Too much red tape

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Monday, June 2, 2014


What, the construction of classrooms to replace those damaged by Yolanda will not start until August, this year?

Wait, let me check the timelines. Yolanda struck on Nov. 8, 2013. Within days, we already knew the extent of the devastation that it caused.
School buildings sustained heavy damages and were declared unsafe. For seven months, many grade school pupils and high school students had to attend classes in school year 2013-2014 in tents and under the treers.
Surely, this spectacle was not unseen by our officials. It boggles the mind therefore why they did not do anything to address it. Oh, yes, they prepared the program of works and estimates, submitted the budget and waited for Imperial Manila to decide when to release the money.

There is just too much red tape. I can’t blame the government for making sure that the people’s money does not go into someone’s bank account instead of to the project for which it was intended. There are still so many crooks. Some of them have been exposed but they’re still roaming around, ready to pounce on an opportunity to make quick money when nobody’s looking.

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But the classrooms should have been considered priority, their construction urgent. We’re talking of our children, for crying out loud. Didn’t they deserve a little more consideration than what our officials were prepared to give the other typhoon victims?

The day before classes opened in public schools yesterday, the country’s communications secretary, Herminio Coloma, appealed to the people to “maintain the spirit of Bayanihan.” “Let’s all help each other to ensure the safety of our students,” he said.

If only this government had thought of and prepared for the students’ safety much earlier.

***

Meanwhile, in Cebu City, Acting City Mayor Edgardo Labella was shocked when he saw the lack of safety features in some of the school buildings that he visited last week.

He doesn’t want to be alarmist, Labella told Sun.Star Cebu but the lack of fire exits and other safety features in 21 of the school buildings that he saw clearly worried him.

How this came about is hard to explain. The Office of the Building Official (OBO) is supposed to periodically inspect all buildings in the city every now and then to check their compliance with the building code. Then there’s the Local School Board whose mandate includes the monitoring of the city’s school buildings. That it took Labella, who is not an engineer but a lawyer, to notice this flaw in the buildings’ design and construction is revealing.

Labella has ordered the school board to immediately install safety features in the affected school buildings. The Board had earlier planned on constructing the required fire exits in the edifices starting next week but the acting mayor said no, they had to act now.

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that claimed lives and damaged buildings in Bohol and Cebu on October 15, last year was a wake-up call to Labella. Indeed, we were lucky that the day the killer quake struck was a holiday. If it had been a regular school and working day, people would have stampeded out of their offices and classrooms. With only one stairway and without any fire exit to serve the students in the 21 structurally deficient school buildings, the consequences would have been unimaginable.

I praise the vice mayor for the quick action even as I urge officials of other local government units to also visit the schools in their territorial jurisdiction. Some school buildings may have been spared the wrath of the earthquake and Yolanda but if they’re designed and constructed as the four-storey Zapatera public school buildings, they’re still a disaster waiting to happen. (frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 03, 2014.

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