Bridges on the air

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The important lesson these typhoons and other calamities have been teaching us through these years is the need to have good communication that reaches every corner of our archipelagic country. Tragically, it is a lesson a myopic national leadership ignored.

It took us several days before we could get a good idea of how much damage was done by Typhoon Odette. Worse of all, many people didn’t get proper warning that the typhoon would hit their areas. Government didn’t have the means to reach them.

Before Duterte shut down ABS-CBN, the network used its ability to reach every corner of the country to warn residents of oncoming typhoons. It also pre-positioned its reporters and relief goods in the barangays expected to be on the typhoon’s direct path.

The ABS-CBN remote teams are equipped to connect to satellites from anywhere in the country to deliver up-to-the minute reports on the typhoon’s impact. This way, government officials and private relief organizations, including ABS-CBN’s Lingkod Kapamilya, are able to rush relief goods and services to the badly hit areas.

The news coverage teams of ABS-CBN were also provided with satellite phones that were often the only means of communication to their home base and to government officials in charge of relief operations in Manila.

Well, the absence of ABS-CBN during the last few typhoons has been badly felt by people in our hinterlands. Our people suffer unnecessarily when they are not warned and when assistance is delayed.

Indeed, even in the main population center that Cebu is, the absence of the watchful eyes of ABS-CBN’s field reporters have also been felt. Problems remained unattended by officials who do not feel the public pressure that past disaster coverages of ABS-CBN brought.

Hopefully, many of these issues have now been addressed. But a few days after Odette, my wife’s high school Viber group received this message from a  batchmate in Cebu.

“Power was restored an hour ago, but intermittent for  other places. Still, we are grateful that we have for now. Water has not been restored in our area. No regular internet service yet.

“Gasoline stations have long queues. My neighbor lined up at 3 pm yesterday and was able to gas up at 8:30 am today. There had been sporadic fights where police had to intervene.

“A liter of gasoline now costs P90, black market price is at P130  and only five to seven liters per person limit. Someone was selling drinking water at P2,500 per normal water container for dispensers. These opportunists say it costs P190 per liter… When you complain about the price… the answer was… oh di, ikaw ang pumila… profiteering galore here on practically all goods.”

Local and other officials of the government would have been more motivated to quickly deal with these post typhoon problems if they knew the eyes of the nation were on them through media coverage.

Sayang because ABS-CBN had the ability to reach  Filipinos in remote areas. This is thanks to the vision of my late boss, Geny Lopez Jr. who, as early as the late ‘60s, dreamed of building what he called “bridges on the air” to connect the entire country through the network’s television signal.

I still remember the excitement in the newsroom that night, sometime in the early ‘70s, when for the first time, our flagship evening newscast, “The World Tonight,” anchored by Henry Halasan, was broadcast live all the way to Cebu through microwave links.

The effort to bring that capability nationwide was cut by martial law, when Marcos took over our facilities at gunpoint. Metrocom soldiers with armalites went to the ABS-CBN Broadcast Center in Quezon City and took control.

But Geny’s son, Gabby, carried on with his father’s dream when the network was returned after EDSA. This time, by using state-of-the-art satellite technology, ABS-CBN was able to reach every nook and cranny of the country. The whole country was part of the satellite’s footprint.

Gabby also expanded the news gathering and broadcast abilities of regional stations and called it the Regional News Group (RNG). Major investments were made on technical facilities and training of manpower. Some of the better known reporters like Jacque Manabat came from RNG.

ABS-CBN Regional news teams are also the first to bring aid and relief to communities struck by calamities.

For over three decades, ABS-CBN Regional has been producing various local “TV Patrol” editions that aired on the network’s 21 regional stations, serving viewers in the provinces with local and national news in their own dialects.

Among these are TV Patrol North Luzon (Baguio, Dagupan, Ilocos, Isabela and Pampanga); TV Patrol Bicol (Naga, Legazpi); TV Patrol Palawan; TV Patrol Southern Tagalog (CALABARZON); TV Patrol Central Visayas (Cebu, Dumaguete, Bohol); TV Patrol Negros (Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental); TV Patrol Panay (Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Antique, Guimaras); TV Patrol Eastern Visayas (Samar, Leyte); TV Patrol North Mindanao (Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental Lanao Del Norte, CARAGA, Dipolog); TV Patrol South Central Mindanao (SOCSKSARGEN, Cotabato); TV Patrol Southern Mindanao (Davao), and TV Patrol Chavacano (Zamboanga).

Can you imagine what such a network with the technology and trained manpower can deliver after a disastrous typhoon? ABS-CBN’s coverage of Yolanda is proof of capability.

It seems that Typhoon Odette had been more destructive than Yolanda in the sense that it affected a wider area in Central and Southern Philippines.

According to a report by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, as of Dec. 22, more than 1.3 million individuals have been affected by the typhoon in Regions 4-B, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, and BARMM. More than half a million people have been displaced, with many seeking shelter in more than 2,500 evacuation centers around the country.

NDRMMC also reported an initial total of 15,618 damaged houses, an estimated P320 million worth of damage to agriculture, and P220 million in infrastructure in the affected regions.

Providing relief could have been faster if there was an adequate communication network. Another lesson learned, and hopefully will no longer be ignored because with climate change, there will definitely be potentially more destructive Odettes in our future.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @boochanco. Follow me on twitter @boochanco

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