The timeline for Typhoon Yolanda is one that barely mentions Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mar Roxas. We heard many voices in the aftermath of Haiyan, that of foreign journalists like Anderson Cooper, that of the President responding to a businessman’s story of the violence in Tacloban via the rhetorical question: You did not die, right?
We heard Mar’s wife Korina, forgetting for a moment that she was a journalist when she so obviously was defensive for her husband in the wake of CNN reports from Tacloban. We heard Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Dinky Soliman, the rightful focal person for relief distribution because she is also the NDRRMC Vice Chairperson for Disaster Response.
Roxas’s absence from the timeline does not erase the fact that the DILG Secretary and Vice Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) was actually in Tacloban a day before the storm hit. He arrived with NDRRMC Chairperson and Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
The DILG Secretary arrived in Tacloban a day before the world’s strongest typhoon was forecast to make landfall. That seems too late, doesn’t it?
The DILG-LGU connection
The DILG Secretary’s position as NDRRMC Vice Chairperson for Disaster Preparedness is important, as this role is directly connected to DILG’s jurisdiction over local government units (LGUs). Secretary Gazmin’s January 23, 2014 presentation to the Congressional Oversight Committee speaks of this dynamic.
“Two days before Yolanda made landfall, the NDRRMC held a meeting at the Office of Civil Defense in Camp Aguinaldo. <…> Through e-mails and text messages, we, through the DILG, directed all mayors and governors in the Bicol Region, Eastern and Western Visayas, and MIMAROPA to activate their Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Councils, and their 24-hour disaster monitoring systems. DILG Regional and Provincial Directors were also directed to announce warnings and alerts over local radio stations in their areas of authority.
This was on top of the duties of the LDRRMCs–-led by LGU heads–to alert, communicate, and educate their constituencies, as mandated by RA 10121 and their local DRRMC plans.”
The DILG as such is responsible for making sure that LGUs act accordingly, given the information on impending disaster.
Information is expected to trickle down, from the DILG to the heads of the LGUs, to its members and officials, to the people. In that sense the LGUs would only really be repeating the urgency (or lack of it) with which they are receiving these warnings.
On November 6, Secretary Roxas warned LGUs about Typhoon Haiyan, and said it was better to be overprepared.
On November 7 he was in Tacloban. In the early hours of November 8 the typhoon made landfall. The devastation that followed was beyond imagination.
DILG and disaster preparedness
It was clear days after Typhoon Haiyan, when Manila started hearing from Tacloban and other Leyte towns, that something went terribly wrong with DILG’s performance of its disaster preparedness task.
Let us reiterate that Roxas’s position in the NDRRMC is Vice Chair for Disaster Preparedness. For Typhoon Haiyan it was clear that while there might have been a Plan A that was by the book, there was no Plan B.
At the heart of Plan A was to have LGUs as first responders, as the ones who would not only prepare for disaster, but also work on disaster response the moment the storm is over. For whatever reason, when Roxas said that it would be better to have LGUs that are overprepared for Typhoon Haiyan, his own DILG did not overprepare. That is, they did not have a Plan B. Neither did they imagine the worst.
We hear Roxas speaking of it for the first time seven days after the typhoon when he is interviewed by CNN’s Andrew Stevens on November 14. That’s six days after the storm, and after hearing Anderson Cooper talk about relief operations that were non-existent, the dead unattended, and people going hungry.
Roxas was…defensive, and that’s putting it kindly. Stevens was asking him about preparedness and immediate assistance for people on the streets and beyond. But Roxas was set in his spin: if this was a gun all bullets are deployed. Government is doing all that it can.
When asked about people asking for water on the streets, and right there where they were standing near the airport for this interview, Roxas replies by saying that “All the water that is available are in bottles that are brought in. This is brought to the warehouse of the Social Welfare Department from which it now goes to all the communities from the interior. This, what you see here is multiplied a thousand times by all the other localities inside.”
As if the number of people in the interior, the ones who are within the barangays and municipalities, as if that number warranted that no water be distributed to every Juan and Juana on the streets of Tacloban.
DILG and Plan B
And this is really a question for Roxas’ DILG: when they prepared for Typhoon Haiyan, what did they expect—how did they imagine it would unfold? This was the strongest storm to make landfall, and the President himself spoke of its dangers. But the Interior Secretary himself, even as he was in Tacloban the day before the storm hit, even as he implored his LGUs to overprepare, he himself was so obviously caught unprepared.
Stevens asks him about immediate response, how surely Roxas knew the storm was coming, and how the President had said that Manila was ready to support everyone. Roxas responds by saying that they weren’t supposed to be first responder, and that they were supposed to come on Day 2 or 3. But the first responders, the officials of the LGUs and the local police could also only be victimized by this storm.
Which is to say of course that the good DILG secretary was not only unprepared, he also did not prepare at all—he was anti-prepared?—for the strongest storm to make landfall. He might have prepared for a storm, he might have thought that preparation meant making sure to tell his LGUs about the storm. But certainly the lack of a Plan B for when Plan A proved impossible, that totally and absolutely falls on his shoulders?
As far as Roxas is concerned it doesn’t. A Plan B in fact seems irrelevant to him as DILG Secretary and Vice Chair for Disaster Preparedness of the NDRRMC. Post-Haiyan, he said: “The lesson from Yolanda is that families of the first responders should be evacuated and secured so that first responders will not become victims.”
And one can only shake one’s head in frustration. This is to say that the only problem with the disaster response of NDRRMC was that the LGUs were paralyzed by death and loss? What of the able-bodied Secretary of the DILG who should’ve overprepared for the world’s strongest typhoon? What of Secretary Roxas who spoke of LGU disaster preparedness: “Mas mabuti na ang handa kaysa magsisi sa bandang huli. Mahalaga ang bawat oras para magligtas ng buhay <…> Walang saysay ang paghahanda kung hihintayin pa natin ang pagtama ng bagyo sa Pilipinas bago tayo kumilos.”
Sabi nga rin namin, Sir.