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Opinion

Facing storms to come

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

By the time this column sees print, it will have been almost one month since Super Typhoon Odette (Typhoon Rai) ravaged the southern islands of the country but while it’s true that the typhoon did make landfall last Dec. 16, it doesn’t feel accurate to speak of the typhoon in the past tense. While the torrential rains and furious winds have long since dissipated, the destruction wrought by the typhoon is still very much present and felt. Even during a time when we seem to careen from one emergency to the next, we owe it to Filipinos – past, present and future – to retain our attention on the plight of those still struggling in the wake of Odette. Because in many of the ways that matter, this is not over.

As of Christmas Day, the number of people who lost their lives to Odette had risen to 367, although because of the circumstances involved only 44 of that number had been confirmed, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRMC). In addition, the NDRRMC listed 732 people as injured, and 918,877 affected families (consisting of over 3.5 million people) spread across 11 regions of the southern Philippines, with property damage to infrastructure and agriculture alone estimated at P4 and2 billion, respectively.

The bayanihan spirit of Filipinos shone like a bright and warm light during the tragedy. Many private corporations, organizations and citizens organized their own relief efforts to supplement government relief and come to the aid of our kababayans who were victimized by Odette. From our end, my husband, former DPWH secretary Mark Villar and the Villar group of companies, donated construction supplies, food supplies, drinking water and blankets to typhoon victims in Surigao, Cebu, Southern Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Davao and other affected areas.

Those who have had their lives almost literally swept away by Odette continue to need our help and support. For those of you still looking for ways to help, you can coordinate with Operation Damayan through 0917-4695009 or make a donation through bank deposit to Philstar Daily Inc./Operation Damayan Metrobank savings Account No. 151-7-15152422-9 and email deposit slip to [email protected]. You may also contact the Philippine Red Cross  (http://redcross.org.ph/odette/) or search for an organization which focuses on a specific need or location, such as Waves For Water (www.wavesforwater.org) which specializes in providing access to clean water.

Yet even as we help those who have been left in dire straits because of the last storm, we must also try to understand how best we can lessen the effects of the next one. For all that we have been through -- a nation beset by typhoons throughout our history, there is much that can still be done to institutionalize and formalize protocols for how best to respond to these emergencies.

Several bills have been filed in Congress to respond to typhoons and other natural disasters, among them one that mandates the establishment of a permanent evacuation center in disaster-prone areas, one that institutionalizes emergency and disaster response training in public and private institutions and one that estalishes a national emergency communication system.

When I was still in Congress, I drafted a bill that would have mandated employers to create a mandatory Typhoon Code of Practice that would systematize the process of deciding when an employee was or was not required to go to work, anchored on the government’s warning systems. It would also be extremely helpful to survivors if the arrival of certain categories of storms would instantly trigger amelioration mechanisms for those areas affected, ranging from zero-interest loans to the waiving of certain fees or charges that would facilitate the donation or transfer of funds to those in need.

While many individuals and organizations stand always at the ready to assist those in need, we should no more depend on the generosity of the donors as we would on the resilience of the survivors. The end goal of a government in times of calamity would be to create systems and practices that would provide effective assistance for those in need without the intervention of individual virtue.

Neither can we ignore the reality that these storms are growing stronger and more unpredictable. Our storm season has been growing progressively later and the storms more intense, and whether or not Odette itself was a direct result of climate change, it cannot be argued that the dangerous trend of our storms can be laid at the feet of the climate crisis. Our nation has been ranked as one of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, from stronger storms to rising seas, and as such the Philippines cannot afford to stay on the sidelines of the debate.

At the recent UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held late last year, the commitments made fell far short of the ideal. Even given the non-binding nature of the agreements, it was disappointing to see nations agree to “phase down” the use of coal but not to an eventual “phase out;” fossil fuel subsidies were to be phased out, but no firm date was set; while there was a commitment to greatly increase funding for nations coping with climate change, there was no establishment of a loss and damage funding mechanism for developing countries – developed nations have already failed in their earlier climate finance pledges. The Philippines, and all other nations bearing the brunt of climate change because of the benefits enjoyed for decades by industrialized nations, must not allow its voice to be marginalized.

Typhoon Odette has led to so much loss – of loved ones, of homes, of livelihoods. This storm has passed, but the damage remains… and storms will come again and again and again. Both inside and outside our country, we must do everything that we can to prepare for the storms to come.

SUPER TYPHOON ODETTE
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