When Red Cross societies meet
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2018 - 12:00am

As addendum to my last column, I visited – after 20 years or so – the now world-famous Davao City. Indeed the place has vastly improved, with high-rise condominium buildings and bougainvillea-dotted street islands, and seeming million pedestrians in the streets. The people I’ve talked with – businessmen, medical doctors, public utility drivers and hotel bellboys, all had good things to say about their former mayor, now president of the Philippines. All said drug use has been practically eliminated, there is order in their everyday existence.

What was unsettling was the traffic jams in the main streets so like those in Metro Manila, with vehicles – from tricycles to jeepneys to buses to trucks –moving at a snail pace.  I guess this is one problem that Mayor Sara Duterte has yet to solve. Her solution is something to look forward to.

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The Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity’s Bangkaw sa Mindanao event, a part of the activities of the Upsilon’s 100th centennial celebration, had most of the city’s hotels filled up by the brods and their families coming from Manila and surrounding cities, the US and Canada. One of the fellows I had an interesting conversation with was Rico Merioles, a successful businessman. Being distantly related to him, I find him good-looking. He had a good word for the Chinese, who he said never colonized other countries. 

Sorely missed by the fellows was Fred Pascual, former president of the University of the Philippines, now chairman of the Upsilon Sigma Phi Alumni Association and a director of many private companies. Good men like Fred will always have companies racing to get them to their board of directors.

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Winding up yesterday was the 10th Asia Pacific Regional Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies held in Manila with the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) as host. Over 300 humanitarian leaders from 51 countries attended the conference, which had the theme, “Engaging local humanitarian action in a fast-changing world.”

At the start of the conference, PRC chair Richard Gordon expressed excitement over the conference’s chance for Red Cross and Red Crescent leaders “to explore new strategies to step up actions on humanitarian challenges, such as disasters and armed conflicts.

“It is important that the meeting has made it possible for the community of Red Cross organizations to  have grown and overcome all these challenges and has stuck to our goal of saving lives and making sure that we lift human dignity and alleviate human suffering at all times.’

He added, “As the humanitarian world turns their eyes to Manila, we can also showcase PRC’s best practices in disaster and emergency response and innovation that make us a formidable Red Cross society.”

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How formidable has the Philippine Red Cross program  been in responding to disaster and emergency?

Let’s read President Duterte’s  praising of PRC’s work, contained in his message delivered by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea at the opening of the 10th Asia Pacific Regional Conference.

“The Philippines is one of the most disaster- prone nations in the world and we should reflect on this fact as this week was the 5th anniversary of the strongest typhoon to ever make landfall. When Typhoon Yolanda (known as Haiyan) devastated the Visayas, I saw the aftermath as I went to help as mayor of Davao and I saw the Philippine Red Cross had immediately mobilized their army of volunteers and brought equipment and food along with the coordinated efforts of the Red Cross and Red Crescent National societies, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“The Philippine Red Cross is our partner of choice in humanitarian efforts and disaster reduction and relief, because they are reliable, and they deliver. This is where Red Cross shines, always first, always there to help the people affected by the situation and always ready to do what is needed – to stay until the work is done and people regain their stability: a true example of community engagement for the common good.

“The Philippine Red Cross has an army of 2 million volunteers, emergency responders, blood facilities across the country, they have fire trucks – can you imagine – fire trucks. They have 149  ambulances, pay loaders, water tankers, an emergency field hospital – so many assets ready to help when disaster comes. The volunteers have shown extraordinary courage and have faced grave dangers – all  to help their countrymen and women – they are our heroes and we are proud of them!

“In looking around the world, one sees one disaster after another and it seems each one is worse than the one before. We see the images from Yemen and Syria and we are all shocked – the suffering of so many people. It seems that natural disasters are getting worse every year, look at the earthquakes and tsunamis that took so many lives and caused such destruction to our neighbor and fellow ASEAN member, Indonesia. Imagine Puerto Rico, devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, the deadliest storm to hit Puerto Rico in a hundred years and the United States was NOT prepared! I want us to be always prepared – that is why I inaugurated the Philippine Red Cross vessel, the ‘MV PRC Amazing Grace’ last year as the vessel can immediately distribute humanitarian supplies when infrastructure has been destroyed – like the Tacloban airport in the aftermath of Yolanda. Preparedness is key to disaster management.

“Throughout the year, we average 24 typhoons in the Philippines, with the risk of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions always present, as well as other calamities we must cope with – including the crisis in Marawi.

“I am proud of the Red Cross volunteers  and staff and our Red Cross programs. They do great things at the local level, like the 143 program—it is all about local volunteers being trained and ready to help their neighbors in their barangays – that is local engagement.

”We appreciate that the Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies, together with the Philippine Red Cross, work with the community, with government agencies and local governments – always working to help people. Recently  the Philippine Red Cross signed an agreement with the Commission for Higher Education and the Department of Education – the plan is to reach the 48,000 educational facilities, promoting volunteerism and humanitarian values in every educational facility in the country. Our young people must be trained to be prepared for disasters, so they know what to do when an earthquake comes or a typhoon hits, so they can give lifesaving first aid and be there for our people who need help.

“They don’t just work during disasters, they also work every day. Collecting blood and distributing to  those who need it, helping people understand about health risks and problems that afflict our people – encouraging healthy lifestyles, teaching about HIV/AIDS. Now they are even running a blood dialysis center – because diabetes is such a problem,  the Philippine Red Cross saw the need and they are doing something about it – they are helping, they are part of the solution.

“I wish more leaders around the world appreciate the Red Cross and Red Crescent efforts as much as we do.”

Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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