MANILA, Philippines – For the first 3 months of the school year, the 840 students of Barangka National High School (BNHS) in Marikina City will be holding their classes in unfamiliar territory.
Starting Tuesday, June 2, Grade 7 and Grade 8 students will be having classes at the nearby Tañong High School, about 450 meters away.
Meanwhile, classes for Grade 9 and Grade 10 students will be held at the Jesus dela Peña National High School, about a kilometer away.
School officials of BNHS made the decision after the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) identified Barangka as one of the schools near the West Valley Fault, fanning fears among parents that their children may be vulnerable should a powerful earthquake strike Metro Manila – a scenario that experts say is likely to happen within our lifetime.
But school principal Maita Abergos clarified that, according to the latest assessment from Phivolcs, only a portion of the stairway in the school's lone building is within the 5-meter buffer zone.
She added that the building is not situated on the fault trace, and that it has been pronounced "safe and structurally sound." (READ: Safety check for 6 schools near West Valley Fault ongoing)
But as an added precautionary measure, the Department of Public Works and Highways will be adding a seismic gap, a structural intervention which would reduce impact in the event of an earthquake.
Marikina City engineer Kennedy Sueno said the DPWH will be in charge of submitting the design proposal for the seismic gap.
Once the seismic gap has been fitted, Abergos said they hope to resume regular classes within 30 to 90 days.
Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler
On the first day of classes on Monday, June 1, around 50 parents gathered at BNHS for a dialogue with officials from the school and the Department of Education (DepEd).
The city's schools division superintendent, Elizabeth Quesada, assured parents that their children's learning will not be affected by the move.
"They will have the same advisers, the same sections. The teachers and classrooms are ready in Tañong and Jesus dela Peña," she said.
Deped Undersecretary Rizalino Rivera also appealed for understanding.
"This is only temporary. We want the children safe, we want to make sure the buildings are safe before we let them return. It's an inconvenience, but this is for their own good," he said.
But fears over the reported fault line near the school have prompted some parents to withdraw their children, according to Maria Rosalyn Merillo, president of the school's Barangka's Parent-Teacher Association.
"Many were worried. Even if they now say the building is structurally sound, the fault is still there," she said.
The new situation will also be difficult for parents who have to send their children to two different schools, as in Merillo's case – she has a child in Grade 7 and another in Grade 10.
"Paano kung may mangyari? Dalawang lugar pa tatakbuhan ko," she said. (What if something bad happens? I'll have to run to two places.)
She also lamented the additional expenses that she will have to pay for 3 months while construction work is ongoing at Barangka. Instead of spending only P14 for a tricycle ride, she will now have to pay the cost for two rides from her home.
There is also the possibility that some parents may opt not to let their children return to the high school even after the DPWH finishes its work.
"Bilang isang nanay, ayoko na ipabalik ang mga anak ko. Kahit na may seismic gap, nand'yan pa rin ang fault line," she said. (As a mother, I don't want to send my children back. Even if there's a seismic gap, the fault line is still there.)
Orderly school opening
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said the opening of classes for 21 million students across the country was "generally peaceful and orderly."
“I am personally satisfied with the deployment of troops for police beat patrol and visibility operations in Manila’s University Belt Area, and in school premises elsewhere around the country,” PNP Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina said in a statement.
Espina, however, reminded regional and district directors to maintain vigilance and keep up police visibility operations in school areas.
Earlier, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) said it would deploy 800 personnel to help direct traffic and clear sidewalks for the first day of classes. – Rappler.com