• The top priority In 2014 – again

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    Ricardo Saludo

    Ricardo Saludo

    The biggest Philippine event of 2013, hands down, is Super Typhoon Yolanda, lacerating Tacloban and other unfortunate places in the Visayas with 315 kph winds, two-story storm surges, and the woefully inadequate government relief efforts at national and local levels.

    Despite President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s claim of pre-positioned goods, personnel, ships and planes two days before Yolanda hit, it took days before state efforts became visible on the ground. And Aquino did not help matters by pointing fingers and disputing body counts. Indeed, more than a month after the calamity, hundreds of bodies remain unburied. And that brought on another round of blame-seeking.

    So for our first column for 2014, we see good reason to resurrect our first article in 2012, “The Top Priority in 2012,” which tooted the New Year horn “for what should be the top priority for the government and the nation in the next 12 months.” Let’s hope the action points raised two years ago will be taken more seriously and urgently after Yolanda. The article, with updates in brackets:

    It’s not impeachment, jockeying for mid-term elections, or the looming global economic slump, though they’re certainly important, too.

    No, the top priority for us Filipinos this year should be disaster risk reduction (DRR). In particular, executing major national plans to safeguard lives and livelihoods; undertake rescue, relief and recovery; and mobilize state, community and international entities and resources for DRR.

    Unfortunately, the months of sun and calm until June will, as always, relegate to the kitchen cabinet the all-important business of protecting tens of millions of our countrymen, women and children in disaster-prone areas.

    That’s 45 percent of the country, going by the United Nations’ disaster exposure index, where the Philippines ranks third in the world, with just two tiny Pacific island states more exposed to calamity.

    And that’s not counting millions of Filipinos spared by typhoons and floods for decades until global warming brought torrential rains and hurricane winds where they were once unheard of.

    Yet, the urgency among authorities, media and public seemed already on the wane soon after death and devastation in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan won widespread sympathy just before Christmas [of 2011. Let’s hope the same forgetfulness does not set in as months passing and headlines intervening push Yolanda’s rage to oblivion].

    So after we clear our ears and lungs of holiday fireworks, let’s get to work on implementing the disaster plan of action. From the President down.

    Even before PNoy convenes his impeachment war council, he should meet the NDRRMC to firm up DRR priority initiatives for 2012. If he won’t, then Defense Secretary and NDRRMC Chairman Voltaire Gazmin must.

    Whoever presides, that meeting would spare the nation from far more death and destruction this year and beyond than any other discussion in 2012. Guaranteed.

    Some may smirk or shake their heads over our call for President Aquino to convene the disaster council before or soon after the usual New Year vin d’honneur with diplomats.

    Let’s hope PNoy proves the skeptics wrong, for the sake of calamity-bound Filipinos, especially the poor most harmed by disaster. Surely, saving hundreds of lives is at least as important as toasting with a few dozen ambassadors or removing one Chief Justice.

    What should be on the NDRRMC agenda? For a focused and productive meeting this former Cabinet secretary in charge of top-level deliberations and Secretary-General of the Ondoy and Pepeng reconstruction commission respectfully suggests just one item: Implementing and monitoring the SNAP and the NDRRM Law.

    SNAP is the Strategic National Action Plan 2009-2019 for DRR, crafted over two years by Filipino and foreign experts with UN funding and know-how. It was implemented by Executive Order 888 issued in June 2010 by then-President Gloria Arroyo.

    Enacted also under her, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 created the NDRRMC from its predecessor, the National Disaster Coordinating Council. Along with SNAP, the NDRRM Law sets out the country’s comprehensive long-term strategies for disaster prevention, response and recovery.

    Strangely, neither of these key measures is found on the NDRRMC website, at least as of last weekend. [The NDRRM Law was sometime after the article appeared.] That’s like the National Economic and Development Authority site missing the Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016, whose online link is happily right under Secretary Cayetano Paderanga’s picture on www.neda.gov.ph.

    Let’s give the NDRRMC the benefit of the doubt and assume they know their SNAP and NDRRM Law by heart, although both should still linked on the council’s homepage. Other key documents are the NDRRM Framework and the NDRRM Law’s implementing rules and regulations; they too should be linked on the www.ndrrmc.gov.ph homepage.

    More than putting up online links, of course, we must implement the four measures as well as the DRR portions of the new National Climate Change Action Plan (the NCCAP summary is linked on the Climate Change Commission homepage at www.ccc.gov.ph).

    [Most especially, allocate the P1-billion to build up a well-equipped, -staffed and -trained civil defense agency, and the P1 billion for the People’s Survival Fund for, among others, measures and infrastructure to protect communities from the adverse impact of global warming.]

    If it is held, the NDRRMC meeting should draw up priorities, assign tasks, and, most crucial, set up a system to monitor and follow up implementation. Along with the main rescue and relief agencies—National Defense, Social Welfare, Health, Public Works, and Transport—the Department of Interior and Local Government is crucial.

    DILG must prod local governments not only to hone their disaster response systems, but also to join the national government in investing in DRR infrastructure and logistics, including flood control, rescue and medical gear, and, most important, resettlement of communities living in danger areas.

    Now if President Aquino could charm governors and mayors into DRR the way he got congressmen to approve budgets and impeachments in record time, then he will save lives even while dancing and joking during Typhoon Signal 3 [at Sendong’s height].

    So Mr. President, in the name of the thousands killed in Milenyo, Frank, Ondoy, Pepeng, Pedring, Quiel, Sendong and other calamities [like Pablo, Yolanda and Bohol’s earthquake since 2011], please convene the NDRRMC and make DRR the nation’s top New Year’s resolution.

    For the lives of Filipinos who will face more mega-storms and floods in coming years, let’s get moving now.

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    1 Comment

    1. It’s a sad commentary about the state of affairs in the Phl that progress can no longer be expected of this administration. It has been content to coast along without significant achievement, relying on the myth of popularity and masa support. However, the critics have been proven disastrously right. The country must prepare to bring Abnoy and his yellow cabal to justice on Day 1 after his godforsaken term expires. This is the light at the end of the infernal tunnel of doom aka the wothless Aquino presidency.