Did you notice the Cebu City Council’s recent approval of an ordinance that would allow the forced evacuation of residents in danger zones? It may have escaped public attention days after the destruction inflicted by typhoon Seniang in December 30.
But it may soon draw complaints from residents who stubbornly resist calls by rescue teams to vacate their homes, only for them and their loved ones to be swept away by floodwaters or rocks that fall on them in the dead of night.
For too long, local government units (LGUs), not just in Cebu City, have found themselves stretching thin resources to the limits in order to protect people from erratic weather patterns that have caused an increase in the number and ferocity of typhoons that visit the country every year.
Most of these efforts and resources are geared towards settlers of landslide- and flood-prone areas, specifically those within the three-meter public easement of water bodies prohibited for occupancy.
These settlers often cite poverty as the reason for staying put. We’d likely believe them and tolerate their presence until they set up eateries, canteens and even karaoke bars and crime dens.
Is that still tolerable?
Like majority of the Filipinos, they need jobs or a livelihood. Most of them live near their workplaces—and living standards in Cebu City aren’t cheap.
Still, if their lives are at risk during typhoons they can expect the government to protect them but only if they allow the government to do its job and enforce the law.
Calamity victims are housed in schools, barangay health centers and gyms which are sturdier than the shacks they occupied. But these public facilities leave much to be desired as evacuation centers. They provide temporary shelter, not comfort.
But again, the people can only be protected if they are willing to relocate. Resistance is understandable because of the fear of leaving behind and losing what little they have to the elements and thieves.
Thus there’s a provision in the city ordinance that exempts the Cebu city government from any liability if these residents insist on staying put.
While the provision may be harsh and debatable, it is still legally binding.
How far does the LGU’s responsibility extend to their constituents who resist the offer of shelter?
Families in high-risk areas must take responsibility for the choices they make about their own safety. The government offers options for protection and survival. Necessary force may be used to evacuate a community in danger, but it shouldn’t have to come to that.