ON January 8 I attended the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality hearing to discuss Senate Bill 2446, authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and some other related bills (sponsored by Senators Bam Aquino, Loren Legarda, Teofisto Guingona III and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.), all seeking to implement “a comprehensive and strategic program of action to provide children affected by disaster, calamities and other emergency situations with utmost support and assistance necessary for their immediate recovery and protect them against all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and other acts prejudicial to their interest and well-being.”
All the resource persons in that hearing strongly support the bills. These bills are indeed commendable as these recognize the fact that children are the “most vulnerable in times of disaster” and also at “higher risk of affliction of a disease or become victims of various forms of abuse and exploitation.”
Thus, the authors of the bills aim to implement a program with the following general components: a) establishment of shelter for displaced children; b) assurance for the immediate delivery of the basic needs and services of our children; c) adoption of stronger measures to ensure the safety and security of the affected children; d) timely delivery of health and medical services; e) plan of action for prompt resumption of educational services for children; f) establishment of emergency centers; and g) promotion of children’s right. Another important highlight of these bills is the provision stating that “only in cases where there is no other available space or structure which can be used as a general evacuation center, that a school may be used as an evacuation center.”
Except for Aquino’s bill, these proposed measures also directed that classrooms may not be used as an evacuation center (in the event that a school is used as such as a last resort) as the “use shall be limited to the areas or spaces in the school that are not used as classroom such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and other open spaces.” Asked by Senate Committee Chairman Sen. Pia Cayetano for comments, aside from our manifestation of support for the bill, I said that many of the objectives that the bills seek to achieve are addressed in many ways by a joint memorandum circular (MC) signed sometime in 2013 by the departments of Education (DepEd), of the Interior and Local Government; of Health, and of Social Welfare and Development.
Specifically, said joint MC provides, among others, for the following:
- Establishment of evacuation centers with at least one child-friendly space (CFS) for every 100 families. The CFS should be located near a clean toilet for boys and girls and in case of community-based evacuation centers, it should have provision for open space for outdoor- play activities. It should also provide for temporary learning spaces for learning activities with psychosocial care. There should also be a breast-feeding room in the evacuation centers.
- Provision of inpatient referral and outpatient feeding for severely acute malnourished children; provision of access to breast milk (milk banks and wet nurses); complementary feeding for children (six to 23 months); vitamin A supplementation; and inclusion of fortified foods in family packs and zinc supplementation for all diarrheal cases.
- Ensuring availability of disaggregated data of all children in the evacuation centers to account for the number of affected children, including those who are separated and unaccompanied children/orphaned indicating any disability or special concerns needing appropriate professional intervention and facilitate an assessment on the needs and priorities of such children.
- Promotion of psychosocial support through community-based initiatives and mobilization of local child-protection structures or community-based child protection networks at purok or sitio level and with active participation from the children and youth groups.
- Promotion of the message “Do No Harm” to children and facilitate a “protective environment” for the prevention of physical abuse, sexual exploitation, child labor, child trafficking and other child protection concerns. Anent the issue of not using our classrooms as evacuation centers, I said that at least 3,029 schools, or 18,279 classrooms were used as evacuation centers during Typhoon Ruby. I also emphasized that we need to study this very well and that we need to allocate the necessary funds to construct enough structures like multipurpose halls or covered courts (that may be easily converted to evacuation centers) not only in our schools, but in all our barangays for this to really happen.
Lawyer Toni Umali is the current assistant secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs of the DepEd. He is licensed to practice law not only in the Philippines, but also in the State of California and some Federal Courts in the United States after passing the California State Bar Examinations in 2004. He has served as a legal consultant to several legislators and local chief executives. As education assistant secretary, he was instrumental in the passage of the K to 12 law and the issuance of its implementing rules and regulations. He is also the alternate spokesman of the DepEd.