Schools in Mindanao crumble after the quakes; Rep. Fortun calls for House investigation

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KIDAPAWAN CITY, Cotabato, Philippines — Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Lemuel Fortun called for a House investigation of the massive destruction of school buildings and other facilities in the area as a result of the series of earthquakes last month, claiming that many of them were newly built and could have defied severe ground shaking.

Fortun, a member of the Mindanao affairs committee of the House, said the inquiry had to cover the school building program of the government in view of the devastation caused by the quake in Mindanao.

The series of earthquakes killed 24 people, wounded more than 500 people, and left at least 10 missing, many presumed to be trapped by the shaking landslides.

“It is very alarming. How come most of the [newly built] schools in the area incurred damages? These school buildings are supposed to be disaster resilient,” Fortun asked.

While he did not cite statistics, Fortun said data reaching him showed that, because of what he described as their disaster resilience features, the cost of building such new structures was higher than older buildings.

These school buildings, he said, were made of durable materials and were meant to withstand extreme conditions, including the impact of climate change.

The Department of Education (DepEd) said the quakes damaged 1,047 schools on Tuesday, with property damage estimated at P3.3 billion.

With 670 schools damaged or destroyed, Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos) suffered the most. It was followed by the province of Davao with 274 schools; northern Mindanao, 82; and autonomous region of Bangsamoro in Muslim Mindanao, 21.

In Kidapawan City, 65 of the 83 schools in the city were damaged or destroyed by the series of tremors last month.

A DepEd engineers evaluation found that 93 classrooms were damaged, 308 suffered major damage, and 312 suffered minor damage.

Mayor Joseph Evangelista said he was surprised that new buildings were built for most of the school buildings that suffered heavy damage.

“I’ve talked to the mayors of Tulunan and Makilala (in Cotabato province), and I surmised that all of their new [school] buildings suffered damage—most of the ceilings collapsed, there were several cracks on the columns, and the walls also gave way,” Evangelista said.

“We think there is a problem in the design, something must be wrong with the design. I don’t want to cast doubts, for now, on the contractors. But these should be looked into,” he added.

In Ozamiz City, Ozamiz City National High School teachers and students said large cracks were observed in at least 20 classrooms, most of which were newly built after the earthquake of October 31.

Fortun saw the need to look at how the Public Works and Highways Department conducted school building design.

“Did the contractors follow standards? If not, how come they were able to pass the scrutiny of the DPWH?” Fortun asked. (Chris Figueroa/IAMIGO/CNS)

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