“Why didn’t the national government think of this before?”
We’ve read similar news reports such as this many times in the past, and they certainly won’t be the last.
When typhoon Odette battered parts of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao last month, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC) said that nearly 400 were reported dead with 51 missing as of December 25.
The strong typhoon caused damage to agriculture pegged at no less than P6 billion as of the end of December, with over 61,000 farmers and fishermen affected, according to the Agriculture Department. More than 70,000 hectares of farmlands were hit and almost 105,000 metric tons of agricultural crops were lost due to the typhoon. The fisheries sector posted the most damage, amounting to P1.8 billion or 30.9 percent of the total damage.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education said P3.37 billion would be needed to reconstruct and repair 2,402 Odette-damaged schools in Visayas and Mindanao, with 1,086 totally damaged and 1,316 partially damaged. The typhoon affected 15 million students and 29, 671 schools. A total of 656 public schools and 3,671 classrooms were used as evacuation centers.
After typhoon Odette unleashed a trail of death and destruction in southern Philippines last December, we’ve heard strident calls for the national government to create a separate department to deal specifically with disasters, both natural and man-made.
The creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR), as embodied in separate bills approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives recently, is long overdue.
It’s puzzling why this department has been considered only now, since every year the country is visited by an average of 20 typhoons that cause flooding and landslides in low-lying areas. We’re also part of the so-called “Pacific ring of fire” consisting of active volcanoes and earthquake faults that sometimes cause extensive damage to infrastructure.
Apart from our vulnerability to natural disasters, we also have man-made disasters caused by war, such as the 2017 Marawi siege that leveled a sizable portion of the city to the ground and left thousands fleeing to safer areas. The armed rebellion in the countryside often causes innocent civilians caught in the crossfire to seek shelter from fierce hostilities between government troops and insurgents.
Today, five years later, the rehabilitation of Marawi has yet to proceed on a massive scale.
For so long, we have had to deal with piecemeal efforts at disaster response, often limited to providing disaster victims with food packs and other relief items as well as giving them temporary shelter in gyms and schoolhouses.
In years past, the government agency mainly concerned with disaster response was the Office of Civil Defense, a small agency under the Department of National Defense. Later, the government created the National Disaster Coordinating Center (NDCC) to streamline efforts at comprehensive emergency response. The name of this agency prompted former Senator and then Defense Secretary Orly Mercado to quip that the national government had been coordinating rather than responding to disasters all along. This led, thankfully, to a much-needed change in nomenclature as well as the scope of disaster response with the creation of the NDRRMC. This agency with an overlong acronym was tasked with coordinating efforts by various government agencies, the business sector and civil society groups in disaster response.
We have apparently belatedly recognized that disaster response should be a whole-of-society effort. Disaster victims require not only food and water, but also medical care, temporary evacuation centers, health and sanitation, even psychological counseling, among others.
But we’re dismayed that the creation of a new department for disaster response isn’t getting unanimous support. One government official said the existing NDRRMC should just be “elevated” to an authority and strengthened instead of transformed into a full-fledged department. Another official said he “would prefer that we maintain the NDRRMC” because it has been there for just a couple of years.
But we commend Phivolcs director Renato Solidum for taking the opposite view and insisting that “simply coordinating things will not solve the problem…(We need) disaster risk managers and disaster managers. These are the core competencies that we need in the new department and that is what we lack. We cannot do this by simply staying with the same structure. We need to train people that would be the leaders in disaster risk management and disaster management.”
We concur with the view of House Committee on Disaster Resilience chairperson, Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, that a centralized government agency is necessary to make disaster preparedness more comprehensive, responsive, and customized based on technical and scientific analysis: “A disaster is just too huge and too complex for LGUs to handle on their own. And yes, some LGUs are capable, but we just cannot leave something as critical as disaster resilience, preparedness, response and recovery to the whims of chance.”
From another perspective, we see merit in the proposal by the Makabayan bloc in Congress to establish permanent evacuation centers in areas particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, such as the provinces facing the Pacific Ocean where destructive typhoons are likely to hit. Our question is: Why didn’t the national government think of this before? (Email: email@example.com)