Local executives should focus on disaster preparedness  

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

Should we consider it good governance if, every time after a strong typhoon takes lives, destroys properties, and devastates cities and urban centers, the governors, mayors, and presidents arrive on helicopters to distribute a few kilos of rice, a few cans of sardines, and a few bottles of mineral water recorded by print and broadcast media? Is this our idea of good government? I don't think so.

After delivering impassioned speeches, before communities of typhoon victims, after answering a few questions from reporters, and after a grand photo session, the honorable governors and mayors leave and would not be seen until the next hurricane and the next election campaign. Typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and other natural disasters and calamities are not recent inventions. They have been with us even before these mayors and the governors were born.

And yet, these trapos who had been elected over and over again, themselves or their family members and close relatives, have not learned how to be proactive, forward-looking, and strategic. They love to do reactive and remedial measures, and the people have learned to accept they styles as the only way out of these recurrent problems.

For the longest time, these traditional politicians had been in control of funds, personnel, and authority under the law. But have they ever attempted to formulate a long-range strategic disaster preparedness plan and program? Is disaster preparedness only about rescue, relief, and rehabilitation? Is it merely about packing sardines and distributing rice? Is it just about counting dead bodies and reporting on houses damaged or destroyed? Are there any preventive and long-range programs to make strong houses for the poor and construct them in safer and cleaner locations? They have all the money and the personnel and they are assisted by national agencies with regional and provincial units and directors. What have they done?

Why don't the governors and mayors cause the construction of safe and strong evacuation centers and stop commandeering and sequestering schools and classrooms with no facilities for safe, clean, and decent refuge of beleaguered people? Provinces and cities proudly advertise that they are top in assets and revenues. If so, why don't they spend a portion for evacuation centers? They cannot rely on poorly-constructed multi-purpose buildings, sponsored by congressmen through their pork barrels, because they are not safe and many of them are the first to be blown down when hurricanes come. If they really care for the people, why don't they seriously think about these things?

Being prepared can reduce fear, anxiety and worries among the people. When all the people in the province are properly oriented and their local leaders adequately trained, the number of casualties and the amount of losses can be substantially minimized. It is the responsibility of governors and mayors to make sure that there is a disaster preparedness team in every city, town, barangay, purok village, homeowners association, and community. There should be a massive training and intensive indoctrination conducted by provincial and city officials and personnel. There should be a safe and strong evacuation center for every group of 100 residents. If this cannot be achieved immediately, then they should start with one such center for every thousand.

We did not elect mayors and governors, and even presidents just to distribute rice and sardines after disasters. We need leaders who think in advance and create solutions even before the problem comes. The best gift that local executives can give their constituencies is to make them feel secure, confident, and calm. Politicians should not be solvers of anxieties and worries. They should prevent these horrible things from happening. Yes, they cannot prevent the storms from coming. But they can create strong citadels against death and destruction. Don't you think so?

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