Resort facilities

Isolation Facilities as Evacuation Centers – Manila Bulletin


Senator Sonny Angara

Dr. Rontgene Solante, head of adult infectious diseases and tropical medicine at San Lazaro Hospital, recently said in a media interview that Covid-19 appears to be on track to reach the endemic stage in the Philippines. This means that although the virus will remain with us, its presence will not disrupt people’s daily lives too much.

To back up his claim, Dr Solante cited that Covid-19 cases are on the decline, severe and critical infections have been minimal for several months, and the healthcare utilization rate remains below 50%.

Meanwhile, late last month, President Bongbong Marcos, Jr. signed an executive order authorizing the voluntary wearing of face masks indoors and outdoors, except for healthcare facilities, vehicles medical transport and all forms of public transport. Soon after, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) issued similar guidance covering private workplaces nationwide.

There are just a few of many signs that we are truly in the final chapters of the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, with the return to more ordinary times ahead, we need to take stock of what should be our new normal and what elements of how we have lived throughout the pandemic that need to continue once that it will be over.

And such an assessment should include the many Covid-19 quarantine and isolation facilities – dubbed We Heal as One Centers, Ligtas Covid and Mega Ligtas Covid Centers – that have had to be put in place over the past two years. Their main focus may already be winding down now that the spread of Covid-19 is under control and fewer people are contracting it. Yet there remains an urgent need for dedicated spaces that can serve as transitional shelters, especially in times of natural calamities.

We suspect that many of these isolation facilities are no longer in use – or very few, if not all, as most cases today are asymptomatic or mild and therefore do not require hospital care.
These spaces can be quickly put to use by converting them into evacuation centers for families affected by typhoons and other natural disasters that hit our country several times a year. The flooding caused by Typhoon Paeng and the earthquakes in northern Luzon in recent months only illustrate this continuing need.

Converting isolation facilities would also help ease the pressure to use public schools as evacuation centers. This has been common practice in many local government units and is understandable since many communities do not have permanent structures that can serve as emergency shelters. Yet such a practice leads to undue disruption of our children’s learning and development. It also makes it even more difficult to return to normal in times of natural disaster.

In fact, the Emergency Relief and Child Protection Act (RA 10821) expressly limits the use of schools or child development centers for evacuation purposes only in cases where there is no no other place or structure available. If so, the law further states that gymnasiums and activity centers should be used first – with classrooms being deployed in this way only as a last resort. Recently, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte issued a Ministerial Order reiterating the provisions of RA 10821, stressing that schools can only be used as evacuation centers for 15 days.

Thus, instead of suspending classes indefinitely after a storm hits a locality, the provision of isolation facilities for the use of displaced families, as well as courts or multipurpose gymnasiums, will spare schools, respect the provisions of RA 10821 and DepEd guidelines and ensure the continuing education of our students.

At a recent budget hearing, Welfare Secretary Erwin Tulfo said he had already recommended to the president the construction of permanent evacuation centers in every city and town, which is the subject of several bills pending in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Perhaps existing isolation facilities can already be used to help achieve this recommendation.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @sonnyangara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 18 years – nine years as a representative for Aurora District alone and nine as a senator. He has drafted and sponsored over 250 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.