Thousands of students in Tacloban City in Leyte province will hold classes in tents or damaged schools when classes begin next week.
This is because many of the schools ruined by Typhoon Yolanda in November last year have not been repaired. And even if the government will fulfill its promise to rehabilitate typhoon-damaged schools, there is no more time to rush construction of new classrooms because classes will open on June 2.
Monina Gabrino, the principal of the San Jose Elementary School (SJES), told The Manila Times that the Department of Education (DepEd) has not repaired their damaged school or built new classrooms for the 3,000 students who will begin classes next month. She said DepEd promised to construct four classrooms but none has been built so far, raising concerns because 80 percent of the school’s 90 classrooms were damaged.
“Ang DepEd nag-pledge pa lang ng apat na classrooms . . . sana matuloy [The DepEd pledged four classrooms. I hope it will push through],” Gabrino added.
But the principal is pleading with the government to provide a budget for the repair of at least 18 classrooms before the opening of classes.
She said international groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) had helped in the repair of some buildings. Unicef repaired some of the classrooms that were not heavily damaged. The Philippine Red Cross and the Red Cross Society of China donated five school buildings with five classrooms each, Gabrino added.
But an employee of the school who asked not to be named said the classrooms were like container vans and had poor ventilation.
International pop star Justine Bieber also donated cash for the construction of two classrooms at the SJES, while the Security Bank has approved a budget for the construction of a two-story building.
Gabrino, however, said work on the building is yet to start because DepEd has not approved the proposed design.
According to her, the perceived sluggish response of the national government deserves “a failing grade of 70.”
She noted that since the typhoon struck, the NGOs, not the government, have been supporting them to rebuild the school.
“Kahit support para sa amin na mga teachers wala, lalo na sa mga namatayan at nawalan ng bahay [There was no help for teachers, especially those who lost their homes and loved ones],” Gabrino said.
The SJES is just a few kilometers from the Tacloban Airport. It served as one of the biggest evacuation centers for residents of coastal areas. At least 20 evacuees died in this school.
Gabrido said 123 of their pupils were killed by the super typhoon.
About P15 million was lost after 80 percent of the total 90 classrooms were damaged by Yolanda, Gabrino said.
Aside from lack of classrooms, an employee of the school said sanitation and hygiene will also be a problem.
Retchie Brecio, who teaches at the San Antonio Elementary School in San Antonio, Dulag, Leyte, echoed the sentiments of Gabrino.
He said his school was totally damaged but no repair has been done.
“There is no support from the government. They are just waiting for the NGO, the NGO has committed to construct school buildings for us,” Brecio also told The Times.
He was referring to the International Children Action (ICAN), a group committed to help children.
But Brecio also noted that the government cannot pressure ICAN to fast-track the construction of classrooms. Also, the group has not even started the repair or rehabilitation of their school.
He asked the government to immediately release the budget for the construction of new classrooms so that work can begin immediately.
The teacher said since all of their classrooms have been destroyed, their students will hold classes in tents starting in June.
He added that they also lack chairs, books, school supplies, teachers’ kits and blackboards.
“Myda man budget an government dapat mag trabaho na hira kay mayda man hito budget, mayda gud mga donations kay kairo man klase yana same la guihapon han una, ano ba an guin huhulat, bagyo utro? [The government should have started constructing classrooms because there is an allotted budget for that, there are donations, what are they waiting for, another typhoon?]” Brecio said.
“We don’t have books, how can we start the class?” he added.
The San Antonio Elementary School has three school buildings and each classroom there can accommodate 90 pupils.
Brecio said they have multi-grade classes, meaning that one classroom is shared by Grade 1 and Grade 2 pupils. The same goes for Grades 3 and 4 and Grades 5 and 6.
According to DepEd, there are more than 23 million elementary and high school students in private and public schools for this school year.
DepEd Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo said close to 20 million are enrolled in public schools.
Mateo said classrooms in Yolanda-hit areas have been repaired.
With Francis Earl A. Cueto