been solved more than 25 years ago. Former Assistant Regional Director Oscar Cristobal said the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) proposed then to build permanent evacuation centers in Albay in the form of a grant.

Cristobal added Jica's proposed evacuation centers came along with the P2-billion grant that built dozens of Sabo Dams around Mayon during the early-1980s. The Mayon Sabo structures were designed to block and confine sand and boulders rolling down the lowlands that destroyed agricultural lands, infrastructures and properties. Sabo is a coined Japanese word, which means sand for 'sa' and protection for 'bo.'

Cristobal said the Japanese government was simply asking for a lot as counterpart from the LGU proponents where to house the evacuation centers.

'The LGUs failed to provide the required lot. Consequently, Jica withdrew its proposal, Cristobal said, adding he had the opportunity to discuss the matter with then-Gov. Fernando Gonzalez (2004-2007) who was surprised to learn of the proposed withdrawal.

He said the cities of Legazpi, Tabaco, Ligao and the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan, Daraga, Santo Domingo, Malilipot and Malinao were initially considered as the 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 at Barangay Anislag in Daraga town.

Ramos's Mayon relocation program was also pushed through with funding under former President Joseph E. Estrada's administration.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said more than 20,000 families, or close to 83,000 persons, have been housed in 49 crowded evacuation centers since the Mayon Alert Level 4 was declared on January 22.

Last October a public outcry ensued after a 'secret' DPWH project was uncovered. The plan was to build a multibillion-peso circumferential road initially started in the First District of the province.
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Publication:Business Mirror (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Jan 28, 2018
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