Waiting for another disaster?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2019 - 12:00am

By today, typhoon “Tisoy” is crossing South China Sea after unleashing heavy rains and leaving behind a trail of damage to crops and to private and public properties as it exits the Philippines. We’re fortunate that the feared storm surge from this “super” typhoon did not happen as it weakened a bit after it made several landfalls in the Bicol region.

We were only too glad that our weather forecasters from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) has closely monitored “Tisoy” (international name Kammuri) when it was first detected developing last week in the Pacific Ocean. “Tisoy” is the 20th storm that unleashed its fury in our country this year. 

As they have been doing, PAGASA gave regular public advisories through media to continue monitoring weather updates and coordinate with their respective local disaster management offices in case of emergency evacuation.

Located in the typhoon belt region of the country, the Bicol provinces like Albay and Sorsogon bore the brunt of destruction brought by “Tisoy.” Living in disaster-prone places like in the Bicol provinces require leadership with mindsets that are focused on mitigating, if not totally achieving zero casualty. Fortunately for Bicolanos, they now have newly elected local government officials who are exposed and trained to climate change adaptation measures that help save lives of the people in times of disasters.

They include the likes of former Senator and now Governor of Sorsogon Salvador “Chiz” Escudero and ex-Congressman, now Governor of Quezon Province Danilo Suarez. According to the two Governors, they have no reported casualties because as early as last Friday, they have implemented “forced evacuation” of residents living in danger zones, including those along coastal towns, landslide and flood-prone areas, and the like.

Also experienced in this kind of scenario is Albay Congressman Joey Salceda, whose province’s premier airport in Legazpi City was destroyed by the more than 150 kilometer wind speed of “Tisoy.” It was during his three consecutive terms as Governor of Albay when Salceda earned his spurs as a climate change warrior. Aside from being in the direct path of many typhoons that regularly pass through the country, Albay also hosts one of the most active volcano.

During his watch as Albay Governor, Salceda learned the virtues of “forced evacuation” of his people living around the danger zones of Mt. Mayon. For several times, the majestic volcano spewed hot rocks and ashes. Taking no chances – not knowing whether it will erupt or not – Salceda undertook pre-emptive evacuation of Mayon residents, many of whom were forcibly removed out of the danger zones after they refused to leave their houses and farming livelihood.

But of course, such “forced evacuation” require so much resources and logistics to sustain feeding, giving safe shelter, provide for healthy environment and steady supply of clean water, medicine etc. Thus, this requires the resources from the various agencies that must be placed under a unified command and control. This is where the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) comes in. 

To its credit, the NDRRMC proactively deployed and pre-positioned to the provinces in the direct path of “Tisoy” the pre-packed relief goods and vehicles and equipment needed for rescue operations. Private sector rescue and relief organizations like the Philippine Red Cross have sent out their volunteers and ambulances to these areas also.

While the NDRRMC is composed of several government agencies, the lawmakers noted, there is no one single agency in charge.

Incidentally, it was simply irritating to receive NDRRMC alarm during the past two days on its ”Tisoy” storm alert. Do they really need to send ear-piercing NDRRMC ring tone every hour on our mobile phones?

While we have a very improved system in place to mitigate natural and man-made calamities, what boggles the mind is the seeming lack of sense of urgency among lawmakers in the 18th Congress to pass into law the proposed establishment of a full-fledged Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR). No less than President Rodrigo Duterte included the DDR bill in his list of administration’s priority bills during his state of the nation address last July among the urgent legislative measures for immediate enactment into law.

Last month, a joint panel of the House of Representatives approved the bill creating a DDR, which has been pending since the 17th Congress (June 2016 to June 2019). Salceda re-filed his DDR bill as the primary agency responsible leading government efforts before, during, and after disasters. House Bill 1151 creating DDR is reportedly still undergoing deliberations at the lower legislative chamber.

Several versions of the DDR bill have been filed at the Senate. Among them is Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s Senate Bill (SB) 245 that seeks to create “an empowered, highly-specialized and responsive DDR.” Neophyte Senator Christopher “Bong” Go also filed SB 205 or the proposed “Disaster Resilience Act of 2019,” which seeks to establish “an empowered, highly-specialized, and responsive DDR with clear unity of command.”

Sen. Sonny Angara filed SB 331 and similar DDR bills authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto and Senators Grace Poe, Sherwin Gatchalian, Manny Pacquiao, Ramon ”Bong” Revilla Jr., and Francis Tolentino.

Crossing party lines at the Senate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan authored SB 39, which seeks the establishment of the Department of Disaster and Emergency Management, and a P20-billion calamity fund or at least one percent of the estimated government revenue or whichever is higher. He cited historical records showing from 1990, the Philippines has sustained 565 natural disasters that have left almost 70,000 dead and an estimated $23 billion in damages.

Among the deadliest and costliest were the super-typhoon “Yolanda” of 2013, the Luzon earthquake of 1990, and the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991. Must another major disaster strike us before the DDR bill sees the light of day at the 18th Congress?


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