Yolanda hit the country as I was in transit to Manila from the other side of the globe. From every stop, I was monitoring how things were and sadly it was all foreign media focusing laser-like quality on the events unfolding. The moment some travelers get to know one is Filipino, they stop and ask how was PH, one’s family and how one is feeling with all these natural calamities? It felt good because you can feel their sincerities and it felt bad because you know it’s tragic to get the foreigners to even stop and see you in a different light.
The flights were getting shaky as I neared Manila and the first photos and accounts were truly gut-wrenching. A friend from the 80’s sent a personal message in FB asking for assistance and I just had to rely on our political coordinators on the ground to check and still it took time. Efforts were many but uncoordinated and government, both national and local, seems to be so stunned that they forget they are the leaders and they should act.
In the private sector there is always a playbook in case of crisis. The idea being is to prevent from having one. In disaster management and despite the number of natural calamities we have experienced, the agency so mandated by law, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council or NDRRMC seems to be unable to do so. Here we call the Aquino administration to consider legislation creating a national agency with broad powers and funding (where disaster fund can be lodged) as well as granting cabinet rank to its head. PH is in the Ring of Fire. PH is an island surrounded by water where “storm surge” of enormous strength can cause a total wipe out. We need an agency that focuses on these natural occurrences solely, 365 days, 24/7. We need to train in a radial approach what evacuation means as well as what the basic terms mean. Historical lessons we have but the changing element of natural disasters would need preparedness as a first intervention activity.
NDRRC would need to write that playbook so we can be clockwork in the aftermath, in every aftermath!. Decisions will have to be made real fast because we are dealing with lives. The super agency will have to secure automatic access with the Engineering Brigade of the Armed Forces as well as the reservists who should be the first intervention team to clear the areas and set command centers by securing runways and alternative landing areas.
During off rainy season months, training is critical such as what do we really mean by Category 4 or 5? What is a storm surge? Even the basic “2 meters” need to be understood since we still think in English scales—foot, pound, and second system. The playbook should take into consideration the worst-case scenario always. Drill, drill and drill.
The DILG should provide the communication link up to the last and farthest barangay. That is their mandate. The sooner that communication link is up, then we can empower our communities in case of emergencies. The PNP will have to access situation and provide control in potentially chaotic situations and the system of tanods must be activated at the community level.
Bypass bureaucratic red tape
We need to learn now and avoid a repetition of today’s exceedingly slow response. The super agency should be given authority to bypass bureaucratic red tape by being able to tap government and private medical teams in nearby unaffected provinces, if airport runways are still being cleared. We need a composite team in place in first 24 hours of any catastrophic event cause we have science in predicting its impact.
In the darkest moment, we need leadership. In the most challenging situation, we need action and leaders must be willing to reach across the political lines and work. The aftermath of Yolanda is not about who gets the credit. Is not about credit, never was and never will be. Its about people and lives.
We will still be shocked as we are able to reach more areas. We will cry as we feel the total despair of our brothers and sisters but in helping each other, we cure our collective consciousness and take that one last ounce of energy to stand up and offer a hand to the next person beside us. Use the pork wisely and well now and profiteers dare not dip a finger or two.
Mr. President, the rebuilding effort will take a Marshall Plan to do. That FY2014 budget will have to be restudied or a Supplemental Budget for the 13 areas of intervention will have to be considered.
Sic transit gloria mundi!