First, a point of disclosure, so readers will know where I am coming from.
I’m native to East Visayas, Leyte province specifically, and a small coastal town there.
I was schooled and raised in Leyte by a family of schoolteachers. Until I left my hometown for College studies in the metropolis, Leyte was the only place I knew as home. the small circle of people I knew there—family, friends, relatives, neighbors, townmates— formed the boundaries of my world, until it was enlarged by marriage and children, new relations and professional associations built over the years.
Growing up, I learned that typhoons were part of our natural heritage, visiting almost every year. Foolishly, as a young boy, I secretly welcomed the occasional visit of a typhoon or two, because they usually meant no classes and some special comfort food Mother would prepare to compensate for nature’s fury.
To my lasting shock, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan internationally) was nothing like the storms of my youth. If you sum up all the destruction inflicted by typhoons of my boyhood, youth and adulthood, they would still not equal the devastation and pain wrought by Yolanda on November 8. That is how massive this disaster has been for East Visayas.
A perfect storm
To me, among so much excellent reporting on the event, the prestigious Economist provided the most concise and expert description of the typhoon, enabling us to comprehend why it was so devastating and overwhelming. It says in its report;
“For once it was no metaphor but the real thing—a perfect storm in terms of its sheer size, its circular symmetry and the tightness of its eye. When it hit land, in Leyte and Samar provinces in the Philippines, Typhoon Haiyan’s ferocity set records. Sustained winds were 250 kilometres (160 miles) an hour with gusts of over 300kph—like standing behind the revving engine of a jumbo jet. But it was a 5-meter (16-foot) storm surge—an intense low pressure at the storm’s centre sucking the sea level upwards—that caused the worst damage.
“The devastation is wide, spread across six Philippine islands. Some 11million Filipinos have been affected, many displaced or left homeless. With precious little aid so far coming in, it is the plight of the living that now matters.”
We were battered senseless by a perfect storm. And now, we are challenged to come up with a perfect response in rebuilding our lives, our homes and our communities.
Words are small beside the lives that were taken, the loss that so many families have endured and the deprivation that they have suffered, and the awesome task of rebuilding that faces the region and the authorities.
Some of the grief and pain have been assuaged by the great outpouring of compassion from our people and from nations and charitable organizations from all over the world.
The expert and effective foreign intervention heightened the anger and bewilderment of many over the inept, sluggish and chaotic response of the national government to the scary super-typhoon alert and to the massive national emergency in its aftermath. President Aquino’s careless words did not wipe a single tear or lift a sagging shoulder.
The dead must be mourned and honored with dignity and respect, but the primary challenge now is how to care for the living, and rebuild homes, infrastructure and entire communities.
Commendably, the government is turning urgent attention to the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation, in contrast to its earlier inertia.
But President Aquino may have moved precipitately in appointing former senator Panfilo Lacson as rehabilitation CZAR, whatever that term means.
Putting the horse before the cart
Executives, engineers and professional managers with experience in crisis management, construction and program management, wonder if there is a clear program and mission for Mr. Lacson to implement and execute. at this point there is only talk about a task force, and rumblings about a supplemental budget.
It looks, they say, like a case of putting the horse before the cart.
Perhaps the President expects Senator Lacson to build the cart. He will articulate the vision, shape the strategy and write the program
That’s a lot to hope for, because nothing in Lacson’s career suggests that he has the expertise and experience for a rebuilding effort of this magnitude. His biggest credential is a negative one—as senator, he did not use his pork barrel, as chief policeman he made the knees of criminals go limp.
With respect to vision, East Visayans will say to a man that we have to shape a new vision for the future. We must not spend our time and energy looking back to the past; we have to look forward to a new day, to a stronger, dynamic and more progressive regional community. With adversity as our spur, we will venture to change our world.
In his fine book, Turnaround, former Governor Mitt Romney discusses his key ideas as a specialist (Harvard MBA) in rescuing failing companies and managing challenging projects from start to finish, including a troubled Olympics.
At the outset Romney stresses the imperative of articulating a vision. He then lists four key steps in his formula for a successful turnaround:
1.Strategic audit – a complete review of every aspect of the challenge. The object of the audit is to get a good map of what is right and wrong in the project or business, what has to be fixed, and which things are urgent.
2. Building the team – both in terms of selecting the right people and building unity and motivation;
3. Focusing on what is critical – focus, focus, focus, and avoid doing too many things
4.Securing a budget – raise the needed financing for the project.
At the minimum, East Visayas today needs a program of rebuilding that encompasses the goals of regional development, disaster reduction and flood control, job generation and housing development, agricultural development, and the engagement of the private sector (domestic and foreign) in the rebuilding effort.
Congress must pass a law
Moving this forward will require the passage of a law, the approval of a sufficient budget, and the creation of an authority that will have the power to act. Congress must step in, and do right by the people of East Visayas, spurred on by the representatives of the region and the lone senator with roots in east Visayas—Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In the wake of the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo and the damage it wreaked on Subic Bay and Clark Air Base, Congress passed the Bases Conversion and Development Act to empower government to implement a plan for the takeover and development of the baselands abandoned by the US military. The law created the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) as the implementing arm of the government for the development of the 262 square miles of Subic into a freeport and duty-free zone. The policy worked, with impressive results. Clark also thrived after Pinatubo.
East Visayas needs a similar empowering law for its reconstruction and development Subic is one model to draw from. But There are even more compelling models from other countries that can be mined and replicated. There is also a pool of engineers, managers, economists and professionals who can be tapped to take part in the massive rebuilding effort.
This will be the focus of my next column.