Do you know something we don’t?
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - January 17, 2020 - 12:00am

It was bound to happen sooner or later; someone finally decided to take shots at the Phivolcs for not warning the public early enough that Taal Volcano would erupt when it did. Cavite Congressman Elpidio Barzaga Jr. has filed a resolution in Congress to investigate the Phivolcs for negligence particularly for failing to warn people that Taal Volcano would be erupting. Chances are a number of Caviteños must have asked the congressman why Phivolcs failed to give them enough time to prepare and evacuate. If Congress wants an investigation, they should ask those in charge of managing this disaster why and on what basis did they recommend an even bigger evacuation after the eruption last Sunday.

In yesterday’s issue of the Philippine STAR, the headline read: “Forced evacuation in 12 towns, 2 cities.” For the life of me I could not figure out where the idea came from because during the eruption of Taal last weekend we did not get half the ashfall or sense of doom as residents of other towns and cities did. No basis or explanation was given by the DILG regional officer in charge Abigail Andres who signed and issued the memorandum.

After listening to several government spokespersons I’ve come to the conclusion that volcanologists and government officials need to properly communicate their status reports in “plain English,” more specifically in English or Tagalog that all of us can understand and not tech-filled jargon. To start with, most government resource persons talk about Level 4 status of Taal Volcano. They define it in technical terms saying that a major explosion can happen anytime and then they step back by saying we just don’t know when. I know that predicting when a major explosion will happen is half science and half guesswork. So why do you even center on Level 4 as the talking point? It’s like saying “I’m certain you’ll all die of a heart attack, I just don’t know when.”

Assuming that officials can’t get out of discussing Level 4, the real question, answer and message should be: What’s the plan and I mean actual plan, not just updates and why did you arrive at this decision. As things stand now the public only gets updates but no one of real authority has presented an action plan and policy to deal with the disaster on hand. In crisis management, we send out the first responders; emergency personnel, medics, logistics teams, and evaluators. You deal with the damage on the ground. Then based on the evaluation and recommendation of those people as well as experts, you draft scenarios 1 – 2 – 3 etc.

At this stage there must be an assumption or decision on what needs to be done, what position is to be taken regardless if the disaster escalates or in the case of Taal Volcano, whether or not a major eruption occurs. If we cannot say with pinpoint accuracy when the next eruption will be, it might be better to talk about what’s actually happening on the ground and what authorities are doing and what policies and plans will be instituted officially, complete with the reasons for making those decisions. In terms of the big picture we need for someone to be in charge and that someone has to have a plan that he or she should share with the public. An informed populace is a lot easier to challenge than ignorant masses kept in the dark and being told to leave everything near and dear to them with no visible or palpable threat to do so. Not only should the government be transparent about its decision and causes for those decision, they should spell out in complete detail what the evacuation, relocation and resettlement strategy is so people know what to expect. Right now somebody just signed a memorandum that got fed to the media and is now causing anxiety and concern for residents of those affected areas as well their friends and relatives. That is no way to manage a disaster. It’s the right way to start a new one!

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My friend Gerald Hidalgo who owns Autowerkes, a car restoration shop in Tanauan City, Batangas did the round of evacuation centers and after a day’s drive, he came up with some observations that many Netizens approve of:

1. Evacuees do not have the tools or means to individually cook rice or uncooked food. Better to give them cooked or prepared meals or better yet set-up soup kitchens or dedicated kitchen facilities in every evacuation center with budgets to pay volunteers and security personnel and include them in the food allocation. Many volunteers went without food or had to fend for themselves because they were not “Bakwits” or evacuees. When giving donations better to give sacks of rice, coffee, sugar, live pigs and live chicken that can be slaughtered when needed to avoid refrigeration challenges.

2. Before the next disaster strikes the DILG should require all LGUs and barangays to do a complete and mandatory listing of all residents in their area in order to better determine how much food and facilities will be needed in the next disaster.

3. Instead of sending relief goods that are individually packaged in single use plastic, LGUs and first responders should carry with them several water filtration kits or install these in the kitchen of evac centers. This will reduce the need for bottled water.

4. They should also enlist and pay volunteer-evacuees to maintain cleanliness in the facilities. You can read the full text on Gerald’s Fb page I think.

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